King Lear Prompt
In this excerpt, King Lear is, in essence, stating that justice cannot harm the rich, but that it excessively oppresses the poor. This statement was clearly true in King Lear's time, when those wearing "[r]obes and furr'd gowns" controlled justice themselves. But is it true today, where kings and feudal states have been replaced with presidents and democracies? In answer, I would say that not a thing has changed. The "lance of justice" has little impact on the rich, while it constantly bombards and oppresses the poor.
As evidence to this statement, I would take note of the newsworthy events of the day. Take one example: Enron, anyone? The Enron scandal is the perfect example of the rich going blatantly against all that is just and losing very little. Granted, some of the executives involved in the scandal were, to a degree, punished, but what they lost comes nowhere close to the millions of dollars that they gained. Compare this scenario to the stereotypical desperate parent, robbing a convenience store for money to feed their family. Such a person is virtually guaranteed jail time; such a person will have at least as difficult an experience as any of the head Enron executives, and in all probability, his or her experience would be much worse, even though he or she probably only stole $10 or $15. This clearly shows a wide disparity between the "justice" received by the wealthy and that received by the poor.
I recently heard a story on the radio about abusive debt collectors. These people, it seems, call up poor, indebted families, and threaten these families with anything they can think of, legal or otherwise, in order to get their debt payments. These debt collectors will do anything, from impersonating a police officer and threatening arrest to threatening to (illegally) confiscate people's homes or property, and sell them for cash. The debt collectors are, or at least represent, the rich, the people who had money to lend in the first place; the indebted families are clearly poor, as they cannot afford to pay off their debts. The rich are documented as having broken the law in this area on thousands of occasions, and yet they go virtually unpunished. Why is this? Quite simply: wealth buys out justice. Wealthy people today "plate sin" not literally "with gold", but with lawyers, political intrigue, and complex I-didn't-know-about-it schemes; they bury themselves in so deeply that the "lance of justice" cannot penetrate the resulting maze. Often, they are so successful that the truth of what they have done is never fully known; this is why "[r]obes and furr'd gowns hide all". The poor, on the other hand, cannot afford these schemes. They are caught bare-faced, with mere "rags", at best, for protection, rags through which their "vices do appear" and become plain for all to see.
King Lear's statement is as true today as it was in his own time, as true in the real world as it was in the world Shakespearian. The rich still control justice; the poor still cower in its face. Justice has, alas, become another tool in the hands of the wealthy, a tool, just as potent as feudalism was in its day, to repress the poor and to help the wealthy keep themselves from harm.