Women and King Lear

Women in power are often characterized in one of a few ways to diminish their power (All of which are experienced by powerful female characters in King Lear). Here are a few of many examples from the play along with modern examples…

  1. Women in power are portrayed as scary, wild, and animal-like.

Lear, when upset with Regan and Goneril for denying him all his guards, called them “unnatural hags” (II.iiii.275). This depiction of them portrays them as not fully women for acting in a forceful manner. It describes powerful and demanding stances as a masculine role that is only “natural” for men. When women show power, they are crazy and “unnatural.”

Similar to the treatment of Regan and Goneril, Michele Obama was on the cover of a magazine with the headline, “What’s So Scary About Michelle Obama.”

2. Women in power are portrayed as mentally ill.

Goneril, after criticizing Albany and his ability to handle control, is accused of being, “most barbarous, most degenerate, have you madded” (IIII.ii.53-54). The play sees no plausible reason for women to be acting with power so the default reaction is to accuse them of insanity.

Nancy Pelosi was made out to be mentally unstable in memes explaining her plans to impeach Trump.

3. Women in power are minimized to their femininity.

Cordelia, before returning to see her father, is described in great detail. In act 4, scene 3 words such as “delicate” are used to make her seem innocent and weak. She is described as a queen and portrayed as angelic. Power is most commonly associated with the opposite of these characteristics and masculinity. Therefore extensively pointing out the femininity in a woman is used by men to negate their power.

Currently, this is used all the time when describing women in power. Before all else, they will be described as a mother, a daughter, or a wife.

2 thoughts on “Women and King Lear

  1. Sylvia G.

    I really like how this post is layed out. It makes all of the complex aspects relating women and power in King Lear easy to understand. I completely agree with all of your points, and I especially appreciate how you related it to current, real-world examples.



    Well stated. I couldn’t agree more with your last point. One of the most disappointing parts of King Lear is the way Cordelia’s character, who had so much potential for power, played out. Instead of inheriting any of here fathers land (which here loyalty earned her), she instead dies after being characterized solely by her submission to her father for a whole act.


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