The Unmatched Strength of Loyalty

A consistent motif found in King Lear is loyalty. Many characters exercise varying degrees of loyalty, and their decision to stay loyal to their sides of the conflict acts as a deciding factor in their deaths. Albany, Edgar, and Kent the three notable survivors, are all loyal to Lear’s side. Despite remaining on the side of Regan, Goneril, and Cornwall for the majority of the play, he denounces his loyalty to them and gains empathy for Lear, ultimately earning his survival despite not recognizing the deception of his superiors sooner. Likewise, Edgar, through both his legitimacy and innocence, assists Gloucester and Lear, ultimately killing his brother Edmund, avenging his trickery and misdeeds. While not completely loyal to Lear, the sheer force of his actions is what spares his life.

Kent is the most loyal of Lear’s aides. Although Lear “fires” him in Act I, Kent refuses to give up, and continues to serve him under disguise. However, Kent is not simply loyal out of blind trust, he understands Lear on a personal level, and knows when to call him out. This honesty may be to his detriment, but it shows the strength of his character.

Let it fall, though the fork invade

The region of my heart. Be Kent unmannerly

When Lear is mad What wouldst thou do, old man?

Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak

When power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound

When majesty falls to folly. Reserve thy state,

And in thy best consideration check

This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgement,

Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least,

Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds

Reverb no hollowness.

-Kent (Act 1, Scene 1)

If Kent was not truly loyal, he would not call Lear out on his tendency to cave to flattery, and despite being banished for his outspokenness, he continues to serve him. Kent’s loyalty is not hollow, he is loyal to Lear on a level unmatched by any other character. This exhibition of powerful loyalty is what earns him his survival.

On the contrary, Edmund, Goneril, and Regan end up dead due to their lack of loyalty to Lear. Goneril and Regan outright defy their father and act as the opposing force against his power. Their deaths are products of their own failures and spite, driven by their own villainy. Edmund is killed by his brother Edgar, who is a servant of loyalty. His death is largely symbolic in that he represents a lack of faith in the play’s “force of good”. While he shows a bit of self-awareness for his actions, it is too late, and he is already bleeding out by the time he recognizes his failures.

Is Physical Loss the Only Avenue to Emotional Gain?

In the play King Lear losing power is what humanizes Lear. He goes from a prideful King obsessed with others expressing how much they love him to a man with empathy for others and even regret for the way he mistreated his daughter Cordelia. This happens as a result of him being stripped of his kingdom by his daughters Goneril and Regan. Based on the path he was on it seems that this was the only way for him to have a more mutual recognition for others. This theme of loss allowing others to become a better person was prevalent before King Lear in many tragedies and remained extremely popular long after, even stretching into modern movies and TV shows.

Losing a person’s sense of pride of power as Lear did when he lost his Kingdom has actually become the premise for many comedy tv shows rather than tragic plays. This is seen in Community, where Jeff Winger loses his high power job as an attorney. As well as in Bojack Horseman where Bojack loses his fame. Even in Schitt’s Creek, where the family loses all of their money. In these shows and many more the protagonist starts arrogant and rude like Lear loses their most central identity. Only after this can they become a better and more complete person like Lear, though in the end they succeed rather than suffer a tragic death. In addition to TV shows this is seen in countless movies such as many of Leonardo DiCaprio’s movies (Catch Me if You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, ect.) and on the comedy side many of Will Ferrell’s movies (Blades of Glory, Talladega Nights, Anchorman, ect.). This idea has been embedded in a huge amount of stories for centuries in such a way that it seems like the only way to force some characters to develop.

As a result of this theme being central to some of history’s greatest stories, stories have been written about characters forcing themselves to self destruct and lose it all so that they can reach a Lear esque enlightenment in the end. Think of the famous Fight Club line, “It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” In this movie Tyler Durden leaves behind all of his systems that he believed before gave him worth to pursue this freedom. In fact, this idea has bled into the actions of real people. Few embody this better than Chris Mccandless, the man who is the subject of the book and movie Into the Wild. Chris was a man who would soon become a lawyer and was obsessed with literature, mostly classics like King Lear. Following his parent’s divorce he left this all behind to live with no money in nature in search of enlightenment. Eventually, just as he seemingly began to understand the world he too perished, this time from a parasite rather than grief. It was knowledge of these stories that led him to this lifestyle as many stories, like King Lear, portray it as possibly the only way to becoming a better person. So why wouldn’t Chris give up everything? It feels like a small price to pay for becoming an enlightened person. On another note, King Lear could have had the same line of thinking. As he had most definitely read the tragedies and live through them and now saw an opportunity to live like them. It feels very possible that Lear’s madness was caused by his own sense that he was a bad person and needed to be self destructive to save himself.


In the novel, many individuals true colors are shown as time progresses through different situations. In the beginning of the novel King lives his best life while living in his kingdom. While he is living his best life he also has three daughters he has to take care of and worry about. The three daughters Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia all crave the life their father is living and frankly enough they rather live his life without him than live the lives they are living with him as King. The King needs to be loved and remembered and it would be up to the daughters to fulfill his needs. The 3 daughters come to realize they are going to have to compete with one another for their fathers love as he addresses his power will only be considered shared to the daughter that loves him the most. While the daughters act as if they are competing they are really scheming so they can have all the power and control. I call it ‘fake love’ because they express their love for him as if they really love him for who he is when really all they seek is his power.

Situations like these still happen to this day! There are people out there that don’t want to work for anything so there plan in life is to lean on someone else and rely on them for a fit survival. If this is your mindset you better hope you are a likable person because otherwise you are going to have to work for it yourself and who knows how that’s gonna go. For example, if the daughters cut ties with their father while he still had power because he refused to give them everything, and they never married anyone, then they would be homeless or working a job miserably as they were never taught the value of hard work. It is important to look out for yourself because when it comes down to it no one cares about you except for yourself. So this so called ‘fake love’ can absolutely destroy you because you have no work ethic instilled in you to do anything and once you are on your own you are like a chicken with it’s head cut off.

Storm of Reform

One of the most interesting aspects of William Shakespeare’s play King Lear is Lear’s response to losing his land and power to his two daughters Regan and Goneril. This power shift ultimately affects Lear’s character as a whole in a major way. We begin to see such character developments emerge when Lear is forced into the storm.

At the start of the play, being king is such a huge part of Lear’s identity that he believes that he commands respect and authority just by being who he is. Goneril and Regan flatter Lear with flashy complements and seemingly genuine professions of love to Lear and as a result get him to give up his land holdings to them. Cordelia refuses to partake in such “fake” behavior and is banished from the kingdom. At this point in time, Lear believes that Goneril and Regan love him the most because of their words, but soon realizes otherwise.

After giving up his power, Lear continues to act as though he is king but quickly notices that he no longer commands the same level of respect and authority as before. Goneril and Regan begin treating their father poorly and eventually end up kicking him out into a brutal storm. It is clear that Goneril and Regan’s praise of Lear was only a means of gaining power for themselves.

While in the storm, and in the shelter, Lear is forced to reflect and face the consequences of his daughters’ betrayal along with his own conflicting emotions. It is here where Lear learns the most about himself before he “goes mad”. Not only does he realize that people will do anything for power but he also realizes that only those who are truly loyal (for instance Kent) will continue to respect you even after power is lost. Lear begins to see clearly through Goneril and Regan’s lies and begins to see the truth in Cordelia’s words as well. Lear is filled with sorrow and regrets banishing someone who was truly loyal to him.

Lear also begins to regret the actions he took as king (or lack thereof) while in the storm. While standing outside in the pouring rain Lear exclaims:

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness defend
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp.
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou may’st shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just”(Act 3, Scene 4, Lines 32 – 41).

In this excerpt, Lear expresses his empathy towards the poor and homeless people of his former kingdom. He ponders how the homeless are able to survive in such conditions (like the storm), with no fat or good clothes to keep them warm. Lear begins to see first hand the unfair distribution of wealth. He becomes both angry and sad and regrets not doing anything to fix this wealth distribution issue when he was king. This demonstrates Lear’s growth as a character because it shows that Lear is no longer only concerned only for himself but is now able to empathize and care for others’ well beings as well.

Through his daughters’ betrayal and the loss of his land and power Lear is able to gain more knowledge about himself and overall become a better human being as a result.

What Do Children Owe Their Parents? Retirement and Family Expectations

by McKale Thompson

In King Lear, Lear expects his daughters to respect and take care of him after he relinquishes power. Why does he expect this? Lear believes that because he was king, he raised his daughters, and gave them a good life, it is their responsibility to repay the favor. However, it could be argued that his daughters did ask him for his support and they did not ask to be princesses…So do they really owe him?

In an article from Pew Research Center on social and demographic trends surrounding aging parents, they state that in America, 58% of people have helped their elderly parents with household work, errands, or home repairs in the last 12 months. In Germany and Italy, the percentage is closer to 70%. In another study, they conclude that in America, Germany, and Italy 84-88% of people say that taking care of their parents is a rewarding experience and 64-83% of people also say the experience is stressful. All of this data would lead one to believe that taking care of your elderly parents is something that is widely accepted. Most people even find it rewarding so, why are Reagan and Goneril so stuck up toward their father?

In King Lear specifically, Lear is not characterized as a compassionate person. Within his interactions with Cordelia and Kent just within the first scene, the reader understands that he isn’t very understanding of others or what love and loyalty really is. This makes it possible that Reagan and Goneril just dislike their father and do not feel close enough to him to have him around. But, another possibility is gender roles and their involvement in this dynamic. 

Pew Research Center’s article concluded by explaining some disparities between the opinions of daughters and sons on whether or not caring for a parent is overwhelming. The article states, “About one-in-ten (11%) American women with a parent 65 or older feel this way, compared with 4% of American men. Among Germans with an aging parent, 15% of women feel that they are expected to do too much, while just 6% of men do.” So, even though it is agreed that Reagan and Goneril are not great people, it is worth noting that as women charged with the responsibility of taking care of their father, another factor could be that they are afraid of the pressure and expectations that come from becoming a caregiver and being in charge of their father.