Drama in England began as the hand maid of religion. In middle ages church services were conducted in Latin, which was not understood by most of the congregation. The clergy often tried the expedient of acting episodes from the Bible. An English dramatist or a poet was moulded in the early tradition of mystery and morality plays because much of the glamour had gone from life and men were more conscious of its stern realities. The church had the control over the drama. The morality plays teach the morals which was purely a religious instruction.
In all the plays of Shakespeare, there is the solid Elizabethan culture and their world, its beliefs, its theological dogmas, its philosophical speculations and all the floating material that is made available at that time while dealing Shakespeare's early plays. The tragedies of Shakespeare would suffice to describe the whole tragic fact as it presented itself to the mediaeval mind. To the mediaeval mind a tragedy meant a narrative rather than a play, a total reverse of fortune, coming unawares upon a man who 'stood in a high degree'.
Christopher Marlow's Dr. Faustus, presents a young scholar named Dr. Faustus who sells his soul to Lucifer for worldly pleasures. The theme of individual salvation is the main concern of the writers. Man's sin and redemption from the sin is the main theme of all the playwrights.
Milton's "Paradise Lost" is one such example which speaks about the fall man and the humanity. His central purpose was to show how 'man's first disobedience' brought sin and death in its train, it is characteristic of him that he does not close on the note of evil triumphant, but prophetically introduces the divine work of redemption.
Milton's Samson Agonistes, is a dramatic poem in which he applies the form of clasic art to the treatment of a biblical subject. It deals with the fate of Samson among the Philistines. The idea conveyed by these works, is that 'man must be saved only by the hands of God'. Samson Agonistes deals with the fall of Samson and his sin and his redemption by God in the last minute of his life.
A shakespearean tragedy may be called a story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in his estate. The calamities and catastrophe follow inevitably from the deeds of man and the main source of these deeds in character. In Shakespearean tragedy the main source of convulsion which leads to suffering and death is the evil. The love only because of the senseless hatred of their houses.Evil exhibits everywhere as something negative, barren, weakening, destructive, a principle of death.
Shakespeare's tragic hero has a tragic flaw or 'harmartia' in his character and from this which the tragedy of the play erupts. Othello has an intellectual weakness, Hamlet has an irresoluteness. Lear has vanity and Macbeth is a victim of inordinate ambition.
In all the earlier play the good was rewarded and evil were punished. In Dr. Faustus, he has given a chance but he fails to take the advice of the good angel. The reconcilation takes lace at the end of the play, the last minute of his life. In Milton's Samson Agonistes, he sinned against the command of God because of that sin he suffers and redemption came to his soul at the end. Macbeth thinks of his loyalty to the king and the kindness that Duncan has shown to him in the past as his good angel pleads with him not to go ahead with his foul deed. He almost drops tha plot to murder Duncan. He made a wrong choice and the inevitable shameful end is a foregone conclusion.
King Lear who represents Everyman, is an arrogant old idiot destitude of any decent human quality and incapable of any reasonable act who wants a public demonstration of private love. In his hideous rashness he forgets that dees rather than words are the symbols of love. He has the qualities of pride and arrogance which are against God. Lear has chosen greed and hypocrasy instead of the true love of Cordelia. By choosing Goneril he has chosen the worldliness. Lear is choleric overbearing and almost childish, when he drives out his youngest daughter he has rejected salvation and peace and safety. He loved his daughters and the world very much which is against God. In the Bible it is said, "Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not fit to be my disciple; whoever loves his son or daughter more than me is not fit to be my disciple" (Matthew 10:37)
Lear not only rejected Cordelia he has rejected the love of Christ who saves the whole world by shedding his blood for the humanity. He yeilds to the worldly evil and the flattery of Goneril and Regan. They are the symbold of cruelty and hypocrisy. They are cruel likie the animal. When Shakespeare conceived of these two characters he has in mind the beasts of prey like vulture and tiger. They are compared to the lower animals . Goneril is a kite, her ingratitude has a serpants tooth. Her visage is wolfish. Her cruelty has the fangs of boar. They are dog-hearted, tigers not daughters, the flesh of each is covered with the felt of the beast.
By rejecting Cordelia Lear has rejected the peace, salvation and he has rejected the life and his soul. He has lost the eternall life and resurrection. Lear has rejected the God who is our shelter and strength , who is always ready to help in times of trouble and strengthens those who are weak and tired. Lear represents everyman who become the slave of the world. Even today there are people who are after the worldly pleasures and surrender themselves to the pride and vanity of the world. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
When Shakespeare conceived the character of Lear, he had in mind the sinner who turns against himself from the Lord. He is preoccupied with the theme of Salvation, so he has created the character of Cordelia as the redeemer and she represents Christ. Lear is portrayed as a sinner. Like the prodigal son who sold his property and spent everything in reckless living and repent his sins, Lear has sinned against God by yeilding himself to his father saying that he had sinned against God and against his father, He gets salvation by confessing his sins.
Lear is sinned against God and when he suffers in the storm and realizes himself and confesses and he gets salvation by reconciled with Cordelia, who is the symbol of christ.When Shakespeare conceived the character of Cordelia he had Christ in his mind. The words she uses symbolises Christ. Shakespare has used the same words which are used by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, "[i]Oh dear Father, it is thy business that I go about. She is presented as a humble, meak and virtuous daughter who loved her father eventhough he had disinherited her and casting her away from his kingdom. She represents Christ in every word she utters; "My life will be too short; and every measure fail me."
Cordelia forgives her father and redeem him from his death. She gave consolation to the soul which was rotten by the filial ingratitude of his wicked daughters. Jesus shed his blood to redeem the world and cordelia sheds her blood for the redemption of her father's life and soul.Lear's reunion with her is the salvation of his soul by uniting him with the Saviour the world Jesus Christ.Shakespeare in his plays has given a chance to correct themselves and because of that tragedy ensures. In the end of the play he conveys that all the efforts of man are waste in the sight of God. The world is full of vanity and wickedness and a man must get the eternal life only by the hands of God. Most of the Shakespears plays are concerned with this predicament.