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.

Apologize

King Lear isn’t much of a king in my book and actually makes me angry. He’s arrogant, petty, and dumb. How does one expect to be treated like a king when he is giving all of his power away. The fact that he thinks he should still be treated as a king for nothing makes me kinda angry I’ll admit. I don’t even think he was that good of a king to begin with as he doesn’t seem very well liked. But the main part here is what happens after he finds out he’s gonna be nothing soon. The storm arrived and is rampaging through the village and now Lear feels bad for the homeless in the kingdom. Bruh. He starts to feel bad for the people that needed the most help after he loses everything. Lear isn’t a king anymore but now that he’s lost everything he becomes Mr. Thoughtful which is ridiculous. Shakespeare did such a great job of making such an unlikable main character. I think its rather comedic the timing of this statement and I actually started laughing when he said it. I can’t wait so see where this story ends and what happens to Lear in the end. Also check the One Republic reference in the title. lol

Lear’s Despotism

In King Lear, one of the protagonists, Lear himself, exhibits many similarities to historical dictators and tyrants. Although Lear has clearly not caused the same societal damage or outright atrocities as many notorious “leaders,” he possesses one trait common among all despots: lust for power.

In the actual play, Lear gives up his power to two of his daughters, Regan and Goneril, as he has gotten old and he no longer wants the duties of being king. To Lear’s surprise, his daughters do not treat him as he thinks he should be treated, which is like a king. Lear has gotten so used to being treated like a king that he believes that is how he should be treated even when he is no longer king. He makes demands that are not fulfilled and becomes angry because of it. He is eventually kicked out of the kingdom that was formerly his. Similar to many dictators, Lear thirsts for his lost power, and will stop at nothing to get it back. He does not want to deal with all of the problems he faced when he was king, but he continues to seek the respect and power he has when he was king. Ultimately, Lear is a power hungry guy who lost his main desire through no one’s fault but his own.

The Evil Villian- A Strong Woman

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. 

The Stain of Women’s Weapons

“Let not women’s weapons, water-drops,/Stain my man’s cheeks!”

(II.iv.304-305)

Among other things—mainly being narcissistic, self-pitying, and selfish—King Lear is sexist. He frequently rejects weakness, claiming it is a woman’s trait. He also expects nothing from his daughters other than unwavering love, loyalty, and servitude. He gives them nothing, no respect nor benefit of the doubt, even his gift of his land came with the condition that he would be welcome into their homes with one hundred other mouths to feed whenever he chose. Essentially, Lear passed on the duties of the crown just so he could live in luxury with no responsibility, while his daughters housed him and his retinue. He didn’t even give them love, as he mentions repeatedly that Cordelia was his favorite, directly in front of his other daughters, insinuating that they are less than. Lear is the biggest portrayer of the MALE+STRENGTH/female+weakness binary in the play. He loses his power, partially because of his daughters, and partially because of his insanity. Because of this loss, he feels a loosening in his grip of his masculinity. In his world, the two are one in the same, he only feels like a man when he is powerful and invulnerable.

Although Goneril and Regan are seen as the antagonists in King Lear, I see them as their own kind of protagonists. Where they are portrayed as conniving and traitorous, I see two women taking advantage of whatever they are able in order to make themselves a better life. Their main evil deed was supposedly lying to their father about their love for him. I don’t really see the issue. If a family member I didn’t like that much asked me to describe my love for them—which is pretty self-centered in the first place—I wouldn’t tell them that I didn’t like them. That would be cruel. I would give a white lie, in order to avoid giving unnecessary offense. This might not have been Goneril and Regan’s incentive, but just the same, telling their father they had no love for him would have been much more cruel. Later on in the play, both women do become violent and plan to harm others. However, they are made the villain before any of that occurs. Albany says his wife is “not worth the dust which the rude wind/blows in your face” just because of her actions to her father (IV.ii.32-33). All the daughters did was deny welcome to a hundred rude and rowdy men into the homes that were legally and rightfully theirs. Lear treats this denial as betrayal, but I see it as completely reasonable. They locked Lear out in the storm, but it was right after he said absolutely horrid things to and about them. And, to be fair, he walked out into the storm in the first place, with no intention of returning. To be clear, I do not believe that Goneril and Regan are good people, but I also don’t think they are monsters.

When reviewing the actions of the two villainous women, personally it’s hard to find a true, unforgivable fault. The factor that seems to direct their portrayal as antagonists seems throughout to be their disloyalty. They both deny to give the loyalty expected from them due to their gender. Adultery committed by men is completely acceptable, yet Goneril is a monster because she does not blindly love the man who says her female body is the only reason he doesn’t kill her (IV.ii.64-68). The characters in this play all expect women to be loyal servants they can either receive admiration from, or have sex with. Since Goneril and Regan refuse to complete those duties, they are the villains of the play. Women in this world are expected to be vulnerable and emotional. When the men are faced with powerful women, women who are strong and unafraid, they title them monsters in order to deny their own fear at not being inherently superior.

Walter White is Based of the Characteristics of King Lear

The personality of King Lear is based on the fact that he is a King. He enjoys the powers and responsibilities as well as getting to rule over others. As shown by his response to Kent, Lear does not do well to people contradicting his rulings. 

Walter White is a power hungry man who, like Lear, fears of losing family, money, and power and decides to start making meth. He becomes fixated on gaining power and being the best which harms his home life. Like Lear, White does not do well when people contradict him and this tends to happen often. His reaction is matched to Lear’s, White wants them out of the picture if they don’t agree. 

Once both Lear and White start to lose power they will do anything to get it back. Because of their position of power they also have people trying to take them down or take some of their power. For Lear this is his own daughters Goneril and Regan and for White (without trying to spoil much) this is the people he works for. Lear realizes the loyalty of his youngest daughter Cordelia, but was he too late to see this like White was? Without spoiling the end of Breaking Bad, I will say that it also ends in a tragedy. Throughout the season many people find themselves backstabbing people you thought they trusted and going against each other.

Media’s Vultures

The other night, my family and I decided to watch The Thomas Crown Affair. This thriller follows a love affair between an art thief and a detective. After watching this movie, I thought about the presentation in class, “Representations of Women and Power.” One thing that stood out to me from the presentation was that when women are in a position of power, they are usually either oversexualized or deemed crazy.
In this movie, one of the lead detectives on this case was the only woman. I noticed her role was very different from the other detectives. She was only used for her “charm” in order to get closer to the art thief. When the detectives started to lose, she was blamed. Her character’s intelligence as a detective was rarely taken seriously, and ultimately, she was being taken advantage of the entire time.
In “King Lear,” when Goneril and Regan became more powerful, they were compared to animals. “Beloved Regan,/ Thy sister’s naught. O Regan, she hath tied/ Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here.” (2.4.136). In this scene, King Lear felt that Goneril’s rise to power had betrayed him and was planning to feed off of him like a vulture. By using animals such as “vultures” as a comparison, the argument that women in power are seen as untamed and turbulent is strengthened again.

Women of the Future

Years ago when men were seen as the only leaders is when this play was written. Shakespeare wrote King Lear in a time where women had to dress and act a certain way to please the men in society. Men were the only ones who could work and “have power” as if women were incapable of it.

William Shakespeare wrote about all of the battles we had to fight to be where we are today, which is still not where we should be. Although, you can see the struggle that the female characters had in the play when reading it. King Lear had three daughters who could possibly inherit a sliver of what power their Father had by expressing their love for him. Two of his daughters, Regan and Goneril, showed their love while his third daughter, Cordelia, did not go above and beyond to please his Father in any way. Just in this small example, you can tell that they had to exagerate their love just to get a chance of reciving power they could never earn themselves.

Cordelia ends up marrying the King of France and inherits his wealth. Some would call her lucky to marry into that wealth, but it was almost a necessity. There was no way that she could make an extreme about of money by herself as a women. This itself is absurd. Women should have equal opportunities to receive wealth without having to marry into it or over express feelings, that are not really there, from their male relatives.

Towards the end of King Lear you notice history that repeats itself… Women cannot obtain power without obliterating everything and everyone around them. On no level is this fair/equal to women as a whole. For example, Queen Elizabeth chose to marry her country instead of a man. She should have never been able to become a female leader due to the “rules” that men set for a role model in a country. Although, she was one of the first female leaders in history which connects to the play and how there was little to no hope with a women becoming a leader. Queen Elizabeth is a prime example of an astonishing women leader who did not become ruthless and make chaotic decisions like others thought. Women leadership is needed more in the future.

Losing everything to gain something

I don’t know what it feels like to have real power. Someone with big money or big control over a lot of people is what a powerful person often has. The Cubs general manager, pretty much any politician even though they all suck, the great Elon Musk or a restaurant owner, they all have something in common which I’m sure you can guess: power. Something I’ve noticed about power is that it seems to be synonymous with influence. Someone who has money, relationships, connections or some type of leverage can influence people or a situation in their favor, effectively using their power to become more powerful. This brings me to my next point which is power is like money, its exponential. The more you have the easier it becomes to obtain more. All this sounds real nice but having power means you have responsibility, pressure and choices to make in order to stay in power. Again like money, going from $0 to 1 million is damn impressive but keeping your 1 million and going to 10 million is a whole different ball game and one that no one can play until you win the first game.

So to elaborate, Lear already got his 1 million and is now sitting with 10 million (AKA a whole lot of power) and yet decides to divide his kingdom because he is old and doesn’t want to deal with all the responsibilities. Again, he’s delegating the pressure, decisions, responsibilities of his power while hoping to maintain some power and control. What is he thinking? In every situation one must bring value in order to maintain their personal value to the situation. Lear is like a CEO of a company, hoping to maintain control while having someone else deal with all the headaches. You know what would happen to that CEO? The same thing that happened to Lear, he/she gets cut out. It’s the only logical thing to happen, if you are not bringing value why are you needed?

Lear experienced this the hard way but he learned something that in my opinion, can only make the powerful obtain more power. Empathy. Sitting in the rain after losing basically everything he feels for his people and their suffering. This is the sign of a truly great leader and someone who has the characteristics to be truly powerful. If you can feel the pulse or needs of your people and truly bring VALUE and help them, what’s stopping you from harnessing the power of the people? In business when your in touch with the consumer and bringing real value to the consumers needs, you win. The people have the real power and sometimes it takes feeling like an average joe to realize that.

Get back to the kitchen… or not

In King Lear, the depiction of women throughout the play reflects a blatant hatred for women and whatever they do. The sexism in the play is not only saved for the women who are “evil”, but the ones who are “good” as well. In the historically-based TV show Reign, women face the same situation. No matter how good or bad, royal or common they might be, all women are consistently treated with disrespect. Both pieces deliver a similar message: no matter what women do, they will still succumb to the sexist views of the early centuries.

Cruel and calculated, Goneril and Regan from King Lear are depicted as animalistic with no redeeming qualities. In Reign, Queen Catherine is quite intelligent and fiercely loyal, but is written to look selfish and deceptive. The men of similar status and character are shown as cunning, with good reasons as to why they act the way they do.

Even the women protagonist are constantly disrespected and undermined. In King Lear, the kind-hearted Cordelia is shown as disloyal to her father and is even written off for a while when she speaks her mind. In Reign, Queen Mary is constantly sabotaged and overlooked by the men in her life, even though she has good intentions and holds more power than them.

Although Goneril and Regan from Lear and Catherine from Reign might have malevolent hearts, all their scheming and hatred might not be completely unwarranted. If the men in your life are going to disrespect you no matter what you do, why not gain a little power while you’re at it?

The Power of Having Nothing

In Act 3, Scene 4 of King Lear, Lear finally begins to show compassion. He does this only after he is stripped of all his riches. This makes me think about the society we live in today: To successfully put yourself in another person’s shoes, do you have to physically put yourself in their situation? Sure, rich royalty can be extremely caring and kind, but to best understand those who are homeless or lower in the hierarchy of society, I think one needs to be put in their position, and from the plot of the play, I think Shakespeare would agree.

Here is an example from my life:

I went on a school ecology trip to Costa Rica a couple years ago. I was not expecting our first destination: a run down house with bed bugs, little drinking water, no air conditioning, and extreme heat. This house was owned by a hard-working Costa Rican family who graciously welcomed us and were so kind and content with life. I was very humbled by this experience because it made me realize how fortunate I was to have all of the comfortable wants that this family didn’t have. Although they had very little, they seemed like the happiest family in the world.

This brings me to another thought: Do riches determine luck and happiness? King Lear had everything he could have asked for, and yet, he always seemed stressed and unsatisfied. The family in Costa Rica had nothing but basic needs and they were completely and entirely satisfied. I would argue that too many riches can actually make a person discontented; when one has all the riches in the world, there is nothing more to work towards, disallowing you to gain something more special than what you already have.

Cinderella And the Evil Stepsisters of King Lear

The idea of women as one of two extremes in literature and religion is one of the most discussed themes in modern history. The comparisons began with early religion, like that of Ancient Greece, but most commonly in the Bible. Children in Christian households grow up going to church and hearing stories about every type of man – good, evil, strong, kind, etc. As for women, they only hear about women who are “pure” and “untainted” or women who are the opposite/evil. King Lear, though the play never mentions the Christian God, displays these undertones throughout interactions of the different women with each other and others.

Cordelia represents the pure and loving ideal of women throughout the play. This role begins in the beginning of the novel, where she speaks with honesty and acts with other characters’ best intentions at heart. She accepts the King’s anger and leaves him be, standing by her choice to tell him the truth. She is absent for the middle acts, but her role is fathered when she re-enters the plot line in Act 4. In Act 4, Scene 3, a gentleman tells Kent of Cordelia’s reaction at the update on England’s chaos from Kent’s letter. The letter detailed Lear’s treatment by Cordelias sisters. The man claims that she “shook the holy water from her heavenly eyes” in her sorrow (4.3.35). Cordelia is idolized as a figure of purity and goodness in her actions and appearance. Her character seems to parallel the Virgin Mary; she is spoken about by a random gentleman in terms that paint her as a “heavenly” figure or an angel, which implies that the greater population that the gentleman belongs to shares this belief.

Contrarily, Regan and General are foils to Cordelias character: they are portrayed as base and cruel compares to the beauty and light emitted by their sister. Tension between Lear and the sisters builds, eventually reaching a turning point in Act 2, scene 4. Lear wants to stay with one of his daughters, but they take away all of his men and servants, vowing to make his life at either of their homes miserable. Since his power and happiness is stripped from him, Lear leaves the castle to gather himself in the outside storm. The sisters’ real cruelty is revealed then, as they lock him out of the palace to suffer in the dangerous storm alone. Regan demands, “O sir, to willful men / The injuries that they themselves procure / Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors. / He is attended with a desperate train….” (2.4.346-349). Goneril agrees with Regan’s request, and so do most of the men there. The act of shutting out their senile father to a storm where he could die seems inhumane of the sisters, and futher’s the portrayal of them in Act 1 as negative, base, and borderline evil.

The very action of shutting Lear outside the palace is what so deeply upsets Cordelia; These actions juxtapose each other, making the negative versus view of Regan and Goneril / Cordelia that much more extreme. Within the context of the whole play, these women create the general sense of gender roles – like the Bible, women are either pure and good or evil and sexual (also due to the sisters infatuation with Edmund). Women are not shown like men are – they must be one of two destructive stereotypes.

Why Not Weep for a Tragedy?

In King Lear, Shakespeare characterizes Lear as a prideful King and Father who is losing power as he is getting older. There are many struggles in the story between people, oneself, a person and nature, and nation to nation. The most intriguing struggle is Lear’s internal battle of trying to accept his age and losing his power of being King, while trying to keep the title and respect as father and King, because it expresses the difficulty of having something for so long just to lose it.

At the end of Act II, when both Goneril and Regan refused to allow their father to stay with them along with his hundred knights, Lear argues that he may not need the knights but as King and father he should be allowed to take them as protection. After their denial, Lear claims they have betrayed him, “I have full case of weeping, but this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws or ere I’ll weep. – O Fool, I shall go mad!” (II, 4, 117). Lear’s internal conflict of wanting power or or wanting love and respect has cost him the respect of his daughters as their father, and the respect of the kingdom as their leader. He has essentially lost everything, because he wanted too much. Lear is then left with his title, with no power, and the clothes on his back. He will not be upset about everything that he just lost, but trying to keep the respect and role as King is becoming so difficult for Lear that his mind is spinning in circles. To a man who was not a father and held no title, accepting that he was not powerful or had children would be easy like any other day, however having known the power and respect as King and father it is considered a great loss.

Image result for image of heart shattering like glass

The Struggle of Being a Woman

Back in Shakespearean times, being a noble woman carried a lot of weight. Males sexualized us. We would have to look and dress a certain way. Our mannerisms mattered (even if they were not authentic). And last but not least, we were expected to be docile and follow the lead of the men in our life, especially our fathers.

The struggle of being a woman is very present in the play, King Lear, by William Shakespeare. In the play, King Lear’s daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are expected to proclaim their love for their father in order to receive their inheritance. Regan and Goneril overexaggerate their love for their father, while Cordelia remains true to herself and does not blanket her father compliments in order to gain his favor. Because of this, she receives none of his power or inheritance, despite her authentic love for her father being more than her sisters’. This is just the first of many examples in the play, where the struggle of being a woman is very real. Non-submissiveness results in great consequences, as seen with Cordelia. “Fortunately” for her, the King of France decides to court and marry her, which means she will remain in nobility. This further exemplifies how difficult it is to be a woman because she must marry someone in order to remain above water. Without a noble man, she would have been nothing.

Later in the play, the portrayal of Goneril and Regan is quite dramatic due to the power that they hold. When Goneril requests that Lear downsizes the amount of knights that he brings, Lear exclaims that Goneril has a “wolfish visage” (1.4.325). In the play, women of power are frequently described as rabid animals. In this case, because Goneril was exerting her authority over her father, who distributed all of his power, she was bashed and described to be a wolf. Moreover, after abandoning their father. the Duke of Albany condemns Goneril and Regan when he states, “Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?”(4.2.49). By describing them as tigers, he is emphasizing that they are acting wild and animalistic.

Even more, the fact that the females in the story act out of control when in power plays on to a theme that we as women cannot hold power without being ruthless. In reality, women can act and rule in a very normal way. The chaos in King Lear does not serve as a proper example of women in power, but does emphasize the many bad perceptions of women. In this modern day and age, ruling as a female is still quite difficult. It is nice to think that progress is still happening. With Kamala Harris as the first female vice president of the USA, we can clearly see change and understand that females are very capable of leading. There is still hope for future women in power.

The Great Stage of Fools

My favorite element of King Lear is not a particular image or subtheme, but rather the continuous contrast between what characters appear to be and what they really are. This pattern has repeated several times, and I continue to discover more examples as I read.

Take, for example, Cordelia, one of the first characters to have such a development. Although her sisters sing lofty praises of their father while she refuses to profess such love, she is the one who really loves Lear. As the play continues, Regan and Goneril continue to plot behind their father’s back, even closing doors on him during a storm. On the other hand, Cordelia cries tears of “diamonds” and “pearls” from her “heavenly eyes” when she learns of her father’s poor treatment (187). Despite what one might think after reading the first scene of Act 1, Cordelia is the caring and loyal daughter.

Other examples include Lear, who begins as the powerful, mighty King. However, by the middle of the play, he stands as a “slave” to the tempest and the forces of nature. He admits that he has become a “poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man” (129). The Fool is another example. Although his name suggests otherwise, he remains the wisest character in any scene that he is in. This is particularly clear through his insightful and accurate reflections that he expresses through poetry such as on page 51. 

Recently, Gloucester has proved to be one of these characters. Once he is blinded, he says, “I have no way and therefore want no eyes. I stumbled when I saw. Full oft ‘tis seen our means secure us, and our mere defects prove our commodities” (173). In other words, he states a thematic revelation: our weaknesses/losses can make us better people. Even though he is literally blind, Gloucester seems to “see” a lot. Yet again, this difference between what he is and what he seems to be serves a vehicle for Shakespeare to deliver sub themes.

Although individual sub themes related to suffering or vision may be tied to these different characters, this overarching pattern ties to the larger idea about the “play of life.” It makes us wonder to what extent everyone is simply playing a character; furthermore, it makes us realize how terrible “actors” they all are. All of the characters mentioned above are assigned a role, but they don’t always fit it. King Lear, who becomes increasingly aware of himself and his relation to others as the play progresses, puts it best in Act 4: “When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools” (207).

Justice in an unjust world

King Lear provides the reader with an interesting story that poses the intriguing question of right vs wrong and justice vs injustice. Throughout the story, we are taught to think of King Lear as a cold, selfish, and narcissistic human that has brought negative deeds upon himself. However, when King Lear is left out to die in a storm by his daughters, we are left to question whether this was just or morally acceptable, despite all of his harmful and atrocious previous acts. The question of right vs wrong and justice vs injustice spans way past the confines of 1606 and is as relevant as ever in 2021 as the entire world is fighting for its soul. James Baldwin once said, “ignorance, allied with power is the more ferocious enemy justice can have”. As I think about Trump’s acquittal in the senate, China’s Xinjiang internment camps, and read about the betrayal of King Lear, I can’t help but think that ignorance, driven by hate, is leading to injustice and hatred winning in the war against righteousness and justice worldwide. “Justice” is an ideal that aims to lead people into a more righteous and fair world, however, when it is met with hatred and ignorance it can sometimes be overpowered. Martin Luther King Jr once said that “The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. However, I don’t know if I believe it. There has not been a time in this world where humans have not taken advantage of others and used them for their own personal gain. While I do believe that humans, for the large part, have the ability to think empathically and morally, our instinct to want more tends to lead us to be forever unsatisfied and thus take more by whatever means necessary. While I hope that justice will prevail in all matters, the past combined with how little time we seem to have left in the future, leads me to not be too optimistic about righteousness and justice making a comeback in the war it is so badly losing.

Never Trust Anyone… Especially Family

In King Lear by William Shakespeare, both the women and men continuously defy their own families for a shot at power. At the very beginning of the play, Lear divides all of his power as King and his land up to his three daughters. However, each one soon disappoints Lear greatly and Lear becomes outraged. With Cordelia not pronouncing her love, and Goneril and Regan breaking their promise of housing him, Lear watches his daughters betray him, and his inability to believe what he is witnessing pushes him towards the edge of insanity.

When Gloucester becomes aware of Lear’s daughters turning against him, he as a loyal friend, decides to help Lear in spite of putting his own life in danger. When Regan finds out that Gloucester is trying to help Lear, she gets her husband, Cornwall, to help gouge Gloucester’s eyes out and accuse him of treason. Cornwall and Regan speak to each other, “Blind him I say”, ” Hard, hard, O filthy traitor”( III. iv. 38-39). This shows again the signs of second-hand betrayal from Regan to her father by making sure he receives no further help.

A little Later on we are introduced to Edmund, the “bastard” who is illegitimate. Edmund frustrated that he is unable to receive any power or land due to being born out of wedlock hatches a plan to gain it. When he hears Gloucester coming towards him and Edgar, he pretends to fight Edgar. Edgar runs away, but Gloucester check on Edmund who had cut himself to make it look like Edgar had injured him. “Some blood drawn on me would beget opinion of my more fiere endeavor”(II.i. 36-37). He tells his father that Edgar was planning a plot to kill him and he refused so Edgar punished him. Gloucester only hearing Edmund’s side, believes him and announces that Edgar should be banished. Edmund successfully get rids of his brother and deceives his own father for his own selfish needs.

With several characters turning their backs on their own families, gives the impression that family is not as important as power. Or at least, power can make people do nasty things to others, including to some of their own.

Power and Corruption

Perhaps the most obvious theme of King Lear is that power corrupts. In the story, the only three characters left standing at the end are Kent, Edgar, and Albany. They are also the only characters, besides Cordelia, who are not corrupted by power. Whether driven to betrayal or madness by power, the death of all the characters who fall victim to that fate sends a strong message about the consequences of power.

The case of Edmund is one of blatant betrayal in the ambitious quest for power. He betrays his brother, and then his father, all in his efforts to gain the status he is denied as a bastard. After tricking his father into believing Edgar has betrayed him, and Edgar into thinking his father is after him, Edmund makes clear his desire for power in his monologue of thought;

A credulous father and a brother noble,

Whose nature is so far from doing harms

That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty

My practices rude easy. I see the business.

Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit.

All with me’s meet that I can fashion fit.

Edmund’s desire for power and status outweighs his familial duty and decency of spirit, and he suffers the consequences, dying at the hand of the brother he betrays.

Lear is someone else who meets their end because of the corruption of power. As king, he has all the power one could dream of, and yet, he loses it all, along with his life, because the power drives him mad. At the beginning of the story, there are already signs of instability in Lear’s behavior, but the true catalyst of his mind going into chaos occurs with the actions committed by his daughters. Being so used to power, Lear is unable to deal with situations in which he has none. Perhaps the most impactful example in the story is when his eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, both declare that they will not permit him to have an entourage if he wishes to stay with them. This occurs after Lear has already divided up his kingdom between them, believing their false words of love and respect. In response to the betrayal by his daughters, and in his own madness, Lear runs out into a storm. When asked by Kent to enter shelter from the storm, Lear replies,

Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm

Invades us to the skin. So ’tis to thee.

But where the greater malady is fixed,

The lesser is scarce felt.

In other words, Lear claims that the harm placed upon him by his daughters outweighs the possible harm that could be done to him by a storm. When Goneril and Regan try to reduce Lear’s power, he sees it as a sign of betrayal. The value he places on power and “excess” is so great that his daughters trying to take them away is too much for him to bear.

These are just a few examples of characters in King Lear that are brought down by their desire for power. The moral of the story being that those who want power should not have it, for it can only lead to destruction.

Act 1 Scene 1

The first scene is obviously important as it introduces all characters and their motivations. We learn that the two sisters. Goneril and Regan, are the antagonists (Along with Edmund). Lear gather’s all important people in the castle and we learn about his inheritance. The conversation between King Lear and his daughters shows their personalities as well as the tone of the play. We find out that the daughter who loves him most will inherit his fortune. Goneril and Regan shower him with fake love. Cordelia expressed genuine love that wan exaggerated. We also meet Edward, illegitimate son of Gloucester