King Lear loves to be loved. He views love as respect and having the respect of others gives him power. Throughout the play, Lear comes to terms with the fictitious nature of Goneril and Regan’s love.
In the first scene of the play Lear asks his daughters to profess their love to him in order for him to decide what land they get. Right from the beginning, we see the allocation of value onto love. Love is no longer an emotion but a commodity. Exuberant confessions of love are worth more than true, simple familial feelings. Goneril and Regan are aware of the power that their love has, the value that their father has placed upon their answers. They claim that their love for Lear is “Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, / Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare, / No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor; / As much as child e’er loved” (I.i.62-65). Lear’s two eldest daughters have taken the world he created, a world where love can be converted to power, and used it against him. Lear has set himself up for betrayal.
Cordelia, on the other hand, does not use love, or performative love, as means for strategically gaining power. She refuses to play her father’s game and continues to treat love as an emotion felt towards another. “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. / I love your Majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less.”
Retrospectively, this act is foreshadowing of her sisters’ betrayal. Lear, upon hearing Cordelia’s refusal to boost his ego with over the top declarations of love, sees it as disloyalty and over reacts by not giving her any money or power. Goneril and Regan are prepared to take advantage of Lear and his definition of love. That is why they are able to lie, exaggerating a love that is already barely there. Cordelia tells her love as it is and proves herself to be the more loyal daughter.