“Because She’s a Girl”

One of the moments, in Act 4 of King Lear specifically, that stood out to me was during Albany and Goneril’s argument during Scene 2. Albany and Gonreil are persistently throwing insults at eachother left and right from calling Albany a “milk-livered man” in line 62 to saying Gonreil is not worth any more than the dust that blows in her face in line 39. However, towards the end of the argument, Albany states “a woman’s shape doth shield thee”, implying the only thing protecting Gonreil from catching Albany’s fists to her face is the fact that she’s a woman.

We see this idea implemented everywhere and even in present day. It has always been an overarching rule of thumb that all of us have grown up with. My brothers used to get bullied by our female neighbor. She would throw things at them, kick them, and punch them but they could never defend themselves and punch back because she was a girl. Is this because females are seen as weaker? Is this because, for some reason, it has been assumed that a man’s defense will always, 100% of the time be stronger than what the female has done? This rings true even in cases of domestic abuse. People always seem to be surprised when the man is the one abused. The woman is the one that caused the blacks, blues, and broken bones. Why have we been taught this?

In Albany’s case, his wife was found having an affair with sneaky little Edmund and even after all the offenses and the fact that she was cheating on him, he feels as though he cannot “get her back”– solely because of her gender.

Am I saying that females deserve to be able to be slapped back? Not at all. But, am I saying that there should be more level-headedness when it comes to allowing males to express emotion and feel revengeful? Yes. I look at OPRF as another example. Females are taught self defense our sophomore year. A week dedicated to defending ourselves against particularly men that have the potential to abduct us. Not once was it said during my week of self defense class that the person trying to abduct us could potentially be female. Not once was my 100% female P.E. class shown the “target spots” for defending ourselves against a femle abductor, only taught how to knee a big scary man in the balls. The police that were brought in for the demos, all men.

Then I look at my brother again. He is in what is called “step back” in his P.E. class. Are the boys here taught self defense? Nope. Are we assuming that all teenage boys know how to defend themselves already and just need to be taught how to “step back” from conflicts? I guess so.

Regardless, I believe that there is extreme discrepancy and inconsistency in the power dynamic when it comes to gender and all things revolving around this idea of women being weaker than men. And the fact that it has been occuring long enough for Shakespeare to write it into his plays and it still rings true to this day calls for nothing but acknowledgement and change.

Who Makes Justice

In King Lear, Lear is the man with all the power to begin with. From the time the reader saw him with everything, he was not a great or admirable man. Lear was quick to anger, impulsive, and the opposite of smart. The only reason his subjects listened and obeyed him is due to the fact that he held all the power. Defying the King could mean losing your life, land, or family. King Lear deals out his sense of justice when Kent, his loyal advisor defies him. At the beginning he could do anything he wanted with no consequences and didn’t hold back.

As Lear deligated his land to his daughters, his power dwindled. He could no longer deal his sense of justice with no council. Goneril and Regan held all the power and almost all of Lear’s former followers left to serve the strong. The daughters proceeded to make their own dealings and pass their own sentences on people. Justice gets dealt by the people who hold the power. It is always the people who win and can do the real damage that make justice. In most wars, the victor has been on the side of justice, but it is not because justice prevails. Rather the winner is justice and no one could defy them.

Dysfunctional Families

William Shakespeare’s King Lear among many other themes and concepts is a timeless example of familial relations along with gender roles. When I think of a modern day family with many kids I immediately picture the older sisters as the bossiest. However when there is an older brother, they are viewed as responsible and protective for doing the same things. Although uncommon, the concept that Lear’s power is going to his daughters with their obeying husbands following behind is a refreshing story line. I think that the one thing that is overlooked is the attitude the audience is expected to have towards Goneril and Regan. It is important to see them as antagonists, but I think it is also important to consider that if their characters were male, their betrayal of Lear would not be considered so intense. Which ties to the idea that daughters are meant to obey their fathers and be grateful for him and what provides them, simultaneously accepting that sons are portrayed to be more prone to disloyalty in a search for independence. So although it seems progressive that Shakespeare has Goneril and Regan to be daughters rather than sons, it is important to consider whether or not it was to ensure that their characters came off as evil and disloyal rather than independent.

Delayed Judgement for King Lear

Within the first couple scenes of King Lear, it becomes clear that some characters are meant to be perceived as “good” and others as “bad.” Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are bad; Cordelia and Kent are good. Lear is maybe the only one whose goodness isn’t set in stone at the end of the first act. Although Goneril, Regan, and Edmund all have legitimate grievances tied to their lack of options to gain wealth and power in a patriarchal society dominated by inheritance, they are marked from the beginning as evil. In later acts, their evilness becomes clear in the violence that they either take part in or allow to occur, but in Act 1 their only bad action is trying to push back against an unfair system.

The reason for these snap good/bad divisions in the play is loyalty, but only loyalty to the “natural” power, which is Lear. This is shown through the treatment of Goneril’s servant Oswald, a very loyal character who is repeatedly harassed by Lear in Act 1 Scene 4 and Kent in Act 2 Scene 2 for showing Lear less than complete devotion. But it’s unclear why Lear deserves this devotion in the first place, when his unpredictable temper and lack of compassion for Kent and Cordelia suggest that he is not a capable or worthy leader. Why is Lear, who begins with the advantages of complete power via the “natural” system and still treats the people around him poorly, the one who gets a redemption arc?

Family Dynamics

In our world today, family is considered very important to most people. When people have bad relationships with their family members, they try and fix them if it’s possible. In other words, a lot rides on healthy relationships. In Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of King Lear,” things are a little different. To begin, Edmund is the “bastard son” since he was born out of wedlock. In modern day, someone is not considered any less than their sibling since because they have a different mother or father than them. Not only is the concept of family different by calling a son illegitimate because they were born by two people who were not married, but Edmund completely ruins the relationships he has with his father and brother to obtain money and land. Edmund is so furious at the fact his brother Edgar will get everything, he goes to great lengths. He first turns his father against Edgar with a fake letter and then betrays his father, later in scene 3, by telling Cornwall details about the French army helping the king. I find it interesting how much Edmund will do to receive money and fortune, and it says a lot about how important the title someone had was during the time of the play.

Not only does Edmund’s situation tell a lot about family dynamics during that time, but so does the main conflict regarding King Lear and his daughters. His daughters rebel against the king after getting sick of Lear abusing his power. Although many believe they did the right thing by standing up to their dad, some may also argue it reaches a point where enough is enough and it would have been a good idea to help Lear, before he went mad. It’s clear family dynamic back then was very different from how it is now. My question is if Edmund’s and Lear’s daughters acts are justifiable, and did Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar deserve what they got?

Loyalty Can Be A Tricky Thing

Loyalty is something almost everyone wants in any sort of relationship (significant other, family, friends, etc.), but how do you know if that person really is? Loyalty is something that should be expected of someone you trust, and rightfully so. Throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear, many loyalties are tested, some are in disguise and others are pretend. Kent stays loyal to Lear in disguise even after Lear leaves him. Edmund fakes his loyalty to his brother, Edgar, and his father, Gloucester.

In the beginning of Act 1, Kent is honest with King Lear about how incorrectly he was handleing hte situation with Cordelia. While he is stepping out of line, Kent has the best intentions. He has always been honest with King Lear and has always been there for him, even after he was banished. After, he comes back to guide and protect Lear in disguise.“Now, banished Kent, / If thou canst serve where thou dost stand / condemned, / So may it come thy master, whom thou lov’st, / Shall find thee full of labors” (I.iv.4-8). While returning back to Lear is very risky, Kent continues to serve Lear and protect others. He does not give up on Lear and continues to prove his loyalty to him, even if Lear does not know it.

Edmund, who is the illegitimate child of Gloucester, has a difficult time with loyalty. He becomes frustrated that he is not able to gain any power or land since he was born out of wedlock, so he hatches a plan to get that power. He tricks Gloucester into thinking that his legitimate son, Edgar, has turned against him. He forges a letter from Edgar to himself, saying that he is tired of being under his father’s control and plans on killing him. Gloucester gets a hold of this letter and becomes furious with Edgar and is out for him. Edmund informs Edgar and tells him that he needs to leave the castle. When he hears Gloucester coming towards them, he stages a fight against Edgar. Edgar runs away and Gloucester comes to check on Edmund, who cut himself. He tells him that Edgar punished him for refusing to participate in the alleged killing of Gloucester. Gloucester falls fro the trap and banishes Edgar. With Edmund’s twisted loyalties, he successfully gets rid of Edmund and becomes the heir to his father’s assets and power.

Nasty Women: Goneril and Regan

Goneril and Regan, I cannot help but admire these two powerful characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear. While they are cold-hearted and cruel, they go after what they want. Goneril wanted to be with Edmund so she kissed him first. This is a huge milestone for women in literature during Shakespeare’s time. Women during the 1500s are meant to be quiet and used as objects to continue the human race. Goneril and Regan threw those ideas out the window. They manipulated people, especially men, in order to get as much power as possible. However, Shakespeare is still a product of his time. He portrayed them to be crazy, wicked, nasty women all because they wanted some power. But Edmund wanted the same amount of power if not more than Goneril and Regan yet, his madness seemed more subtle.

Strategic Love

King Lear loves to be loved. He views love as respect and having the respect of others gives him power. Throughout the play, Lear comes to terms with the fictitious nature of Goneril and Regan’s love.

In the first scene of the play Lear asks his daughters to profess their love to him in order for him to decide what land they get. Right from the beginning, we see the allocation of value onto love. Love is no longer an emotion but a commodity. Exuberant confessions of love are worth more than true, simple familial feelings. Goneril and Regan are aware of the power that their love has, the value that their father has placed upon their answers. They claim that their love for Lear is “Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, / Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare, / No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor; / As much as child e’er loved” (I.i.62-65). Lear’s two eldest daughters have taken the world he created, a world where love can be converted to power, and used it against him. Lear has set himself up for betrayal.

Cordelia, on the other hand, does not use love, or performative love, as means for strategically gaining power. She refuses to play her father’s game and continues to treat love as an emotion felt towards another. “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. / I love your Majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less.”

Retrospectively, this act is foreshadowing of her sisters’ betrayal. Lear, upon hearing Cordelia’s refusal to boost his ego with over the top declarations of love, sees it as disloyalty and over reacts by not giving her any money or power. Goneril and Regan are prepared to take advantage of Lear and his definition of love. That is why they are able to lie, exaggerating a love that is already barely there. Cordelia tells her love as it is and proves herself to be the more loyal daughter.