Lear, accompanied by his Fool, wanders through a desolate heath whilst a tumultuous storm rages overhead, cursing the weather and challenging it to a fierce duel against himself. In his rage, he commands floods to cover the steeples, lightning to flatten the Earth and to destroy all possibility of future life. Through the use of powerful language, it is as if he were wishing an apocalyptic end to the world that has allowed his monarchical and paternal/domestic “world” to conclude upon his daughters’ assumption of power and their further betrayal of him.
The physical chaos and turbulent nature of the storm symbolically echoes Lear’s internal turmoil and escalating madness whilst simultaneously epitomizing the tremendous power of nature, which forces the now powerless king to recognize his own mortality, human frailty and to develop in him a sense of humility for the first time. The storm may also be a reference to the idea of divine justice, since tempests and thunder have been viewed in both Christian and pagan traditions as a reference to the idea of divine anger or power ( eg. tory of Noah’s Ark from the Old Testament in the Bible and Thor the Thunder god from Norse Mythology, respectively).
If viewed in light of a misogynistic condemnation of feminism, one might rationalize the storm as a means for the pagan god’s expression of wrath towards a deviation from natural order in a patriarchal society. In pagan times, it was believed that life would proceed agreeably if people submitted to the world’s intrinsic regulations. In “King Lear” natural order manifests itself through a woman’s submission to a man’s authority.
However, the women in the play are all portrayed as evil and villainous when in their actions they each succeed to challenge this traditional order, consequently acting as a catalyst to the rage exhibited by the gods through the storm. (Cordelia defies Lear’s idealised vision of the “love test” in Act One whilst Goneril and Regan who initially submit eventually also disobey their father. ) A Marxist reading might utilize the meteorological chaos as a symbol of the repercussions of Lear’s monumentally poor decision to divide his kingdom.
He/she might comment on the storm as metaphor that emphasizes the political disarray which begins to overwhelm all of Lear’s Britain by mirroring itself in the natural world. Without mentioning the particulars of the political struggle, it is clear that in relinquishing his power to Goneril and Regan, Lear has destroyed not only his own authority but all authority. The country is now at the mercy of the play’s self righteous villains, who allow chaos to engulf the realm, managing in a way utterly converse Lear’s formerly stable and hierarchical kingdom.
King Lear” has also been interpreted and valued by many critics and readers as an Aristotelian tragedy, where Lear, the protagonist , is subjected to a journey from prosperity and power to obscurity and alienation . Act 3 is considered to be the “climax of the crisis” where the he is cause of his own punishment through his own pride (hubris)- In this scene, Lear refuses to swallow his pride and seek shelter at the homes of his daughters.
As Lear plods through the raging storm he has been symbolically stripped of all monarchical authority and progressively edges closer to also becoming stripped of his sanity. Humiliated, he now learns that a king caught in a storm is as much subject to the power of nature as any man. This is the beginning of Lear’s progressive journey to “recognition of a true appalling state of affairs”- another attribute of an Aristotelian tragedy.