Look Up at the Cliffs

In older literature, there seems to be a lot of characters that are somehow masters of disguise. In Jane Eyre, the tall, rich landowner character disguises himself as a small, raggedy witch prophet who actually predicts the future. He tricks an entire party of people, people that he has met before, and who recognize him when he removes his disguise. In King Lear, there are multiple instances of characters dressing up as different people, those instances being Kent and Edgar (and the Fool kind of), and not leaving anyone in the room unconvinced of their false identities.

Similarly to the characters in physical disguises, the evil characters are masters at hiding their motives. These characters are Regan, Goneril, Cornwall, Edmund, and even Oswald. This sets up the heroes and the villains: the heroes are in disguise and the villains are lying. Kent is wholly good, and Regan is wholly bad. This leaves another category of characters: the ones who don’t know what’s happening. Lear, Gloucester, and Albany all get screwed over in this play, and while Shakespeare uses themes and metaphor to portray these downfalls, the literal reason why is due to political incompetency.

Shakespeare uses the motif of disguises to create plenty of interesting conflict, as well as move the play along. The situations created by characters pretending advances Lear’s falling into madness, the war between Britain and France, and other key plot points. Also, it’s fun to see situations such as Edgar pretending not to be talking to his father. There’s no way Edgar could ever be as good of an impersonator as he is in this scene, even while speaking to a blind man, but it’s about the hypothetical and the ideas being presented. For example:

Edgar
Ten masts at each make not the altitude
Which thou has perpendicularly fell.
Thy life's a miracle. Speak yet again.

Gloucester
But have I fall'n or no?

Edgar
From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.
Look up a-height. The shrill-gorged lark so far
Cannot be seen or heard. Do but look up.

Gloucester
Alack, I have no eyes.

Act 4, Scene 6, Line 67

In this excerpt, Edgar pretends to be not Edgar, while also pretending to be at the bottom of a mountain rather than at the top of one. And he convinces Gloucester of this by, while staring into the bloody red abyss that was previously the home of Gloucester’s eyeballs, tells Gloucester to “Look up”. He awes at the sight of the tall mountains, describing a scene that Gloucester can’t see. This trick would never work in real life, but this isn’t real life, it’s a theatre. Shakespeare uses disguises to explore interesting scenarios while developing characters: from this scene, we have learned that Edgar is cunning in his goodness (as opposed to Edmund) and that Gloucester’s safety is and will always be reliant on the actions of others.

Comparisons within King Lear

The characters of woman within King Lear are portrayed as inferior and animal like. Whenever a woman character is brought up throughout the play they always are put in the situation of the bad guy or the one that did something wrong. This play shows very little if any respect for woman and views as completely inferior humans compared to men, the play even compares their actions to those of an animal. The reason being compared to an animal is so disrespectful is because animals are seen as wild and don’t have a grounding point and that animals don’t have the same power as humans. This leads into power and how little Lear trust woman or his daughters with the power of the kingdom. This also signifies that woman can not hold the same levels of power as men because they are inferior. Also Lear almost views woman materialistic during the beginning of the play when him and Cordelia have a fight about how she should love him more than she does. Lear wants Cordelia to love her father more than a daughter should love their father, but this is extremely weird and makes Lear look like a complete idiot.

Power is a huge theme throughout the whole play. There is always constant drama and disagreements about the power of the kingdom throughout the play. Now Power can mean a lot of different things and I feel like almost everyone in the play thinks that they have more power than they really do. So how do you quantify power? Power is handed from one person to the next throughout the play but does that really mean that they do have that much power?

This is unrelated to power and how woman are treated in the play but the way in which characters that are in disguise is used multiple times throughout the play is very interesting to me. It gives that extra spice to the play.

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.

Seeing Through The Smoke and Mirrors

In class we’ve talked a little about the motif of sight and blindness. The meta-performance of the onion that is King Lear has a way of veiling motivations behind several layers of storytelling. We, as the audience, have the unique ability to peel back and examine each layer to understand the whole. The fundamental question is why are there so many layers, and what truth lies at the center?

The many narratives and manipulations aren’t pointless complications to confuse the audience. At first glance, the motivations to conceal true identity, intent, and such may seem like they come from a place of selfish want. We do see this in characters like Edmund, Goneril, and Regan. Their greed and lust for power, control, and legitimacy drive their performances. However, we find more noble characters such as Edgar or Kent staging performances, but doing so for the benefit of others. Therefore, we must rule out the purpose of these layers as purely a way to conceal bad faith actions. Instead, let us consider the possibility that these narrative layers best serve to draw us further into the story, expanding it and pulling us deeper and closer to its intended meaning.

Still, if there is one all-encompassing truth to the story of King Lear, I don’t know it. It seems a story with many layers must also contain many themes. To disregard all other meanings and choose one would be to rob the story of its complexity and Shakespeare’s craftsmanship. That said, one of the driving motifs in the story is finding sight in blindness, or reason in madness, which really isn’t much different. Gloucester only understands the truth about his sons after he has been blinded for his blindness. Likewise, through Lear’s madness his eyes are opened to poverty, justice and the lack of it, who actually loved and didn’t love him, and more. Witnessing these revelations should hopefully prime us as the audience to be willing to accept truths from where we least expect them. Our modern society is plagued with misinformation, false stories and manipulations, and much of it is spread with truly malicious intent. But in an age of misinformation, King Lear invites us to peel back these layers, to find reason in the madness, and hopefully to emerge a little wiser from it.

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.

“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.

The Corruption of Power

One of the most common desires is the one for power, yet seldom wonder about the effects it would bring. If a person were to obtain a large amount of power, whether it be the head of a kingdom or the leader of a family, how would they change? How hard would they fight to maintain their status? What would happen to them if they lost their power? Shakespeare’s dramatic play “King Lear” is a showcase of what power truly does to a person.

At the start of the play, Lear is a man who obsesses over his role as the King of England. While dividing up his land as he steps down, his two older daughters shower him in false flattery in an attempt to receive as much as possible from their father. His other daughter Cordelia, however, rejects his land, stating that she only wants his love. Lear rejects her honest compassion, preferring the attention from his other daughters. He is too flattered by the admiration from Reagan and Goneril to realize that it was false. His focus on appearance and power distracts him from his duties.

Lear’s obsession with appearance comes to a halt following his abdication. Being oblivious to his daughters’ deceit, he hoped to maintain his status without the title. However, he had heard that his servant, Oswald, had been sent away by Goneril. Lear arrives to Regan’s castles and details the pain that Goneril has caused him, but Regan sides with her sister. She also refuses to host him at her castle, as she sees her father as just a foolish old man. Lear becomes enraged at her actions, and he curses his daughters for their bad deeds. He proclaims that man is different from beast when stripped of his luxuries.

Lear, who was once the King of England, has been reduced a peasant that a king would most likely ignore. He was blinded by the flattery that he had received, as it reminded him of his status as a powerful king and loving father. His daughters then show their true intent, revealing their true intentions. Had he followed Cordelia and her honest love, he would have most likely been treated as he indented. His quest to maintain power was the cause of its removal.

Unwritten Rulebook

When Cordelia enters in Act 4 scene 4 she is described as an angel from her true love for her family, unlike her sisters, to then her immesuarable physical beauty. She is described not as a hero coming back to a family ruined by lust for power and amount of deaths but as a beakon off hope. This gentle approach to the view of a women comes from the universal view of women being family women who are often the symbol of good. Not as the hero or brave soilder that men often portray who can more easily accepted in societies eyes as the antagonist. These biases are further being adressed and called out from the new era for equality for all, breaking down gender roles in society. Although this memo of change seems to not have reached some like the Millenials and Boomers. As all ages of women still learn and are scolded based on the faults of males. Such as their choice of clothing and that relation to their worth as people and status to others.

Those gender bias can be further seen earlier in Act 4, in scene 2 as Goneril is seenas evil and selfish as she has taken over ‘Albanys army.’ They insult each other calling each other putrid names and Albany states he would punch her now but he will not, as its implied she is a woman. Albany is reinforcing the social rules he’s been taught sparing the kind lady despite her cruel actions. Is it possible to get rid of these ‘unwritten rules’ or can it not be changed because these motifs have been perpetuated and stay intact throughout centuries. I have hope that Gen X will change the outlook and the future will lead to a non gender biased way of life, creating a accepting and unperpetuated life.

Who Makes Justice

In King Lear, Lear is the man with all the power to begin with. From the time the reader saw him with everything, he was not a great or admirable man. Lear was quick to anger, impulsive, and the opposite of smart. The only reason his subjects listened and obeyed him is due to the fact that he held all the power. Defying the King could mean losing your life, land, or family. King Lear deals out his sense of justice when Kent, his loyal advisor defies him. At the beginning he could do anything he wanted with no consequences and didn’t hold back.

As Lear deligated his land to his daughters, his power dwindled. He could no longer deal his sense of justice with no council. Goneril and Regan held all the power and almost all of Lear’s former followers left to serve the strong. The daughters proceeded to make their own dealings and pass their own sentences on people. Justice gets dealt by the people who hold the power. It is always the people who win and can do the real damage that make justice. In most wars, the victor has been on the side of justice, but it is not because justice prevails. Rather the winner is justice and no one could defy them.

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.

Power and Corruption

Perhaps the most obvious theme of King Lear is that power corrupts. In the story, the only three characters left standing at the end are Kent, Edgar, and Albany. They are also the only characters, besides Cordelia, who are not corrupted by power. Whether driven to betrayal or madness by power, the death of all the characters who fall victim to that fate sends a strong message about the consequences of power.

The case of Edmund is one of blatant betrayal in the ambitious quest for power. He betrays his brother, and then his father, all in his efforts to gain the status he is denied as a bastard. After tricking his father into believing Edgar has betrayed him, and Edgar into thinking his father is after him, Edmund makes clear his desire for power in his monologue of thought;

A credulous father and a brother noble,

Whose nature is so far from doing harms

That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty

My practices rude easy. I see the business.

Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit.

All with me’s meet that I can fashion fit.

Edmund’s desire for power and status outweighs his familial duty and decency of spirit, and he suffers the consequences, dying at the hand of the brother he betrays.

Lear is someone else who meets their end because of the corruption of power. As king, he has all the power one could dream of, and yet, he loses it all, along with his life, because the power drives him mad. At the beginning of the story, there are already signs of instability in Lear’s behavior, but the true catalyst of his mind going into chaos occurs with the actions committed by his daughters. Being so used to power, Lear is unable to deal with situations in which he has none. Perhaps the most impactful example in the story is when his eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, both declare that they will not permit him to have an entourage if he wishes to stay with them. This occurs after Lear has already divided up his kingdom between them, believing their false words of love and respect. In response to the betrayal by his daughters, and in his own madness, Lear runs out into a storm. When asked by Kent to enter shelter from the storm, Lear replies,

Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm

Invades us to the skin. So ’tis to thee.

But where the greater malady is fixed,

The lesser is scarce felt.

In other words, Lear claims that the harm placed upon him by his daughters outweighs the possible harm that could be done to him by a storm. When Goneril and Regan try to reduce Lear’s power, he sees it as a sign of betrayal. The value he places on power and “excess” is so great that his daughters trying to take them away is too much for him to bear.

These are just a few examples of characters in King Lear that are brought down by their desire for power. The moral of the story being that those who want power should not have it, for it can only lead to destruction.

Act 1 Scene 1

The first scene is obviously important as it introduces all characters and their motivations. We learn that the two sisters. Goneril and Regan, are the antagonists (Along with Edmund). Lear gather’s all important people in the castle and we learn about his inheritance. The conversation between King Lear and his daughters shows their personalities as well as the tone of the play. We find out that the daughter who loves him most will inherit his fortune. Goneril and Regan shower him with fake love. Cordelia expressed genuine love that wan exaggerated. We also meet Edward, illegitimate son of Gloucester