Women As People?

Gender roles, specifically women and their roles in both society and family is a prevailing idea throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear. The three women in the play are King Lear’s daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. The play begins with an ultimatum from King Lear to his daughters to profess their love for him and in return they were offered a split of his kingdom. When Cordelia felt that her love abounded a meer profession to her father, she did not comply and was henceforth removed from the chance to get part of the kingdom. King Lear was upset by this, feeling as though this meant that she did not love him and their entire relationship previous to this point in time was quickly forgotten. In this instance, all Cordelia was to her father was a nuisance. She was quickly removed from the kingdom and her character was not brought back until the end of Act 4. Her other two sisters remain as prevalent characters throughout the play, but their only purpose as characters is to inconvenience Lear. While Regan and Goneril are apart of every act and a decent amount of scenes, Shakespeare does not care about them. Shakespeare writes the other antagonist of the play, Edmund, as having a reason to betray his father while Goneril and Regan are simply just “emotional.”

As Goneril and Regan get control over the kingdom, Shakespeare writes them in as monsters. They take away their fathers knights, his power, his name, and eventually his sanity. They are portrayed as villainous, emotional, and unfit-to-lead and become hated by almost every single character in the play including Goneril’s husband, Albany. He says, “You are not worth the dust with the rude wind / Blows in your face” (IV.II line 39-40). The readers can clearly see that without a man in power or to watch over the women, everything turns to chaos. It seems as if their emotions and feelings towards their father cloud and dictate every decision they make. Even at the end of act 5, they are both fighting over Edmund who appears to be a real man “To thee a woman’s services are due” (IV.II line 34).

Throughout the play, it is evident that the women have no real role other than to mess everything up. They are seen as unfit to lead, emotional monsters, who can not do anything without the help of a man. Shakespeare did not intend to write them into the play as real people who are heroic or have any significant importance to the play other than to be a nuisance to their father and everyone around them.

4 thoughts on “Women As People?

  1. Najda HSJ

    I agree, I think the main part of the female characters’ purpose in the play is to simply develop the characterization of men. Comparing women to monsters shows how women who go against men are seen as demonic.


  2. LIVIA N.

    Hmm, I don’t know if the daughter’s emotionalness was the reason why they betrayed him. I think it was to maintain power, the last of it being his servants and knights. They drove him out because they didn’t care or like Lear. Yes it was shallow and not very deep, but that’s what makes them and Edmund evil. Edmund destroyed the lives of his father and brother, just for inheritance. This is also very shallow.

    But I agree that Edmund was equally deserving of the hate the daughters got. And there was an unnecessary clearly sexist focus on them being woman.


  3. CAIT O.

    I agree with Livia in the sense that the daughter’s betrayed Lear simply because they were tired of his shenanigans. However, I do agree with you that Shakespeare never truly meant to have these women in a lasting position of power, independent of any man.



    I agree with Cait in the sense that I too believe that Shakespeare never truly intended to have any of these women in lasting positions of power. This can also be seen at the end of the play when Cordelia is killed off somewhat abruptly. It can be argued that Shakespeare killed her off just to end the play with no women in positions in power (maybe he believed that his audience wouldn’t be able to handle it).


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