The Women of King Lear

King Lear is known as one of Shakespeare’s best plays with complex characters and a timeless exploration of personality flaws and the human condition. However, it’s also deeply misogynistic and treats its female characters as one dimensional.

One of the early examples is the treatment of women as inferior to men. Even Lear reduces his youngest daughter as an object to be traded by men. Cordelia is offered as a “prize” to her suitors based on her dowry and not on any of her qualities. When she is banished and left with nothing, one of her suitors drops her instantly. The women are spoken to and treated by the male characters. The female characters in the play are regularly spoken down to, belittled, and dismissed. They are not given the same respect or agency as their male counterparts, and their opinions and desires are often disregarded. 

King Lear also reinforces harmful gender stereotypes. Women are portrayed as manipulative, deceitful, and untrustworthy, while men are portrayed as strong and virtuous. This is especially true of Goneril and Regan who are cunning, but also portrayed as heartless and cruel, with little to no reason for their behavior. There is no real explanation for their actions, and they don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. This reinforces many of the inaccurate gender stereotypes of the age instead of trying to counteract or challenge those ideas

Another issue is  the play’s portrayal of women as deeply sexualized. Women are reduced to their bodies and are often described in objectifying terms. For example, Goneril is described as “a whore” and a “siren,” while Regan is referred to as a “wolf” who will “devour” her prey. This sexualization of women is deeply troubling and reinforces harmful ideas about women and their bodies. Even Gloucester refers to Edmund’s mother as an object in front of him when he says “there was great sport in his making” 

King Lear is unfortunately filled with misogyny. While it’s important to acknowledge the play’s artistic and cultural significance, it’s also crucial to recognize its shortcomings. Understanding the general treatment of women at the time, we can still expect great artists to challenge these notions and not just be part of the problem.

Ambitious Women in “King Lear”

“Attacking women in power goes back centuries”

– ‘Nasty Woman’: Why Men Insult Powerful Women

Shakespeare’s play “King Lear” is based on the king of Britain, exploring various themes of family, authority, power, and justice. Another prominent theme that struck me was gender roles because it is so common in the current world and in the past.

The article “‘Nasty Woman’: Why Men Insult Powerful Women” by The New York Times highlights the many instances throughout history where women who have power have been verbally harassed, typically in the political field. This is out of the insecurity of men, which comes from stereotypical views of women being weak and not capable of handling power. These insecure men get upset when powerful women don’t fit into the usual stereotype of supportive, polite, and caring, and they become bothered by that and insult these women. This article also explores the idea that these insults toward women can be more subtle on purpose because they play into people’s stereotypes without them even realizing it.

Some examples that this article provides are John McCain calling Hillary Clinton “emotional” or Donald Trump questioning her “stamina.” Both of these insults play into stereotypes of women that go way back in time, suggesting Clinton is too weak to handle a powerful position or as irrational. Another subtle way that people are implying these stereotypes is by saying terms of affection. “Calm down, dear,” David Cameron, Prime Minister, says to Angela Eagle, a politician. Women in power also seem to never be able to win in these stereotypical scenarios. For example, women with children are told they aren’t capable of leading while having to tend to motherly duties, but those without children are criticized for “not living up to society’s expectations of women.” The ambition of women in power has threatened these men and caused them to lash out on powerful women.

Throughout “King Lear,” Shakespeare suggests that women cannot attain power on their own, and if they do, it will not benefit them, but bring chaos and contribute to their downfall. There are many other instances in the play where it is suggested that women are worse when it comes to being in positions of power compared to men. Even when men seem to stray from their stereotypical roles of being strong or mighty, they are seen as feminine and weak. One example is after two of King Lear’s daughters, Regan and Goneril, profess their love to him, his third daughter, Cordelia, refuses, which challenges the gender role of women and Lear becomes unhappy with her. Cordelia gains power and independence by refusing to fuel her father’s ego as the king, and Shakespeare makes his view on gender roles clear when he chose to express the corruption that occurs when women stray from their stereotypes. As Cordelia defends the gender system, she has to use authority to fight the spiteful actions of her sisters.

Despite Cordelia’s righteousness, she had to be punished in the end due to her actions of going against the stereotypical gender roles set by society. The play ends with Cordelia’s death, which Shakespeare decided to include because of the play’s theme of following gender roles.

King Lear’s Similarities to Donald Trump

The Tragedy of King Lear, written by Shakespeare, was first performed over 400 years ago on December 26, 1606. Since then, people all around the world have enjoyed the plot through books, movies, and of course, more plays. The play tells the story of a King (Lear) who divides his kingdom between his daughters based on superficial expressions of love. As the play progresses, Lear descends into madness as his entire world is turned upside down.

Not only were the themes explored in King Lear relevant to Shakespeare’s time, but they also translate to unique parallels in US politics. The play serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers of ego, flattery, and unchecked power. In particular, this post will be detailing some of the similarities between Donald Trump and King Lear.

Certain traits in Lear’s personality echo those of Trump. In the opening scene of the play, Lear can be characterized as someone obsessed with flattery. He first uses flattery to distribute land to his daughters. This mistake is what changes the trajectory of the story and builds the initial plotline.

“Which of you shall we say doth love us most, That we our largest bounty may extend”

(Lear, 1.1.56)

Similarly, Trump sought power and recognition throughout his political career. Trump was known for his desire for flattery and his tendency to make decisions fueled by his ego, rather than what was best for the American people. He often paid more attention to his reputation and what people would think about him than taking meaningful action that would serve the American people.

An example of this can be seen when Trump invited his White House employees to praise him during a cabinet meeting. He listened intently as secretaries swooned over him. A link to the event can be found below:

Much like Lear dividing up his kingdom, Trump uses superficial methods to stroke his ego. The effects of these can make it extremely hard to decipher integrity from lies. By creating an environment that promotes words over actions, people become focused on pleasing others over serving their constituents. This toxicity is one of the reasons why the messages within King Lear are more important than ever in todays day and age.

Another theme explored the play is excessive pride. As a King, Lear believes that he is superior and more powerful than everyone else. Although this works for him at the very beginning, after distributing his power away, people start to question his true authority. Lear, not used to this, stays overconfident, stating,

“I will do such things– What they are yet I know not– but they shall be The terror of the earth.”


This quote showcases Lear’s excessive pride and superiority complex. His willingness to take drastic action ultimately leads to his downfall. Similarly, Trump’s excessive pride caused him to take extreme actions. These actions eventually lead to a low approval rating and impeachment trials.

Overall, King Lear’s character archetype has a lot in common with Donald Trump. In conclusion, we still have a lot to learn from a 400-year-old play,

King Lear, his daughters, and their zodiac signs

*was written before reading acts IV & V*

Reading King Lear has been a lot to say the least. Trying to decode Shakespeare’s language, follow the plot, and keep up with which character is which takes some effort. In the beginning it was hard for me to keep the them all straight, Kent in disguise, Kent not in disguise, Oswald,Burgundy, Regan, Goneril, they all blur together, But after studying them this semester, I see they all have distinct characteristics. I decided I could understand them better if I gave them zodiac signs, because they are very telling. I thought long and hard about who is which zodiac sign, and each one has specific intent. I am using the “USA Today ” definitions of signs. Different websites vary in different explanations of each sign, but USA Today what I chose to use.

King Lear is most definitely an Aries. Aries according to USA Today are bold, lively, and competitive. Which I think is very accurate to Lear. Although senile, and misguided, Lear is incredibly bold with his actions. For example, he is extremely bold for making his daughters profess their undying (and creepy) love to him in order to gain land from him. He is abdicating his role as King yet still wants to be treated as a king with 0 responsibilities as a king. I also think hes very bold for telling his daughters he hopes they become infertile. Additionally he also tries to victimize himself in the situation, which is common with other Aries’. On a positive side, aries’ do have the trait of being warm.I think Lear has this trait, he is very warm towards Fool and Kent when in the hovel. In act III he mentions how much he appreciates them during his big fight with Regan and Goneril.

Secondly is his eldest and middle daughters Goneril and Regan. Personally I think they are the same sign born within mere months of each other . A year apart but within the zodiac time frame of Leo. I think they are Leo’s for a multitude of reasons. A few standout traits I see between Leo’s and the girls is both are self serving, unapologetically ambitious, and charismatic. I find them unapologetically ambitious and self serving during their act II scene IV with King Lear. Although Lear is in the wrong, the way the sisters connivingly cut down Lear’s army and oust him out of essentially his own house is incredible. Additionally it is equally self serving how they have many castles and land but they wont house their own father and his entourage. I do find them charistimc though, they have a flamboyance ( like most Leo’s do) in the way they speak. For example in Act I scene I their professions of love to their father were very extravagent. For example Goneril says ” A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable” and Regan more than agrees with that statement saying ” I am made of that self mettle as my sister”. All of this is which is quite pompous shows how charismatic and enthusiastic they are to be so self serving take what they want.

Finally, Cordelia. Although she has not been heavily featured in the book Cordelia is definitely an Aquarius. She is an Aqaurius for all the right reasons. Aquarius’ just like Cordelia are truthful and intelligent. Cordelia showcases how shes truthful in act I scene I by telling her father how she loves him no less then any daughter should love a father. She says ” I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty According to my bond, no more no less.”. Which is incredibly truthful and honestly a little difficult to say id imagine. I think her saying that is a testament to her integrity and emotional intelligence. She is also brave like an Aquarius because she understands how she has lost her part of the kingdom yet takes it with stride.

I still have more to read in the novel, but i’m confident that these are their signs. Personally, I’m a capircorn, and they are always right so i’m probably right in my assumptions of their signs,’I still have more to read in the novel, but i’m confident that these are their signs. Personally, I’m a capircorn, and they are always right so i’m probably right in my assumptions of their signs. Just kidding.

What is a Brazen-Faced Varlet?

In Act II Scene II, King Lear gives us some of the best Shakespearean insults. Clever, piercing, and humourous, Kent rips into Oswald for his personality. The two of them are at Gloucester’s castle waiting for Cornwall when Kent criticizes Oswald for the type of steward he is. Both of them are in the servant class, but there is a distinction made between their approaches. Kent believes that a servant’s advice should be in the best interest of the master, not simply what they want to hear. And even though he was banished from Lear’s kingdom, the counsel that Kent gave was productive for Lear. He pointed out his wrongs as a concerned aide, and was looking in the best interest of his leader.

However, Oswald demonstrates the opposite. He is a “yes man” who isn’t worried about what is morally correct but rather what the majority is thinking. He doesn’t need encouragement to go along with anything his superiors say, and will turn at a moment’s notice to blindly follow them. Shakespeare’s contrast of the two characters helps to display the theme of honor, because it prompts the audience to think about what they value as honorable themselves. It raises the question of whether individual thinking is necessary when people are indebted to the service of another person. When Kent tries and strike Oswald with his sword, he is antagonizing him again and testing his aggression. Oswald shows he has none and cries for help from Regan and Cornwall. It was obvious that they were going to side with Oswald, and Kent’s efforts are in vain. But who is really worse off?

On the one hand, Oswald is in a better position than Kent. He is still employed, favored by the kingdom, and isn’t bound by wooden restraints until the next sign of daylight. But his spineless following is not valuable to anyone, and he lacks the integrity to stand up for anything. At least Kent has the courage, and creativity, to call others out on their faults.

It’s interesting that honesty isn’t valued in the play King Lear, when it’s actually the only thing that prevents conflict. If the characters were as motivated to communicate with the same energy as their scheming, a lot of violence could have been spared.

“I’ll make a sop o’ the moonshine of you
Draw, you whoreson cullionly barber-monger, draw.” (II.ii.33-34)

Honestly, Kent has some of my favorite lines in the play. If nothing else was clear in the text, I was interested and wide awake when Kent started insulting Oswald. I felt the intensity of his hatred and the phrases he used were unimaginably specific. It helped to powerfully convey a feeling I was developing for Oswald as the play went on, but couldn’t get the words just right. Thanks, Kent!

Generational Conflicts and Constructs of Families

Through “King Lear” generational conflict is a constant theme within the story. Old vs. Young and New ruling vs. Old ruling are common among Lear and his daughter and Gloucester and Edmund; and between the interactions between these characters, it becomes apparent how much value today’s society has placed on the concept of families and what they mean.

The younger rises when the old doth fall”

“King Lear” Act III.IV.25

 I feel this line is strong as I feel the harsh and plotted tone that it can be read in reveals how Edmund wants more power than he was ‘given’. Now that he knows he is considered the rightful heir to his father he wants that power immediately, and by selling out his father and pledging his allegiance else where it shows how he not only rejects the concept of a family but also how he will not stop until he gets the power he craves. The ease with which Edmund sells out his father is something that would intrigue many. Family in our society as I have mentioned is a construct. However, it’s a construct that we place a great deal of importance on. Many people view family as a lifeline of sorts, the people who are supposed to stand by you without question and support the choices you make. A lot of people see family as a permanent fixture in our lives and not as people who are disposable. Edmund has no attachment to his family in the sense that he views his family as a roadblock to power and gaining what he wants, rather than a tool to help him and loyalty that shouldn’t be broken. I believe the differences in attachment to family in our society and society within the play are why some are scandalized to see family as an arbitrary concept as portrayed in “King Lear.

I feel the way family is viewed within “King Lear” adds to the generational conflict as it appears younger characters feel as if they owe their parents nothing; while older characters believe their children should be in debt to them as they brought them up and gave them the power they now have access to.