Why Goneril is a Baddie

Baddie: A girl who is super attractive. She slays whether she’s wearing a tight dress or sweatpants. (Urban Dictionary).

“Baddie” is a commonly used term by Gen Z, misconstrued to be utilized as a misogynist word, weaponized by the male species.

“I ain’t ever been with a baddie (with a baddie)
She calm, so I add her to the tally
Madison, but I’m calling her Maddie (yeah)
Like, Mads, try send me the addy”

Own Brand Freestyle by FelixThe1st

Many people perceive this word as a positive label for women, but it objectifies them and only gives credit to their body. Taking back the term and using the factual definition; Baddie: a villain or criminal in a story, movie, etc. (Oxford Languages), we can redefine it as a word of empowerment, such as the way that Goneril presented herself.

Goneril can be described as a jealous, treacherous, and immoral authority figure, deceiving her own father and sisters. Using the Oxford Languages’ definition, Goneril is a technical Baddie, she plays one of the main villains in a male dominant work of literature. Most villains have qualities of independence, and Goneril is the epitome of an independent woman. She defies the control from her husband, Albany, and becomes the “pants” in the relationship, only proving her power and strength in the play.

Why is this a crucial element of the play? Goneril reversed the female stereotypes that Shakespeare aggressively utilizes in all of his writings. Instead of portraying Cordelia’s sense of innocence, Goneril pursues a different approach, creating the atmosphere of a powerful female lead. Her role isn’t mean to be favored, it’s meant to show the importance of a woman playing a villain, and how she’s not much different from a male villain. To compare Goneril’s character to another popular villain in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edmund, they both practice the skill of deception towards their designated fathers. Edmund manipulates Gloucester by turning him against his brother Edgar, while Goneril deceives her father by illustrating herself as a loving daughter. In the end, the deceptions don’t matter when they both die, but it leaves a strong impact on the audience.

One of the main themes that stem from King Lear is the unreliability of words. Lear is lied to by his own daughters, misinterpreting deception with flattery. Goneril says to him in the beginning of the play,

“As much as child e’er loved, or father found,
A love that makes breath poor and speech unable,
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.”

As she is speaking, she’s saying that her love for her father makes “speech unable,” the irony of her expression of love towards him. While this phrase is not only ironic, it’s also a lie, but Lear believes it. The theme can also be related to the term “Baddie,” because one cannot rely on the Urban Dictionary definition, or the commonly used meaning behind it.

A Man’s Fear of Women in Power


Society knows all too well how to demean a woman in a position of power, despite years of women fighting back and proving that they are just as capable or even more capable, it’s done nothing but reveal a man’s fear of women in power. In all aspects of life, men subconsciously reveal how much women being their equal fears them. Whether it’s shown in literature dated back to the 1500s or as current as past presidential elections. A man will never fail at attempting to dehumanize a powerful woman in front of the public. During the presidential election of 2016, the tabloids, the media, and articles did nothing but slander Hilary Clinton’s name, and you might say, “well that’s something done in every election”. People fail to realize the intersectionality that comes with being a woman. As the first woman to run for president, she faced backlash, slander, and assault from the public. This alone made her an even more powerful person AND the stronger candidate. Demeaning comments from her opponents specifically meant not only to dehumanize her but dehumanize and disrespect the entire population of women.


Examples can also be seen in Shakespeare’s writing, further proving the man’s obsession with oppressing women. Shakespeare has an interesting take on gender roles in his play “King Lear” because the main antagonists are women. I believe his intentions were to make the audience see Goneril and Regan as monsters but in reality, I believe we admire them more than we sympathize with the King. Some would say validation is more of a women’s area of expertise, but it’s interesting how Goneril and Regan use that to their advantage and ultimately strip Lear of his power and emasculate him. Some see them as devils and this isn’t me trying to defend their actions, but the way in which they were able to strip Lear of his power proves how women know how to win people over. A woman’s power and abilities go unscathed when comparable to the power men are given.

At the Worst

In Shakespeare’s time, the dominant belief was that events on Earth were controlled by the movement of the stars, which are referenced often in “King Lear”. Another common religious or superstitious cultural motif used in this play is the wheel of the goddess of fortune; even though the wheel itself is supposed to represent how a person’s fortunes may change suddenly and drastically, the assumption that some force is deliberately causing those changes prevails. The characters in the play think everything happens for a reason.

“King Lear” is a tragedy, so the majority of the play is spent in suffering, and many of the characters ruminate on the effects of suffering, and especially on its relativity: Lear says that one bad situation might not seem unbearable if your only other option was something even worse and Edgar says that suffering is more easily endured if you are with other people or if you see someone else struggling more than you. There are some positive takeaways from the suffering in the play, like when Lear realizes he didn’t care enough for his poor citizens during his reign when he was out in the storm. Additionally, characters often remark how each new development in the story only makes things worse and worse, and sometimes equate their suffering to the aforementioned wheel of fortune (for example, when Edmund is brought to justice in act V, he says, “The wheel is come full circle; I am here”). All of this suggests that there is some sort of cosmic balance in the world of the play, that someone’s situation might not be so bad, if only comparatively.

All of this brings me to what I consider the most tragic moment of the play: the death of Cordelia. Calling this moment tragic may seem odd given it doesn’t fit the conventional structure of a tragedy we were discussing in class, but what I mean by tragic is that this moment can’t be comparatively made better, nor can it really be made sense of in relation to the play’s universe. There is no moment more awful to make it seem better in comparison; Lear is not able to be consoled by the other people in the scene; at this point in the play, nobody has suffered more than Lear, not even Edgar, whose father and brother both died (and he was responsible for both deaths, whether directly or indirectly); Cordelia’s death doesn’t teach the other characters anything; and there is no karmic good that balances this scene out, not even the fact that Lear killed the soldier who was hanging Cordelia. It was an absurd murder that took away not only the lives of two of the play’s most important characters, but the last dredges of Lear’s sanity (that were slowly being built up after his reconciliation with Cordelia), and Albany’s hope that Lear would unite and rule England like he used to. The unabashed sadness of this moment makes it one of the rawest and most powerful of the play, and I don’t think “King Lear”‘s legacy as a great tragedy would be as impactful as it is now without this moment.