ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

King Lear Storm Scene and Character Analysis Show Shakespeare Was Atheist

Updated on July 30, 2018
RyanBuda profile image

Ryan is an academic coach at Central Connecticut State University, currently pursuing a Master's in Student Development in Higher Education.

Short summary

The play King Lear, first performed around 1604, centers on Lear, King of Britain, as he draws up plans to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. He selfishly demands that each daughter profess her love to obtain their portion. The first two daughters are quick to say everything they know their father wants to hear and are given their portion of land. His third daughter, Cordelia, refuses to say anything except that her love is too great to be put into words. This enrages Lear, who banishes her from his Kingdom. He is subsequently abused by the two supposedly loving daughters, descends into madness, and reunites with his truly loving Cordelia before both tragically die.

Humanistic backdrop of King Lear

for a deeper analysis of Humanism and Atheism at the time Shakespeare wrote King Lear, see my page entitled "Shakespeare religion and God: Was Shakespeare and Atheist or did Shakespeare believe in God"

Shakespeare's intimate knowledge of the human condition throughout King Lear echoes Historian Marvin Perry's description of the Humanist revolution, which began around the same time period Shakespeare wrote the play:

the Humanist Revolution "mark[ed] the birth of modernity...[where] individuals in all endeavors [were] not constrained by a destiny imposed by God from outside, but [were] free to make their own destiny guided.only by examples of the past, the forces of the present circumstances, and the drives of their own inner nature".

An analysis of King Lear, coupled with bible citations and evidence from the text, mimics this ideology.

Atheism in King Lear

The scene in which King Lear banishes Cordelia highlights a very un-Christian theme-Materialism. Jesus, Christendom's revered Messiah, preached exhaustively on these subject. For instance, in Luke 12:15 he said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness", and in Mathew 19:16-26 he urges a rich young man to sell his possessions and live a pious life. Yet King Lear does not follow Jesus's teachings. The entirety of the argument between him and Cordelia centers on his need for validation. He knows his daughter loves him and she says so, but he demands it to be materialized in her words. She does not relent to him and speak lies. Rather she maintains that she loves him according to their bond. So in response, Lear takes away his symbol of love, his material goods. His attachment to materialism is evidenced by how he equates love and material things.

The storm scene in King Lear is pivotal to the evidence that Shakespeare was either Humanist or Atheist
The storm scene in King Lear is pivotal to the evidence that Shakespeare was either Humanist or Atheist | Source

The Storm Scene

The storm scene is perhaps the best example of an un-Christian theme. The storm symbolizes King Lear's transition to loving Cordelia. Although initially banishing Cordelia, he transforms after the storm and his bout of madness and proclaims, "if you have poison for my, I will drink have some cause [your sisters] do not"(4.7.74-76). He exhibits the remorse of a good human being. This is very Humanist. He appeals to the tangible realities of the past, present and future, with a strong emphasis on his human relation to Cordelia.

A critic may be quick to point out that King Lear's remorse shows Christian morals, but this would be a fallacy. First, King Lear goes through a period of madness, contrasting with a state of epiphany found in religiously oriented writings. A religious writing would contain allusions to a higher power, like God and good deeds in the play Everyman, or the magical garments in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But King Lear is different. His madness is not attributed to the supernatural. It is biological and human. Furthermore, Cordelia's consultation with a doctor, King Lear's numerous appeals to nature, and the imagery of the storm as a catalyst for his change are all evidence for an emphasis on nature rather than religion.

Theologian William Lane Craig often says, "an absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence", when defending himself against religious skeptics' assertions that there is no scientific evidence for God. Ironically, this assertion can also apply to Shakespeare's atheism. The evidence is based mainly on a lack of evidence to the contrary. The historical evidence of his religious affiliation is entire absent. In a time period as religiously ripe as 17th century England, this would be very conspicuous. Add with it the strong Humanist overtones in the play King Lear, and there is a very strong case to say that Shakespeare was an Atheist.

Please comment and check out my homepage (link below)


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)