Inferno and King Lear are both literary masterpieces of their time. They both explore the depths of human suffering, of how one’s actions usually creates the tragic situation that they are dealing with in the story. Furthermore, both of these stories give brutal detail of these punishments and tragic situations that these characters are put through to get across the gravity of the situation. However, the stories do differ in some ways, like how the characters handle the “punishments” given to them and even how the author is wanting you to see it. However, one of the similarities that both the books do beautifully is show the lament of the character’s that are not the focus and give admonition in imagery and symbolism. One of the similarities that is noticeable is the greed in both books, in Inferno there is a whole ring dedicated to it, and in King Lear there are few who are not affected by it.
Greed is the admonition and the lament that I feel is most strongly conveyed in both stories. In King Lear it is Lear’s greed that brings about his downfall, and his daughter’s greed that brings about their own downfalls. In Inferno, the greed circle itself is small, but the amount of souls in this ring is among the largest. In Dante’s Inferno those who were greedy in life go the fourth circle of hell which was for hoarders and spendthrifts. Here they come across Plutus, the god of wealth, who is yelling at them and blocking their way. In the previous canto Dante says, “there we found Plutus, mankind’s arch-enemy” , which is an interesting outlook on him since he is the god of wealth. It is interesting because it is opposite of what one would think that Plutus would be a god not in the underworld, but this stays with Dante’s belief that money is the root of all problems, much like greed. This can be seen as symbolic reproach on the readers from Dante implying that even though he is the god of wealth he is still in hell.
However, Virgil defeated the “beast” by saying that their expedition is backed by God. They then come across the greedy souls, condemned forever to fight against one another like waves on the sea. Half of these people are one’s who spent their money extravagantly, and the other half are priests and other clergymen recognizable by their bald heads who hoarded money instead of using for the church or for others. All these souls are guilty of committing acts of greed, however Dante views them all the same. This is interesting because one would think that someone who was spending their money on extravagant things is not being greedy, that they are just showing off their wealth. However, Dante thinks that through doing so is greed and he goes on to explain as Virgil talks about Fortune, how she is to keep balance of worldly wealth around the peoples of the world with no interference from the world. This quote from Inferno, “for all the gold that is or ever was beneath the moon won’t buy a moment’s rest for even one among these weary souls.”, talks of how hoarding and spending all this money is never going to ease their souls, only faith can do that, and in them, trying to find it using monetary means they are only interfering with Fortune.
Furthermore, one may believe that a lot of the other sins that have their own circle of hell are powered by greed. Like circle one and circle two where the lustful and gluttonous are punished, however one may see these sins as being instigated by people’s innate greed for more. Greed is also an element prominent in King Lear. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, greed is an element that is seen throughout the play mainly displayed by Lear, and his daughters. Lear’s greed begins to show through at the beginning of the play when he attempts to put a value on the invaluable, love as show in this quote , “Which of you shall we say doth love us most, That we our largest bounty may extend”. His two older daughters being greedy themselves give him extravagant words and flattery to show the “amount” of love they have for their father. However, Cordelia who truly loves him says nothing thinking that her father would understand her love for him through the actions she has done. Not knowing that her father like a dragon just wants to hoard the pretty and extravagant words and flattery to make himself feel better.
Later in the play a punishment similar to that of the fourth ring in Inferno comes to pass between these parties, Lear who wants to hoard things and grow old is being fought against at every turn by his two daughters who want to spend all of this inheritance they have received. Later in the story after Lear has essentially lost everything they are wondering through the storm and come across Tom O’Bedlam. In seeing him naked under the storm Lear realizes that greed is one of the things that cause his lament in the quote, “Thou ow’st the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume” . Through this the reader can see Lear making the realization that he may have had all these things, but they are not his that he owes others for them, that greed makes you take till there is nothing left much like the love Cordelia had for him.
Also, the reader can see that without his greed and need for all things material and abstract that you cannot put value on, that he has brought this lament, this storm onto himself. Furthermore, in the play the two daughter, Goneril and Regan show even more greed when eve though they are married (or freshly widowed) they both chase after Edmund thinking that he is handsome and could expand their fortunes. Edmund, while not in Lear’s family also shows greed throughout the play. He manipulates his father who loves him and his brother equally into thinking that Edgar wants to kill him and take his land and money, when in reality that is what Edmund wants and with Edgar now disowned he is the sole inheritor of his father’s estate. Shakespeare shows greed as an all-consuming fire of emotion that will lead people to do and say anything to acquire or spend more. He depicts it as a never-ending battle between wanting to hoard and wanting to spend.In conclusion, both stories are beautiful images of lament, suffering, and warning. It is shown throughout the stories in images, symbols and in words said by the characters whether they be the main character or that is their only line.
In the settings of the stories, the storminess of King Lear and the darkness in the beginning of Inferno can be looked at as a reflection of the emotional lament of the characters in the stories. The stormy setting of King Lear can be viewed as a more exact reflection of Lear’s emotional lament, as the storm begins when he realizes that his greed has blinded him from the real love that Cordelia held for him, and that causes him great anguish. In Inferno, the setting is dark and void of light, this can be seen as the darkness that the lament from our sins brings upon us with the realization that we can never unbecome what we became when we committed the sin. Another tool used by both stories that shows the admonition is imagery and symbolism. In King Lear, a symbol that Shakespeare emphasizes through Lear is that of a Dragon.
One could see this as a warning for multiple things that happen in the story, such as Lear’s greed when talking to his daughters, and in his wrath, Lear refers to himself as the dragon, saying you should not test his anger, which could be warning for his rash actions that cause his lament. In Inferno, the punishments are the cautionary tales that the reader is supposed to see to prevent them from experiencing the same lament of the souls in the story and of Dante himself. These ways that the stories have created lament and admonition in the reader’s landscape and through how greed is used throughout the stories as both a lament and as a cautionary tale for the readers, these are what make these stories literary masterpieces.