Edmund and His Ladies: Lust or Love?

In the play King Lear by William Shakespeare, Gloucester’s bastard son, Edmund, ends up in a love triangle with Goneril and Regan that eventually leads to jealousy and death. Initially when he is staying with Goneril and Albany, Goneril falls in love with Edmund, and he claims to love her as well. Later, Edmund is sent to stay with Regan and Regan and Edmund also claim to be in love. My biggest question is: Is it love or lust?

First up is Goneril, the eldest of Lear’s daughters. Out of all of them, I honestly believe Goneril was actually in love with Edmund. He was the man that her husband never was. He is obedient and allows her to make decisions, but still possesses a lot of manliness and the ability to take control and command others. Plus the fact that he was young and handsome definitely helped. I believe that Goneril fell in love with these qualities and honestly thought she has finally found the man she deserved. Her love is further proved by the fact she had no issue poisoning her sister, even though they were conspiring against King Lear together, in order to keep Edmund all to herself. Then, Goneril shows her full devotion to Edmund when she makes the decision to kill herself after seeing he was mortally wounded. I honestly think that she must have been in love with him for her to decide to die with him.

Second to the chopping block is Regan, the middle child. Of all three, I think Regan was the one most fueled by lust. Most of Regan’s attraction to Edmund is physical and maybe due in part to her husband’s death. To me, it felt more like Regan wanted to possess Edmund and gloat about it to Goneril. From her role in the love triangle, I kind of thought Regan was just trying to “win” in some sort of sibling rivalry. She does whatever she can to seduce Edmund, and claims she loves him. However, something about that proclamation just feels fake.

Last and definitely the most interesting of the three is Edmund. He is caught in a love triangle with the two most powerful women in Britain. I think that Edmund was experiencing a mix of love and lust. Edmund definitely lusted after both women, probably even more so due to the fact that there were two powerful women that wanted him. However, not love in the sense of being “in love” with either Goneril or Regan. I believe that Edmund was in love with the sense of power he got from being these two women’s center of attention. I also think that he was in love with the possible future he could have and he saw that he could use Goneril and Regan to never feel like a bastard again. He went from being the lowly bastard child, always in Edgar’s shadow, to being respected by the royals and having the opportunity to marry into the royal family and be known by everyone. He was in love with the power he suddenly had.

King Lear and the Corruption that Comes with Status

King Lear, throughout the play, exhibits behaviors that correlate to his relationship to power and status as king. Lear first exhibits traits of narcissism and lack of empathy in the first scenes in the play, while his self-righteous personality subsides a little by the end, he continues to display crazed and erratic behavior.

It is from Chaya Bhuvaneswars, “The Madness of King Trump: On Being Unfit to Serve” That I noticed that the characteristics that make up an eighth-century BCE King and a modern-day political differ very slimly. Bhubaneswar introduces the reader to the comparison between Donald Trump, former U.S president, and Lear. In this article she highlights unfitness and self-serving, controlling behavior, she references the two impeachment trials of Trump which suggest his unfitness to be president, while Lear is continuously being pronounced as unfit by his daughters. I believe that in this way the two of them are similar, Trump is old and on multiple occasions was deemed inept to do his duties properly as president, he has had signs of decaying intellect and functionality for the duration of his term, as stated by observers in the white house. King Lear was similarly written off as too old to have any say as King, the royal court thought he was crazy and senseless. Both leaders display narcissism and almost cult-like behavior, working not for the people, but praise. We can see this through the former president’s incitement in the January 6th insurrection to possibly make a point and feel powerful despite his recent loss. The King does this by requesting to keep a posse of knights even though he has no use for them as he is no longer in power, he simply wants to keep his dignity and perceived status. He also demonstrates selfish actions when making his daughters use praise to gain his land even though he had already decided on how he would divvy it up at the beginning of the play.

I believe this connection between the President and the King is an interesting discussion, however, I find it obsolete. We the readers of King Lear can find a connection between the King and a large group of politicians and public officials/figures. I believe the correlation is not between two narcissistic politicians but rather should be a discussion of how holding power morphs one’s traits and morals. Power builds ego and a superiority complex, it taints the people who obtain it. This can be spotted in all areas of our society from a president’s demeanor and motives changing after their election or students with a new group of friends. I believe that having a newfound perception of importance alters a person and their awareness of others well being, they lose empathy. King Lear fits in this mold but in a different way than other examples, while most individuals climb the social/political ladder, he began at the top as King. After he fell from power he had a realization about his selfish and apathetic nature because he had a limited perspective of the citizens he was serving and the world he was ruling over, as seen when he is in the storm. Politicians on the other hand go into the race to the top fighting for power and authority, as much as they say they are for public sovereignty, they are at their core selfish no matter their demonstrated cause. If we look at Politicians in this way, Edmund or Goneril better reflect their behavior.

Goneril’s Influence on the Audience

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the first female character to make an impression on the audience is Goneril. She impresses the audience with her superfluous words as she professes her love for her father. Using phrases such as, “A love that makes breath poor, a speech unable” (I.i.66). From the start, Goneril amazed the audience with her remarkable scope of love for her father. Fathers in the crowd are dreaming of love so remarkable. Daughters in the crowd are forced to ask themselves if they love their fathers so great. However, the play sharply shifts to prove that Goneril’s words are all but honest. This swift reveals surely takes the audience by surprise, pressing the people to question the truth of our loyalty to our blood and our elders, and our children’s loyalty to us.

As the book progresses, Goneril gains more power. As a female in power, this plot acknowledges the audience’s discomfort with women in power due to stereotypes and normality that have limited the idea of women in power. This causes the audience to view women as possible to hold positions of power, which can be difficult to believe in the era of this play. Due to that obstacle, Shakespeare wrote Goneril to be vile and sinful. Goneril said to her husband “Milk-livered man, that bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs…” (IV.ii.62-63). Goneril’s brash words give the audience a character to be against. While Goneril could have been an independent, strong-willed, and respectful Queen, the audience is influenced to view Goneril, and other powerful women, as deceptive and sinful. 

“Like a Girl”

In King Lear, Shakespeare (unintentionally) explores gender roles, particularly women, and their pertinance to animals. I use the word unintentionally because I believe that Shakespeare, in this time period, was not even thinking about the excessive animal imagery in this play used to describe women. Gender roles and stereotypes were not on Shakespeare’s (or anyone’s) radar at this time. As much as we love to think of literature being a commentary on society, the use of animal imagery was not a commentary, but simply more of “how it be.” We also see a parallel between animal comparisons and power, a motif that was most definitely intentional. Men in the play are constantly putting these women down, dehumanizing and disrespecting them. As Lear states, “O Regan, she hath tied Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here” (II.IV.150-151). Lear is comparing his daughter to a viscous bird, which in my opinion was completely unwarranted and only provoked by Lear’s power insecurities brought on by his daughters. 

Later in Act III, Gloucester is speaking with Regan, “Because I would not see thy cruel nails Pluck out his poor old eyes, nor thy fierce sister In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs” (III.VII.69-71). Again, we see this animal imagery manifesting. Gloucester essentially calls Regam viscous by describing her “boarsih fangs.” 

Circling back to power relating to women, Shakespeare had a difficult time letting a woman in power live. Cordelia’s death seemed random when I first read the scene, however, after reflection, her death was not random at all. Our society now, and of course back then, has trouble with the idea of women in power and therefore the only way to rectify the issue is to kill them off. As a society, we have seemingly made strides in the right direction, but we still need to change the mindsets of people who believe that women are emotional and unstable monsters with a hidden agenda, and unfortunately reading King Lear enforced that idea. 

Women As People?

Gender roles, specifically women and their roles in both society and family is a prevailing idea throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear. The three women in the play are King Lear’s daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. The play begins with an ultimatum from King Lear to his daughters to profess their love for him and in return they were offered a split of his kingdom. When Cordelia felt that her love abounded a meer profession to her father, she did not comply and was henceforth removed from the chance to get part of the kingdom. King Lear was upset by this, feeling as though this meant that she did not love him and their entire relationship previous to this point in time was quickly forgotten. In this instance, all Cordelia was to her father was a nuisance. She was quickly removed from the kingdom and her character was not brought back until the end of Act 4. Her other two sisters remain as prevalent characters throughout the play, but their only purpose as characters is to inconvenience Lear. While Regan and Goneril are apart of every act and a decent amount of scenes, Shakespeare does not care about them. Shakespeare writes the other antagonist of the play, Edmund, as having a reason to betray his father while Goneril and Regan are simply just “emotional.”

As Goneril and Regan get control over the kingdom, Shakespeare writes them in as monsters. They take away their fathers knights, his power, his name, and eventually his sanity. They are portrayed as villainous, emotional, and unfit-to-lead and become hated by almost every single character in the play including Goneril’s husband, Albany. He says, “You are not worth the dust with the rude wind / Blows in your face” (IV.II line 39-40). The readers can clearly see that without a man in power or to watch over the women, everything turns to chaos. It seems as if their emotions and feelings towards their father cloud and dictate every decision they make. Even at the end of act 5, they are both fighting over Edmund who appears to be a real man “To thee a woman’s services are due” (IV.II line 34).

Throughout the play, it is evident that the women have no real role other than to mess everything up. They are seen as unfit to lead, emotional monsters, who can not do anything without the help of a man. Shakespeare did not intend to write them into the play as real people who are heroic or have any significant importance to the play other than to be a nuisance to their father and everyone around them.

The Women of King Lear

The portrayal of women in Shakespeare’s King Lear at first glance seems very progressive. Once you start to read further you notice that the progressive nature of the women is only used to further the gender norms of the time. Goneril and Regan who are the most progressive female characters in the book are portrayed as villainous even though if they were men they would only be perceived as taking what’s theirs. On the last page of act 3, when the servants are talking about Regan and Cornwall, they say that they don’t care what they do as long as Cornwall advances in life however discussing Regan they say that women will all turn evil if justice isn’t swift upon Regan for what she has done. This discussion is very telling of the true nature of how women should be viewed in King Lear. One may argue that Cordelia is another strong female character in the play and I can’t dispute that however, she is not portrayed as progressive like Goneril and Regan. The one time Cordelia truly stands up for herself and speaks her mind she is ridiculed and disowned by her father. She comes back later in the play to help defend that same father who disowned her, once again serving the men of the play. She resumes her “rightful” place by her father’s side, respecting him as her better even though he was so awful to her. 

“Think Like a Man”: A Study of Gender in King Lear

Throughout King Lear, Shakespeare explores gender roles through his female characters and believes that women are incapable of having positions of power because they will become corrupt. Right at the beginning of the play, Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, is banished because she goes against his word. Immediately it is clear women are seen as disloyal, and this same pattern is carried on later into the play, when Lear’s other two daughters, Goneril and Regan, betray him as well. Lear feels a deep hatred for his daughters, and although they are his blood, he cannot see past the fact that they betrayed him. He feels he has been emasculated by his daughters after giving them his kingdom, and feels threatened that his daughters have enough power to take away his dominance. This idea goes against stereotypical gender roles at the time, as women were expected to not be in positions of power at all unless accompanied by a husband.

At the time, and even today, women have to work much harder to be seen as authority figures. Because of the stigma that men are not supposed to show emotion, Lear’s daughters have to work to hide their emotions while surrounded by men, “It seemed she was a queen O’er her passion, who, most rebel-like, Sought to be King o’er her” (Act four, 14-16). Cordelia is pushed to “think like a man and not like a woman”, and act like a king, rather than a queen. Any shown emotion makes her seem weak, and in order to stay in power she must defy the stereotypical woman’s gender role.

This defiance of gender roles is also seen with males in the play as well. When France invades Britain, the Duke of Albany goes against norms when he doesn’t fight back against France: “France spreads his banners in our noiseless land, with plumed helm thy state begins to threat, Whilst thou, a moral fool sits still and cries” (Act four, 57-59). Instead of becoming aggressive and asserting power, Albany sits back and watches it happen in defeat. The word “fool” makes it clear his actions and emotions are highly frowned upon. Because he has failed to tae up the traditionally masculine role, Albany is seen as a feminine character in this point in the play as he is thinking with his emotions and not his head.

Gender roles are widely explored throughout the play, however it is clear Shakespeare believes women are inherently worse in positions of power than men are. Even when men slip out of their stereotypical roles, their actions are seen as feminine and therefore weak and frowned upon. This is an interesting play to read, especially now, because there is so much talk about women in positions of power in the world today. Many of the themes present in the play are still assumed about women and men today, and it just shows how much work needs to be done in todays society.

Gender Roles: A Social Construct

Throughout Shakespeare’s novel, King Lear, the theme of gender roles regarding women and power is expressed. The novel suggests that women seem to be incapable of achieving power on their own and if they were to receive power it would corrupt their judgement. Which would ultimately lead to chaos and downfall. Shakespeare challenges these traditional gender roles of women in society by giving Regan and Goneril power. The conversation we had in class about nasty women and why men have a problem with it was very interesting to me. It is very obvious that when men feel threatened by a females power they tend to fight back, sometimes even insult. As seen in the play when Lear called his own daughters “hags” and “witches” as a result of them obtaining power. Even though Shakespeare challenged the norm of the time allowing a few women to have power, he still made them out to be crazy for wanting that power. Whereas the male characters who sought out just as much if not more power than them weren’t portrayed as crazy.

Family = Love? Maybe Not

Many characters in King Lear do not seek true love but only selfish and false representation of love. True love is unconditional and honest while selfish love is motivated by money, lust, or merely approval from others.

At the start of the play, Lear stages a love test. Lear tests each of his daughters on how much they love him. Opportunistic Goneril and Regan flatter him and he accepts this because he sees verbal love as true love. Lear rewards Goneril and Regan’s love for him by giving them land and wealth. This only enforces the idea that material things are not apart of true love.

The youngest sister, Cordelia, is not as eager to confess her love to her father.

What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent.

(Act I, Scene 1)

Cordelia makes it clear that she loves him, but she can’t put it into words. She knows that words can’t truly express true feelings. True love does not require mere words as a dedication to devotion. Unfortunately Lear does not understand that so he disowns her when she refuses to flatter him.

Soon after, Cordelia is to get passed off. She is expected to marry Burgundy or France. But now that she is disowned with no dowry or title, her status has decreased. Soon, Cordelia gets rejected by Burgundy because he only seeks authority and power from a possible relationship with her. But France steps forward and takes her hand because he understands the true meaning of love, which enforces Cordelia’s representation of true love.


Then arrives the second plot of the play – Gloucester and his two sons, Edgar and Edmund.

Gloucester makes fun of Edmund’s illegitimacy and refers to him as “whoreson” (Act I. Scene 1). Edmund is desperate to feel loved so he selfishly plots his father’s and Edgar’s demise to feel above from his title as a bastard child.

Edmund lies to Gloucester and puts Edgar against Gloucester. Gloucester is quick to accept these claims without any proof. Gloucester rejects Edgar the same way Lear disowns Cordelia. Gloucester then tries to execute Edgar while Lear banishes Cordelia.

While Lear and Gloucester reject their respective child that represents true love, they fall for the characters that represent anti-love. Goneril, Regan, and Edmund represent false love. They are only motivated by money, lust, or self-serving love.


Edgar and Cordelia are the epitome of true love. They are forced to suffer banishment, rejection, and Edgar has to disguise himself to remain loyal. Cordelia rushes to help Lear when she learns of his new state and Edgar kills Oswald to defend Gloucester. They consistently prove their love for their respective fathers despite when their respective fathers’s have casted them out.

At least in the beginning, Lear and Gloucester are similar to Goneril, Edgar, and Regan because they all represent false love. They all have flawed perceptions of love. Lear and Gloucester see true love as approval from others while the three antagonist are motivated by money, lust, and their self-serving nature.

But Lear and Gloucester are forced to confront their mistakes. They spend most of the play suffering and facing the consequences of their actions. Soon they learn that verbal love does not equate to true love. But that true love is more than skin deep.

“Because She’s a Girl”

One of the moments, in Act 4 of King Lear specifically, that stood out to me was during Albany and Goneril’s argument during Scene 2. Albany and Gonreil are persistently throwing insults at eachother left and right from calling Albany a “milk-livered man” in line 62 to saying Gonreil is not worth any more than the dust that blows in her face in line 39. However, towards the end of the argument, Albany states “a woman’s shape doth shield thee”, implying the only thing protecting Gonreil from catching Albany’s fists to her face is the fact that she’s a woman.

We see this idea implemented everywhere and even in present day. It has always been an overarching rule of thumb that all of us have grown up with. My brothers used to get bullied by our female neighbor. She would throw things at them, kick them, and punch them but they could never defend themselves and punch back because she was a girl. Is this because females are seen as weaker? Is this because, for some reason, it has been assumed that a man’s defense will always, 100% of the time be stronger than what the female has done? This rings true even in cases of domestic abuse. People always seem to be surprised when the man is the one abused. The woman is the one that caused the blacks, blues, and broken bones. Why have we been taught this?

In Albany’s case, his wife was found having an affair with sneaky little Edmund and even after all the offenses and the fact that she was cheating on him, he feels as though he cannot “get her back”– solely because of her gender.

Am I saying that females deserve to be able to be slapped back? Not at all. But, am I saying that there should be more level-headedness when it comes to allowing males to express emotion and feel revengeful? Yes. I look at OPRF as another example. Females are taught self defense our sophomore year. A week dedicated to defending ourselves against particularly men that have the potential to abduct us. Not once was it said during my week of self defense class that the person trying to abduct us could potentially be female. Not once was my 100% female P.E. class shown the “target spots” for defending ourselves against a femle abductor, only taught how to knee a big scary man in the balls. The police that were brought in for the demos, all men.

Then I look at my brother again. He is in what is called “step back” in his P.E. class. Are the boys here taught self defense? Nope. Are we assuming that all teenage boys know how to defend themselves already and just need to be taught how to “step back” from conflicts? I guess so.

Regardless, I believe that there is extreme discrepancy and inconsistency in the power dynamic when it comes to gender and all things revolving around this idea of women being weaker than men. And the fact that it has been occuring long enough for Shakespeare to write it into his plays and it still rings true to this day calls for nothing but acknowledgement and change.

Delayed Judgement for King Lear

Within the first couple scenes of King Lear, it becomes clear that some characters are meant to be perceived as “good” and others as “bad.” Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are bad; Cordelia and Kent are good. Lear is maybe the only one whose goodness isn’t set in stone at the end of the first act. Although Goneril, Regan, and Edmund all have legitimate grievances tied to their lack of options to gain wealth and power in a patriarchal society dominated by inheritance, they are marked from the beginning as evil. In later acts, their evilness becomes clear in the violence that they either take part in or allow to occur, but in Act 1 their only bad action is trying to push back against an unfair system.

The reason for these snap good/bad divisions in the play is loyalty, but only loyalty to the “natural” power, which is Lear. This is shown through the treatment of Goneril’s servant Oswald, a very loyal character who is repeatedly harassed by Lear in Act 1 Scene 4 and Kent in Act 2 Scene 2 for showing Lear less than complete devotion. But it’s unclear why Lear deserves this devotion in the first place, when his unpredictable temper and lack of compassion for Kent and Cordelia suggest that he is not a capable or worthy leader. Why is Lear, who begins with the advantages of complete power via the “natural” system and still treats the people around him poorly, the one who gets a redemption arc?

Loyalty Can Be A Tricky Thing

Loyalty is something almost everyone wants in any sort of relationship (significant other, family, friends, etc.), but how do you know if that person really is? Loyalty is something that should be expected of someone you trust, and rightfully so. Throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear, many loyalties are tested, some are in disguise and others are pretend. Kent stays loyal to Lear in disguise even after Lear leaves him. Edmund fakes his loyalty to his brother, Edgar, and his father, Gloucester.

In the beginning of Act 1, Kent is honest with King Lear about how incorrectly he was handleing hte situation with Cordelia. While he is stepping out of line, Kent has the best intentions. He has always been honest with King Lear and has always been there for him, even after he was banished. After, he comes back to guide and protect Lear in disguise.“Now, banished Kent, / If thou canst serve where thou dost stand / condemned, / So may it come thy master, whom thou lov’st, / Shall find thee full of labors” (I.iv.4-8). While returning back to Lear is very risky, Kent continues to serve Lear and protect others. He does not give up on Lear and continues to prove his loyalty to him, even if Lear does not know it.

Edmund, who is the illegitimate child of Gloucester, has a difficult time with loyalty. He becomes frustrated that he is not able to gain any power or land since he was born out of wedlock, so he hatches a plan to get that power. He tricks Gloucester into thinking that his legitimate son, Edgar, has turned against him. He forges a letter from Edgar to himself, saying that he is tired of being under his father’s control and plans on killing him. Gloucester gets a hold of this letter and becomes furious with Edgar and is out for him. Edmund informs Edgar and tells him that he needs to leave the castle. When he hears Gloucester coming towards them, he stages a fight against Edgar. Edgar runs away and Gloucester comes to check on Edmund, who cut himself. He tells him that Edgar punished him for refusing to participate in the alleged killing of Gloucester. Gloucester falls fro the trap and banishes Edgar. With Edmund’s twisted loyalties, he successfully gets rid of Edmund and becomes the heir to his father’s assets and power.

Nasty Women: Goneril and Regan

Goneril and Regan, I cannot help but admire these two powerful characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear. While they are cold-hearted and cruel, they go after what they want. Goneril wanted to be with Edmund so she kissed him first. This is a huge milestone for women in literature during Shakespeare’s time. Women during the 1500s are meant to be quiet and used as objects to continue the human race. Goneril and Regan threw those ideas out the window. They manipulated people, especially men, in order to get as much power as possible. However, Shakespeare is still a product of his time. He portrayed them to be crazy, wicked, nasty women all because they wanted some power. But Edmund wanted the same amount of power if not more than Goneril and Regan yet, his madness seemed more subtle.

Strategic Love

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.

The Evil Villian- A Strong Woman

Due to the circumstances of the patriarchal society that has been present in society for hundreds if not thousands of years, gender roles have always been a prominent underlying issue throughout history. Gender roles are prevalent in literature and are expressed in many different ways. Shakespeare explores the theme of gender roles throughout King Lear regarding women in power. The main idea of his argument is that women are incapable of achieving control on their own. When they do receive power, it will corrupt their judgment and ultimately bring their downfall as a person. So basically, women are not able to handle the responsibilities of leadership as well as men can. Shakespeare challenges the traditional gender roles of women in society while at the same time sticks to the societal norm in King Lear. He gives them power, whereas, in many novels, women aren’t even the chance to possess any ability. Still, once the power is given to the women of the story, he makes failure imminent for them, which causes him to fall back into the traditional norms of gender roles for women in power.

As seen in Shakespeares’ play, King Lear, Reagan, more so than Goneril, loses her morals while in a blood lust search for power. This can be seen when she orders to have Kent put into the stocks or orders to have Gloucester’s eyes ripped out. These events show her lack of morals as a woman in power, which furthers the theme that women cannot handle power. However, Regan’s actions also promote a feminist ideology. Reagan opposes the usual gender roles by representing a more independent and cruel female role.

The feminist theme is also seen at the beginning of the play when his two daughters, who later turn evil and turn against him, Goneril and Reagan, profess their love to Lear. While his third daughter, Cordelia, refuses to fuel his ego. Shakespeare’s action and character challenge gender roles, specifically during the period in which the play was written by having Cordelia disobey her father, therefore giving her independence. Her power furthers when she gets married and becomes the queen of France. Her other two sisters gain power from marriage as well by marrying the dukes of Albany and Cornwall. While this growth of authority for the women supports the feminist ideology, it also supports a misogynistic view. For the women to gain power, they had to get married and receive power from their husbands.

Shakespeare builds on gender roles throughout the play, supporting both the feminist view and the patriarchal view with examples throughout The Tragedy of King Lear. 

Media’s Vultures

The other night, my family and I decided to watch The Thomas Crown Affair. This thriller follows a love affair between an art thief and a detective. After watching this movie, I thought about the presentation in class, “Representations of Women and Power.” One thing that stood out to me from the presentation was that when women are in a position of power, they are usually either oversexualized or deemed crazy.
In this movie, one of the lead detectives on this case was the only woman. I noticed her role was very different from the other detectives. She was only used for her “charm” in order to get closer to the art thief. When the detectives started to lose, she was blamed. Her character’s intelligence as a detective was rarely taken seriously, and ultimately, she was being taken advantage of the entire time.
In “King Lear,” when Goneril and Regan became more powerful, they were compared to animals. “Beloved Regan,/ Thy sister’s naught. O Regan, she hath tied/ Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here.” (2.4.136). In this scene, King Lear felt that Goneril’s rise to power had betrayed him and was planning to feed off of him like a vulture. By using animals such as “vultures” as a comparison, the argument that women in power are seen as untamed and turbulent is strengthened again.

Women of the Future

Years ago when men were seen as the only leaders is when this play was written. Shakespeare wrote King Lear in a time where women had to dress and act a certain way to please the men in society. Men were the only ones who could work and “have power” as if women were incapable of it.

William Shakespeare wrote about all of the battles we had to fight to be where we are today, which is still not where we should be. Although, you can see the struggle that the female characters had in the play when reading it. King Lear had three daughters who could possibly inherit a sliver of what power their Father had by expressing their love for him. Two of his daughters, Regan and Goneril, showed their love while his third daughter, Cordelia, did not go above and beyond to please his Father in any way. Just in this small example, you can tell that they had to exagerate their love just to get a chance of reciving power they could never earn themselves.

Cordelia ends up marrying the King of France and inherits his wealth. Some would call her lucky to marry into that wealth, but it was almost a necessity. There was no way that she could make an extreme about of money by herself as a women. This itself is absurd. Women should have equal opportunities to receive wealth without having to marry into it or over express feelings, that are not really there, from their male relatives.

Towards the end of King Lear you notice history that repeats itself… Women cannot obtain power without obliterating everything and everyone around them. On no level is this fair/equal to women as a whole. For example, Queen Elizabeth chose to marry her country instead of a man. She should have never been able to become a female leader due to the “rules” that men set for a role model in a country. Although, she was one of the first female leaders in history which connects to the play and how there was little to no hope with a women becoming a leader. Queen Elizabeth is a prime example of an astonishing women leader who did not become ruthless and make chaotic decisions like others thought. Women leadership is needed more in the future.

Get back to the kitchen… or not

In King Lear, the depiction of women throughout the play reflects a blatant hatred for women and whatever they do. The sexism in the play is not only saved for the women who are “evil”, but the ones who are “good” as well. In the historically-based TV show Reign, women face the same situation. No matter how good or bad, royal or common they might be, all women are consistently treated with disrespect. Both pieces deliver a similar message: no matter what women do, they will still succumb to the sexist views of the early centuries.

Cruel and calculated, Goneril and Regan from King Lear are depicted as animalistic with no redeeming qualities. In Reign, Queen Catherine is quite intelligent and fiercely loyal, but is written to look selfish and deceptive. The men of similar status and character are shown as cunning, with good reasons as to why they act the way they do.

Even the women protagonist are constantly disrespected and undermined. In King Lear, the kind-hearted Cordelia is shown as disloyal to her father and is even written off for a while when she speaks her mind. In Reign, Queen Mary is constantly sabotaged and overlooked by the men in her life, even though she has good intentions and holds more power than them.

Although Goneril and Regan from Lear and Catherine from Reign might have malevolent hearts, all their scheming and hatred might not be completely unwarranted. If the men in your life are going to disrespect you no matter what you do, why not gain a little power while you’re at it?

The Power of Having Nothing

In Act 3, Scene 4 of King Lear, Lear finally begins to show compassion. He does this only after he is stripped of all his riches. This makes me think about the society we live in today: To successfully put yourself in another person’s shoes, do you have to physically put yourself in their situation? Sure, rich royalty can be extremely caring and kind, but to best understand those who are homeless or lower in the hierarchy of society, I think one needs to be put in their position, and from the plot of the play, I think Shakespeare would agree.

Here is an example from my life:

I went on a school ecology trip to Costa Rica a couple years ago. I was not expecting our first destination: a run down house with bed bugs, little drinking water, no air conditioning, and extreme heat. This house was owned by a hard-working Costa Rican family who graciously welcomed us and were so kind and content with life. I was very humbled by this experience because it made me realize how fortunate I was to have all of the comfortable wants that this family didn’t have. Although they had very little, they seemed like the happiest family in the world.

This brings me to another thought: Do riches determine luck and happiness? King Lear had everything he could have asked for, and yet, he always seemed stressed and unsatisfied. The family in Costa Rica had nothing but basic needs and they were completely and entirely satisfied. I would argue that too many riches can actually make a person discontented; when one has all the riches in the world, there is nothing more to work towards, disallowing you to gain something more special than what you already have.

Cinderella And the Evil Stepsisters of King Lear

The idea of women as one of two extremes in literature and religion is one of the most discussed themes in modern history. The comparisons began with early religion, like that of Ancient Greece, but most commonly in the Bible. Children in Christian households grow up going to church and hearing stories about every type of man – good, evil, strong, kind, etc. As for women, they only hear about women who are “pure” and “untainted” or women who are the opposite/evil. King Lear, though the play never mentions the Christian God, displays these undertones throughout interactions of the different women with each other and others.

Cordelia represents the pure and loving ideal of women throughout the play. This role begins in the beginning of the novel, where she speaks with honesty and acts with other characters’ best intentions at heart. She accepts the King’s anger and leaves him be, standing by her choice to tell him the truth. She is absent for the middle acts, but her role is fathered when she re-enters the plot line in Act 4. In Act 4, Scene 3, a gentleman tells Kent of Cordelia’s reaction at the update on England’s chaos from Kent’s letter. The letter detailed Lear’s treatment by Cordelias sisters. The man claims that she “shook the holy water from her heavenly eyes” in her sorrow (4.3.35). Cordelia is idolized as a figure of purity and goodness in her actions and appearance. Her character seems to parallel the Virgin Mary; she is spoken about by a random gentleman in terms that paint her as a “heavenly” figure or an angel, which implies that the greater population that the gentleman belongs to shares this belief.

Contrarily, Regan and General are foils to Cordelias character: they are portrayed as base and cruel compares to the beauty and light emitted by their sister. Tension between Lear and the sisters builds, eventually reaching a turning point in Act 2, scene 4. Lear wants to stay with one of his daughters, but they take away all of his men and servants, vowing to make his life at either of their homes miserable. Since his power and happiness is stripped from him, Lear leaves the castle to gather himself in the outside storm. The sisters’ real cruelty is revealed then, as they lock him out of the palace to suffer in the dangerous storm alone. Regan demands, “O sir, to willful men / The injuries that they themselves procure / Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors. / He is attended with a desperate train….” (2.4.346-349). Goneril agrees with Regan’s request, and so do most of the men there. The act of shutting out their senile father to a storm where he could die seems inhumane of the sisters, and futher’s the portrayal of them in Act 1 as negative, base, and borderline evil.

The very action of shutting Lear outside the palace is what so deeply upsets Cordelia; These actions juxtapose each other, making the negative versus view of Regan and Goneril / Cordelia that much more extreme. Within the context of the whole play, these women create the general sense of gender roles – like the Bible, women are either pure and good or evil and sexual (also due to the sisters infatuation with Edmund). Women are not shown like men are – they must be one of two destructive stereotypes.