King to Father

Throughout out readings of King Lear, it is evident that Lear no longer understands the world around him and no longer understands others advise to him. It is said in the very first chapter that Lear is growing older, and he realizes this and therefore he gives away his lands and money but most importantly, he doesn’t give up his title as king. He subconsciously was not ready to give up his claim because he knows no other identity than that as king. He does not realize that there are many things and relationships that make up a person’s identity and because of this, those people have the ability to mold each other’s characters.

Lear does not think of himself as a father. He will say that he is the father of his daughters and that is true but there is more to a father than just biology. A father should be caring, loving and accepting. If these things are believed to be true, then why would a father disown his daughter because she professes that she can love her father and her husband? By the end of the novel, Lear is stripped of his army, his daughters, and his sanity but through it all, he finally understands that he only ever needed one person to love him, not an entire army nor kingdom. His reconciliation with Cordelia was a turning point in Lear’s character because he understands that being king is temporary, but being a father is permanent.

The Power-Love Dichotomy

In line 289 of Act IV, Scene vi of King Lear, as Edgar reads the letter from Goneril to Edmund plotting to kill Albany, Edgar laments that “To know our enemies’ minds, we rip their hearts” — which is to say, in order to maintain power for himself and his father and prevent Edmund from gaining power, Edgar had to sacrifice his loyalty and love for Edmund. This is one of the most important topics of King Lear: when it is worth it to sacrifice love for power, and when it is worth it to sacrifice power for love. I’ve color-coded these two sides of the Power-Love Dichotomy to make it easier to keep track of the examples listed below:

  • In Act I, Lear appears to sacrifice his power in search of his daughters’ love as he splits his land between them; yet, later in Act II, Lear sacrifices the love of Regan and Goneril because he wished to maintain his own sense of power through the housing of his 100 supporters.
  • At the end of Act III, Regan sacrifices her husband (by refusing to save him from his stab wound, as portrayed in the film) in order to take over his power
  • …however, Regan and Goneril feud with each other — and ultimately kill each other, in Act V — for the love of Edmund, each willing to sacrifice their own power for his love; in fact, Regan even tells Edmund, “Take thou my soldiers, prisoners, patrimony. / Dispose of them, of me; the walls is thine” (V.iii.89-90), effectively pledging to surrender her entire land and power to Edmund in exchange for his love.
  • Cordelia, on the other hand, contrasts with her sisters’ initial prioritization of individual power over love for Lear — in Act IV, Scene vii, Cordelia tells Lear “you must not kneel” (IV.vii.67), showing how she is willing to sacrifice her power over Lear solely because of her love for her father. Lear appears to mirror this sacrifice of power for love as well as he rejects Cordelia’s submission to his own authority: “When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down / And ask of thee forgiveness” (V.iii.11-12)
  • At the end of the play, Albany proposes that he and all others who still have power would give it all up and give Lear all of the power of the kingdom until his death, out of a combination of regret, guilt, and most relevantly to this analysis, love: “we will resign / During the life of this old Majesty, / To him our absolute power” (V.iii.362-364)

Out of curiosity — can you all think of any other examples of the Power-Love Dichotomy in King Lear?

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.

Who keeps who colonized?

One power dynamic that is present in The Stranger is the relationship between Europeans (colonizers) and Arabs (the colonized). Throughout the novel, Meursault depicts the Arab characters as distant, skulking people by calling them simply “the Arabs.” Furthermore, not one character calls an Arab character by name, not even that of the Arab who is murdered by Meursault. This decision by Camus could reveal how a colonizing relationship between two countries can strip the colonized people of their identity and group them in a single description such as “Arabs.”

One scene in the novel that is hard to overlook when examining the book’s commentary on colonialism is Meursault’s initial jail scene. As Meursault enters the jail, “they (the Arabs) ask me what I was in for. I said I’d killed an Arab and they were all silent.” Again, Meursault does not refer to any of the Arabs by name, and he continues to group the individual Arabs into just a single group. But more importantly, the Arabs do not retaliate against Meursault, even though they have the physical power in the situation. This phenomenon hints that although the Arabs are being oppressed by their colonizers, they are also supporting the very power dynamic that oppresses them, whether it be intentional or not.

Meursault: A Severe Case of Depression

The main character in The Stranger is a peculiar character for many reasons. The story is written in the perspective of Meursault which adds various facets to it because Meursault is unlike everyone else in the story. A crucial part of the human experience is emotional feeling and expression. Meursault defies this natural principle of life by showing indifference and apathy in almost every situation he is confronted with. Throughout the story, readers face the challenge of depicting what kind of person Meursault really is because he often fails to display any interest or preference for anything. This leads me to question Meursault’s reason for emotional detachment and the most logical answer I can come up with is a case of severe depression. A symptom of depression is loss of interest in hobbies or in daily life activities. My personal theory leads me to believe that Meursault’s emotional detachment serves as a defense mechanism, or at least is a symptom of mental anguish. Something as major as as his mother’s death barely provokes emotion. His immediate concern is his boss’s annoyance with him taking time off work (3). In addition, when his boss offers him an exciting job offer, Meursault has no reaction or yearn for the opportunity. His boss even gets frustrated with him because he feels Meursault has no ambition, which is true (41). I also think his choice of allegiance with Raymond is alarming. It’s clear in the story that Raymond isn’t a great person, yet Meursault chooses to entertain him when he asks him to write the letter (32). The end of Part I was really what convinced me that Meursault’s state of mind may be unstable. In any book or movie, when a character shoots or stabs someone excessively to murder them, it mainly always signifies a deep anger within the character. In the scene where Meursault shoots the Arab that attacked Raymond, he shoots him a total of five times (59). Besides the first shot, he fired 4 extra times that were very unnecessary, but I interpreted this instance as a turning point for the character. This scene showed a snap within Meursault that the reader had not yet been exposed to and I can’t help but think that there is way more to Meursault than the reader knows at this point.

What Does Life Mean to Meursault?

Meursault manages to go through his life without a care in the world, but not in a free spirited way. He doesn’t seem to feel any importance for anything or anyone. The simplest things he should immense emotions for don’t seem to phase him. Something as heart wrenching as losing a beloved parent only made him feel tired and annoyed with the people around him. Not once did Meursault show any kind of grief or even a small hint of sadness in losing his mother. The only thing Meursault seemed to care about was how good his coffee tasted as well as things such as the sun and lights bothering him. His mother was dead right in front of him and all he had to say was, “I like milk in my coffee” (8). He couldn’t even show empathy to his mother’s closest friend who came to her burial and fainted from exhaustion.

Secondly, something that was so blatantly wrong, such as abusing living things didn’t seem to affect Meursault one bit. The senseless beating of a dog and the way his friend bragged about beating his ex were like comments about the weather to Meursault. At least it appeared that way from his reaction. Not only did he completely ignore the savage beating of his neighbor’s innocent dog, but he greeted him with a good morning as he was doing it and kept on walking. His friend also mentioned how aggressive with his ex and the abuse that he was responsible for as well as intimate details of their relationship, to which all Meursault had to say was that he agreed. “He’d beaten her til she bled” (31), Meursault thought and he never gave his input, he just listened. The way Meursault almost subconsciously ignores all the important conversations and events that happen in his life, tells a lot about him. We don’t know much about his past but we know enough that his future is going to start getting rough if he doesn’t face things as they come.

Storm of Reform

One of the most interesting aspects of William Shakespeare’s play King Lear is Lear’s response to losing his land and power to his two daughters Regan and Goneril. This power shift ultimately affects Lear’s character as a whole in a major way. We begin to see such character developments emerge when Lear is forced into the storm.

At the start of the play, being king is such a huge part of Lear’s identity that he believes that he commands respect and authority just by being who he is. Goneril and Regan flatter Lear with flashy complements and seemingly genuine professions of love to Lear and as a result get him to give up his land holdings to them. Cordelia refuses to partake in such “fake” behavior and is banished from the kingdom. At this point in time, Lear believes that Goneril and Regan love him the most because of their words, but soon realizes otherwise.

After giving up his power, Lear continues to act as though he is king but quickly notices that he no longer commands the same level of respect and authority as before. Goneril and Regan begin treating their father poorly and eventually end up kicking him out into a brutal storm. It is clear that Goneril and Regan’s praise of Lear was only a means of gaining power for themselves.

While in the storm, and in the shelter, Lear is forced to reflect and face the consequences of his daughters’ betrayal along with his own conflicting emotions. It is here where Lear learns the most about himself before he “goes mad”. Not only does he realize that people will do anything for power but he also realizes that only those who are truly loyal (for instance Kent) will continue to respect you even after power is lost. Lear begins to see clearly through Goneril and Regan’s lies and begins to see the truth in Cordelia’s words as well. Lear is filled with sorrow and regrets banishing someone who was truly loyal to him.

Lear also begins to regret the actions he took as king (or lack thereof) while in the storm. While standing outside in the pouring rain Lear exclaims:

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness defend
you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this. Take physic, pomp.
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou may’st shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just”(Act 3, Scene 4, Lines 32 – 41).

In this excerpt, Lear expresses his empathy towards the poor and homeless people of his former kingdom. He ponders how the homeless are able to survive in such conditions (like the storm), with no fat or good clothes to keep them warm. Lear begins to see first hand the unfair distribution of wealth. He becomes both angry and sad and regrets not doing anything to fix this wealth distribution issue when he was king. This demonstrates Lear’s growth as a character because it shows that Lear is no longer only concerned only for himself but is now able to empathize and care for others’ well beings as well.

Through his daughters’ betrayal and the loss of his land and power Lear is able to gain more knowledge about himself and overall become a better human being as a result.

Power, Madness, and Identity

by Maya L

In King Lear, the characters’ desires for power shape everything they do, including how they see themselves. Lear, for instance, bases all of his worth on how much power he has, so he doesn’t know how to handle it when he loses his power. When his daughters insist he only have what he needs, he argues that that makes him no better than an animal. It’s made clear that he believes the powerless aren’t deserving of respect, and so the realization that others have lost their respect for him comes alongside the realization of how much power he’s lost. Since he equates his power to his humanity, he then leads himself to believe that he’s losing his humanity, and he starts to go mad.

The way I view his madness is that it resulted from his belief that he was going mad. He believed himself to be losing all that made him worthy and human, and so he let himself lose his mind as well. I find it fascinating how his attachment to power and station is what hurt him the most, not the betrayal of his daughters. I believe that he wouldn’t have fallen so hard from the betrayal had he valued more important things, such as his relationship with Cordelia. If he had focused on the important things in life, he wouldn’t have felt as if he had lost so much, and certainly not like he had lost his humanity. Lear is an example of how the priorities of most of the characters seem to be misplaced, and that only seems to hurt them in the end.

Lear and His Posse

King Lear’s knights appear as an important recurring symbol throughout the play. After giving away all of his land to his daughters, his 100 knights are the single remaining reminder of Lear’s status and power as the king. However, this perception is challenged by Regan and Goneril when they tell him to dismiss most of his knights in order to be welcomed in their shelter. This scene displays a big turning point in Lear’s perception of himself. He isn’t used to people betraying his orders and telling him what to do. Also, Lear feels enraged because he cannot believe that in just a matter of seconds he can lose everything and become another average man.

In modern times, the 100 knights are comparable to the “yes men” that influential people surround themselves with. These are people who always say yes to whatever their superior wants and supports them no matter how bad a decision may be. They must please them and earn their approval any way possible. While these serve a different literal purpose then 100 knights, the symbolism is the same. “Yes men” make powerful people feel stronger and more influential than they really are. Ultimately, the false sense of security becomes a point for their downfall, just as it is shown to happen to King Lear.

What Even is Power???

One of the biggest themes that stood out to me is the concept of power. Power is a weird idea and one that I honestly understand even less after analyzing this story. My biggest question is what does having power even mean in reality because in this story everyone that feels like they have power doesn’t really. The power shifted among many of the characters but nobody even had the power that they thought they had.

People have a natural craving for power that whether or not you know it, is deeply inside every person in my opinion. I think that while everyone seeks some amount of power, nobody ever knows what to do with it once it’s in their possession. Power is something that can control the actions of people and that is seen throughout all the best movies, books, and shows. There is almost always a power that is being sought after or controlled in every good story. But I don’t know if I can think of a single story where the original person with power retains it from start to finish. This holds true in King Lear as we see power get tossed around like a bag of rocks throughout the story. I don’t think anyone knows how to truly the power they have during the novel.

Furthermore, I’m not sure if I know what power means. I think the people considered to not have the “power” in stories are oftentimes the most powerful characters. Power is truly just a social construct that has held to form throughout all of humanity but for reasons I do not understand. Honestly, I think power is pretty overrated.

Identity in King Lear: All The World’s a Stage

Identity is a major theme throughout King Lear. Starting at the very beginning of the play, there are allusions to the world of theatre and acting. When asking to hear his daughter’s speeches, Lear doesn’t care if it’s the truth, he just wants them each to take their roles of the grateful daughter and work with them. Later, both Kent and Edgar disguise themselves out of necessity, and when pretending to be someone else for so long, the lines often get blurred between a character and one’s true self. However, the difference between Kent and Edgar is that the purpose of Kent’s disguise is to protect Lear, while Edgar’s is to protect himself. The characters are often unable to see through disguises, particularly Lear, as he is too lost to think of anything but himself and his daughters. The use of false roles and deception shows parallels to another one of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It. In As You Like It, Jacques, the melancholy fool, gives a long speech about how “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” I find it interesting how two of Shakespeare’s prominent plays express the same theme of life simply being acting. Everyone is playing a character and putting on a disguise or a facade in some way, and those who fail to disguise themselves properly often suffer the most. The ability to manipulate one’s identity can seem to be a strong shield against others, but in the end, there is nothing that can truly protect the fragile nature of one’s true self.

Women: The New Power Grabbers

Throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear, he sheds light on the gender roles during this time and the differences in power between women and men. During this time, men were the ones that ruled over the kingdoms with great power while women were only there to be their wives or daughters, trapped in the shadow of greedy men. This theme is very prominent in the beginning of the play, when Lear forces his daughters to profess their love for him in exchange for some of his power. When Lear calls upon his daughter Goneril she states,

Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter…A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable. Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

Act I, Scene I, lines 60-67

In this statement, Goneril has to exaggerate her love for her father just for the slightest chance to get some type of power. In the same scene, Cordelia chooses not to lie and overstate the love she has for her father and because of this she is ridiculed. With this scene, Shakespeare expresses the idea that women cannot obtain power without the help of a man. This scene supports the construct of patriarchy by portraying the male as the all powerful ruler who must be pleased and obeyed if women hope to receive any sort of reward.

As the play progresses, the women begin to take initiative and gain power for themselves and their own agendas rather than being submissive to the men around them. This can be seen in many instances with the character Reagan such as when she has Gloucester captured and his eyes gouged out and when she grabs a sword to kill one of the servants. This character development is very significant because Reagan was one of the sisters who falsely professed her love for her father in the beginning of the play and now she is taking charge and fighting men.

Another example of a powerful woman in King Lear is Cordelia. From the beginning of the play she did not fake her emotions just to please her father and by the end of the play she became the queen of France and even gave power to her two sisters as well. With these female characters, Shakespeare contradicts the common narrative during this time period in which women were powerless by portraying them as fierce women who were able to overcome the powerful men and gain power for themselves.

A Powerful Woman

In Shakesphere’s King Lear, the idea of a woman in power is portrayed as negative. Even today, it is unsettling to me that woman are seen more negatively in a position of power than men are. There is still an idea that a powerful women is cold, intense and “crazy.” In the case of Michele Obama, the media had to make her seem more feminine and family oriented in order for others to find her worthy of respect.

In Taylor Swift’s song “If I Was a Man,” she sings,

They wouldn’t shake their heads
and question how much of this I deserve
What I was wearing
If I was rude
Could all be separated
from my good ideas
and power moves?

Women are more likely to be judged on their appearance, and how they act than by the work/talent they have. People seem to be bothered when women don’t fit the stereotypes of cooperative, supportive and humble. Also the idea of a woman with children is to motherly to lead, but if she doesn’t have children, then she isn’t living up to society’s expectations. Its a continuous cycle and double standard. A man can lead without it being implied that they are “weak” or “overemotional.”

I do think improvements have been made, and will continue to do so in the future. I think more people should be aware though of the stereotypes/ criticism that goes along with being a woman in power.

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.

The Problem With Finding Identity In Power

We’ve talked a lot this year about identity and power, and how they intersect. People’s identities are tied in with the power they have or do not have. However, a person’s identity should not only be based upon their position of power; if they lose that power, their entire identity crumbles.

In King Lear, we see this play out with the character of Lear himself. At the beginning of the play, he is king, he has as much power as he wants, and that seems to encompass his entire character. As the play progresses, Lear’s power diminishes. First, he gives it away, to his daughters, but soon he begins to lose it against his will as Regan and Goneril take more and more away from him. It is then, in the storm, when Lear grapples with something more than a loss of power: a loss of identity. Lear placed his entire identity in his role and power as king, and now that he no longer has that, he is lost. Subsequently, he begins going mad, with no idea of who he is and no control over what happens to him.

It is dangerous to place one’s identity in only one thing, especially when that one thing can be easily lost, just as Lear’s power was. Power and identity are linked together, but they should be part of a larger web that makes up who a person is.

Dysfunctional Families

William Shakespeare’s King Lear among many other themes and concepts is a timeless example of familial relations along with gender roles. When I think of a modern day family with many kids I immediately picture the older sisters as the bossiest. However when there is an older brother, they are viewed as responsible and protective for doing the same things. Although uncommon, the concept that Lear’s power is going to his daughters with their obeying husbands following behind is a refreshing story line. I think that the one thing that is overlooked is the attitude the audience is expected to have towards Goneril and Regan. It is important to see them as antagonists, but I think it is also important to consider that if their characters were male, their betrayal of Lear would not be considered so intense. Which ties to the idea that daughters are meant to obey their fathers and be grateful for him and what provides them, simultaneously accepting that sons are portrayed to be more prone to disloyalty in a search for independence. So although it seems progressive that Shakespeare has Goneril and Regan to be daughters rather than sons, it is important to consider whether or not it was to ensure that their characters came off as evil and disloyal rather than independent.

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.

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. 

The Stain of Women’s Weapons

“Let not women’s weapons, water-drops,/Stain my man’s cheeks!”

(II.iv.304-305)

Among other things—mainly being narcissistic, self-pitying, and selfish—King Lear is sexist. He frequently rejects weakness, claiming it is a woman’s trait. He also expects nothing from his daughters other than unwavering love, loyalty, and servitude. He gives them nothing, no respect nor benefit of the doubt, even his gift of his land came with the condition that he would be welcome into their homes with one hundred other mouths to feed whenever he chose. Essentially, Lear passed on the duties of the crown just so he could live in luxury with no responsibility, while his daughters housed him and his retinue. He didn’t even give them love, as he mentions repeatedly that Cordelia was his favorite, directly in front of his other daughters, insinuating that they are less than. Lear is the biggest portrayer of the MALE+STRENGTH/female+weakness binary in the play. He loses his power, partially because of his daughters, and partially because of his insanity. Because of this loss, he feels a loosening in his grip of his masculinity. In his world, the two are one in the same, he only feels like a man when he is powerful and invulnerable.

Although Goneril and Regan are seen as the antagonists in King Lear, I see them as their own kind of protagonists. Where they are portrayed as conniving and traitorous, I see two women taking advantage of whatever they are able in order to make themselves a better life. Their main evil deed was supposedly lying to their father about their love for him. I don’t really see the issue. If a family member I didn’t like that much asked me to describe my love for them—which is pretty self-centered in the first place—I wouldn’t tell them that I didn’t like them. That would be cruel. I would give a white lie, in order to avoid giving unnecessary offense. This might not have been Goneril and Regan’s incentive, but just the same, telling their father they had no love for him would have been much more cruel. Later on in the play, both women do become violent and plan to harm others. However, they are made the villain before any of that occurs. Albany says his wife is “not worth the dust which the rude wind/blows in your face” just because of her actions to her father (IV.ii.32-33). All the daughters did was deny welcome to a hundred rude and rowdy men into the homes that were legally and rightfully theirs. Lear treats this denial as betrayal, but I see it as completely reasonable. They locked Lear out in the storm, but it was right after he said absolutely horrid things to and about them. And, to be fair, he walked out into the storm in the first place, with no intention of returning. To be clear, I do not believe that Goneril and Regan are good people, but I also don’t think they are monsters.

When reviewing the actions of the two villainous women, personally it’s hard to find a true, unforgivable fault. The factor that seems to direct their portrayal as antagonists seems throughout to be their disloyalty. They both deny to give the loyalty expected from them due to their gender. Adultery committed by men is completely acceptable, yet Goneril is a monster because she does not blindly love the man who says her female body is the only reason he doesn’t kill her (IV.ii.64-68). The characters in this play all expect women to be loyal servants they can either receive admiration from, or have sex with. Since Goneril and Regan refuse to complete those duties, they are the villains of the play. Women in this world are expected to be vulnerable and emotional. When the men are faced with powerful women, women who are strong and unafraid, they title them monsters in order to deny their own fear at not being inherently superior.

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.