Due to the circumstances of the patriarchal society that has been present in society for hundreds if not thousands of years, gender roles have always been a prominent underlying issue throughout history. Gender roles are prevalent in literature and are expressed in many different ways. Shakespeare explores the theme of gender roles throughout King Lear regarding women in power. The main idea of his argument is that women are incapable of achieving control on their own. When they do receive power, it will corrupt their judgment and ultimately bring their downfall as a person. So basically, women are not able to handle the responsibilities of leadership as well as men can. Shakespeare challenges the traditional gender roles of women in society while at the same time sticks to the societal norm in King Lear. He gives them power, whereas, in many novels, women aren’t even the chance to possess any ability. Still, once the power is given to the women of the story, he makes failure imminent for them, which causes him to fall back into the traditional norms of gender roles for women in power.
As seen in Shakespeares’ play, King Lear, Reagan, more so than Goneril, loses her morals while in a blood lust search for power. This can be seen when she orders to have Kent put into the stocks or orders to have Gloucester’s eyes ripped out. These events show her lack of morals as a woman in power, which furthers the theme that women cannot handle power. However, Regan’s actions also promote a feminist ideology. Reagan opposes the usual gender roles by representing a more independent and cruel female role.
The feminist theme is also seen at the beginning of the play when his two daughters, who later turn evil and turn against him, Goneril and Reagan, profess their love to Lear. While his third daughter, Cordelia, refuses to fuel his ego. Shakespeare’s action and character challenge gender roles, specifically during the period in which the play was written by having Cordelia disobey her father, therefore giving her independence. Her power furthers when she gets married and becomes the queen of France. Her other two sisters gain power from marriage as well by marrying the dukes of Albany and Cornwall. While this growth of authority for the women supports the feminist ideology, it also supports a misogynistic view. For the women to gain power, they had to get married and receive power from their husbands.
Shakespeare builds on gender roles throughout the play, supporting both the feminist view and the patriarchal view with examples throughout The Tragedy of King Lear.