Goneril’s Influence on the Audience

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the first female character to make an impression on the audience is Goneril. She impresses the audience with her superfluous words as she professes her love for her father. Using phrases such as, “A love that makes breath poor, a speech unable” (I.i.66). From the start, Goneril amazed the audience with her remarkable scope of love for her father. Fathers in the crowd are dreaming of love so remarkable. Daughters in the crowd are forced to ask themselves if they love their fathers so great. However, the play sharply shifts to prove that Goneril’s words are all but honest. This swift reveals surely takes the audience by surprise, pressing the people to question the truth of our loyalty to our blood and our elders, and our children’s loyalty to us.

As the book progresses, Goneril gains more power. As a female in power, this plot acknowledges the audience’s discomfort with women in power due to stereotypes and normality that have limited the idea of women in power. This causes the audience to view women as possible to hold positions of power, which can be difficult to believe in the era of this play. Due to that obstacle, Shakespeare wrote Goneril to be vile and sinful. Goneril said to her husband “Milk-livered man, that bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs…” (IV.ii.62-63). Goneril’s brash words give the audience a character to be against. While Goneril could have been an independent, strong-willed, and respectful Queen, the audience is influenced to view Goneril, and other powerful women, as deceptive and sinful. 

One thought on “Goneril’s Influence on the Audience


    This post makes a really good point. Why does Shakespeare choose to make Gonereil a villain instead of “an independent, strong-willed and respectful queen?”. I think you answer this question in the way you point out how at the time of King Lear’s creation, the idea of women in power was unimaginable. In some ways, although Shakespeare made Gonereil the villain, her character is still revolutionary because of her ceaseless pursuit of power.


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