Lear: And my poor fool is hanged.—No, no, no life? Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, And thou no breath at all? (5.3.305-7).
As Lear weeps over Cordelia’s dead body, he brings up a main element of the play: justice. His questioning of why animals can have life but not wonderful Cordelia is powerful and makes the reader question why this tragedy has to happen. Lear suggests that the world has no justice at all and that there is no just force above who only allows bad things to happen to bad people. Lear, however, does not realize here that death is inevitable for all beings, even that dog, horse, and rat he mentions. Death is even awaiting Lear himself in the moments after Cordelia’s death which marks yet another innocent victim in this unfair world.
As opposed to Shakespeare’s intended unjust version of King Lear, a more satisfying version of the play dominated the stage from 1681 to 1834. This version, called The History of King Lear and produced by poet Nahum Tate, ends happily as only the cruel, devious characters died and Cordelia and Edgar end up living a happy life together. Tate’s version emphasizes reward for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior. The ending makes more sense to humans than Shakespeare’s unjustified ending. Tate’s version is more of a fairy tale in its “happily ever after” ending while Shakespeare’s version seems more like reality since bad things do happen to good people in the real world.