Misogyny in King Lear

In King Lear, each of Lear’s three daughters represent different negative qualities of women. The manner in which they are portrayed suggests strong misogyny throughout the play. Shakespeare reveals his interpreted weakness of each female character by highlighting Goneril’s infidelity to Albany, Cordelia’s flawed relationship with her father, as well as the power Regan holds over Cornwall. The characteristics of the female characters and their consequent punishments indicate Shakespeare’s misogyny. 

Shakespeare portrays Goneril as cold-hearted due to her unfaithful relationship with Albany and ultimately suggests that these qualities were deserving of death. It appears that Goneril believes she has done everything right by lying to her father about her love and remaining faithful to her husband despite her feelings for Edmund.  Shakespeare’s misogyny is highlighted when he kills Goneril as punishment for her lack of control and infidelity. 

Cordelia’s insubordination and subsequent death is a clear depiction of Shakespeare’s misogynistic tone. She admits she is unable to love her father more and respects him enough not to lie like her sisters did. While her truthfulness initially seems respectable, Shakespeare portrays it as disrespectful and Cordelia is punished by death

Regan holds power in the play which is ultimately the reason Shakespeare portrays her in such a negative light. Regan has more wealth and power than Cornwall and therefore holds the dominant position in the relationship. Shakespeare portrays Regan as villainous because of her ability to overpower Cornwall. The servants exemplify the play’s view on women by making various hateful comments about Regan, one of which is “Women will all turn monsters”. Her ability to gain power in a relationship where she stereotypically should have been submissive is portrayed in a particularly negative manner. In a similar fashion to her sisters, Regan is also punished with death by the end of the play.

3 thoughts on “Misogyny in King Lear

  1. LAUREN F.

    Shakespeare believed that women were the lesser half of humanity and the lesser half of biology, which is ironic given that women are half of society and humanity would cease to exist without them.


    1. Borges

      Shakespeare clearly liked his female character more than the men. Nobody created more vibrant female characters before him and would not for centuries after him. It’s not like the men in “King Lear” are paragons of virtue either. Obviously including Lear himself.


  2. Elizabeth S

    I agree with your analysis. I also think Shakespeare’s sexism also shows through Cordelia’s positive qualities. She remains truly loyal to her father and is emotional and loving. She is possibly the only good female character in the play because she confirms to society’s expectations for women.


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