The Reversal of Gender Roles

The main characters of Shakespeare’s King Lear are women. Usually, especially in Shakespeare’s works of literature, the antagonists and protagonists are male. The OED defines gender roles as “the role or behavior learned by a person as appropriate to their gender, determined by the prevailing cultural norms” (OED). This play takes a step back from those stereotypes and promotes women to the lead roles where they should’ve always been. Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia have very different roles in the play, where Regan and Goneril are villains while Cordelia is a hero kind of character, but they are all important to the theme nonetheless. Shakespeare illustrates women as being incapable of having power otherwise they will get sidetracked and their judgment will be corrupted by things that are considered to be “drama.” This chaos brings about their downfall and in this play specifically, Shakespeare makes the dispute about a man. Even with these offensive pieces of the story, Goneril and Regan still gain the power they were after.

Goneril is more or less the evilest of the sisters and will do anything to gain the power she is after. This includes poisoning her own sister and betraying her father. Goneril takes on this important role that men usually play. When a woman plays a part like this she is seen as sneaky and dramatic but when a man plays the part of a villain they are seen as misunderstood and determined. Goneril uses this ancient way of thinking and turns it around. She too can be the role of a villain and be viewed as an important part of the play. While she is still not a good person she is just as important as other villains, such as Edmund. Shakespeare tried to make a stereotypical story of women in power and their downfall but instead accidentally reversed the gender roles that have plagued literature for as long as anyone can remember.

One thought on “The Reversal of Gender Roles


    I agree that the play questions the judgement of the female characters in power and I think it plays a big part in how the narrative makes them seem unfit for holding a position of power


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