Love Within Lear

Like most of Shakespeare’s pieces, King Lear challenges the meaning and expression of love. Especially in King Lear, different characters express love, or what they think is love in a variety of different ways. Specifically at the beginning of the tragedy where Lear is dividing his land between his daughters. The way that Goneril, Regan and even Lear view love is different from the way Cordelia views it. While Goneril, Regan, and Lear define love as what is said out loud, Cordelia sees it as what she feels. In this scene the
differences in how love is expressed cause conflict. The diverse definitions of love are relevant in relationships where love is expressed in different ways by each party. Rather than these differences being seen as an issue, it could be a new way for the other person to look at love or learn how to express love in a new way.

King Lear is one of many examples which prove that love is diverse and unique. Each individual has a different definition of love and how they love themselves or others. Shakespeare brings to life unique types of love in each play he has written. His love stories are not simple, there are sacrifices, jealousy, violence. These love stories are not romanticized, they are realistic. Not as realistic or extreme in the way that Romeo and Juliet died for each other or Goneril and Regan basically fighting to the death for Edmund, but realistic in a way that love is not perfect or easy. There will not always be a happy ending


After looking at the resources available I chose to read the New York Times article published in 2016 called “‘Nasty Woman’: Why Men Insult Powerful Women.” I chose this one because Cordelia’s character stood out to me as both a reader and a woman, and her actions in this tragedy reinforce the notion that we live in a society where women just can’t ever seem to be right.

A few paragraphs into the article the author begins to discuss men’s discomfort with women in power and their reactions to that feeling. A lot of men have no problem explicitly calling women out. For example, I was shocked when I read on and discovered that Australian senator Bill Heffernan had the audacity to publicly characterize Julia Gillard as someone who has “no idea about what life’s about,” just because she has chosen to remain “deliberately barren.”

However, condescension is another “common tool for deflating powerful women,” and the article’s dive into this topic reminded me of another New York Times article I read, published four years after this one, about “Mansplaining.”

Four whole years later and mansplaining is still relevant enough that it got a whole article. Simply put, mansplaining “describes the act of a man’s unsolicited explaining, generally to a woman, something he thinks he knows more about than she does — occasionally at anesthetizing length — whether he knows anything or not.”

The key here is “thinks.” The problem here is “thinks,” because men can be the furthest from the truth and still have enough influence to silence women today. As a woman in society, there are numerous times that I have been shut down – for the wrong reasons. I’m fine being wrong, but I’m not fine being falsely convinced I am wrong just because men don’t know any better. The result of mansplaining is catastrophic: women are being doubted and limited while men are fueling their overconfidence.

Cordelia was banished for standing up for herself, just like countless other women are today. And it’s wrong.

The Development from King to Person

Throughout the play, The Tragedy of King Lear by Shakespeare, the two characters that have always caught my attention was King Lear himself. At the beginning of the play he was very arrogant while asking his daughters pretty much, “Which one of you loves me the most for land.” This in itself shows the power craved Lear, as he banishes Cordelia for telling him she loves him as any daughter would love a father to which he says, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity, and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this forever. The barbarous / Scythian” (I.i.125-129). Here Lear —after being told that his daughter only loves him normally— is very upset and gets rid of any connection between Cordelia and him even by blood. By this we can see that he is very self-centered and is upset that he does not have faked loved. However, as the play continues we see that Lear changes and is considerate of poorer people who must endure the raging storm. It is then that we see the formation of humanity in Lear, something we did not see previously. With the banishment of Cordelia, also, shows the lack of parental understanding or parenting in general, however, this changes around the end of the story Lear tells Cordelia, “Pray do not mock: / I am a very foolish and fond old man, / Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less, / And to deal plainly, / I fear I am not in my perfect mind” (IV.vii.68-72). We notice a major difference from the beginning to the end with Lear’s characteristics, such as taking accountability for his wrong doings and expressing his fear of going mad to Cordelia, which he would typically push aside exclaiming to the gods that he hopes he does not go mad. A representation of parenthood is expressed when Lear tells Cordelia, “No, no, no, no. Come, let’s away to prison. We two alone will sing likes birds i’ th’ cage. / When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down / And ask for thee forgiveness. So we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh…” (V.iii.9-13). Lear, here, is completely willing to go to jail to be able to spend quality time with Cordelia as he possibly did not do before. This shows Lear’s change in perspectives as he is not wanting to talk to Cordelia and even willing to kneel and beg for her forgiveness, which a king, and definitely not King Lear from the beginning. I find the development of Lear’s character and the perspective shift he had because of his lost of control and power may illustrate how power, while it can be used for good things, it can corrupt someone.

“It’s Only Okay When We Say It’s Okay!”

Throughout the entire King Lear Play, gender roles are questioned left and right. At the start when Lear asserts his dominance over his daughters but putting them through a love test, Goneril and Regan agree without any hesitation. The two sisters go back and forth fighting over who loves him more. Goneril first says “Sire, I love you more than words can wield the matter”(I.I.60). Regan tried to reboot her sister by telling her father “Only she comes too short, that I profess/Myself an enemy to all other joys’ ‘(I.I.79). From the start, it can be seen that they both are doing this for all the wrong reasons. However, King Lear’s third daughter, Cordeila, didn’t want to comply with what they were asked. She thought it would be wrong and fake. However, since Goneril and Regan were submissive and did what the man in power asked of them (their father) they in turn got rewarded and Cordelia didn’t. From the start of the play we see this almost dog lice treatment, where Goneril and Regan were “good” and Cordelia was “bad”. Overall, throughout the entire play women are constantly being rewarded and then insulated whenever they do “wrong”. After Goneril and Regan turn on their father and everything goes down the whole thing is switched and Cordeila looks like the “good” one. The men in the play discuss how Cordeil having control over her actions is beautiful and through metaphors they compare her to pearls and diamonds. However, earlier in the play she was wrong not doing what she was told. This all routes from the baseline idea that no matter what the women do in the play they are only rewarded for doing what the men think is “okay”

Women Taking Over Power

King Lear sees women in power and demonstrates women using their position to their advantage. What I think is most interesting about the shift in power is how unexpected it is from the characters in the play. Even though the power is directly handed to the daughters, people do not see them as a threat because they are women. This allows them to act cruelly and nobody suspects them. Part of what makes their strategy so good is that they play into the role men expect them to be in. Regan and Goneril are the perfect examples of this. They use their innocent relationship with their father to pinpoint and expose his mental weaknesses. They maintain the image of innocence with not only their father, but the people around him, for a short amount of time. This helps them capitalize on their fathers deranged state and smoothly transfer the position of power to them without much resistance.

When Edmund comes into power through the manipulation of his father and brother, Regan and Goneril saw him as a potential threat. As a woman in their current time period, people were much more likely to stand with a man as a leader due to the way women were viewed. They knew this and decided to both act on the situation, by both flirting with him and trying to play to him. However, Goneril and Regan both understood that the one who married him would have a large advantage over the other kingdom. This unspoken understanding provoked a competitive and greedy relationship between the two sisters and was eventually led to their downfall.

Overall, Goneril and Regan’s unique and genius rise made the play as a whole and presents the largest theme in the play: power is taken by who has the drive and cruelty to take it.