King Lear in Modern Politics

King Lear contains many motifs and examples that can be seen in politics today. This makes me marvel at how Shakespeare incorporated elements of leadership and politics that are still relevant almost 500 years later.

One major example of this correlation can be seen in President Trump’s “reign,” in which he had some of the same attitudes and leadership strategies as King Lear. For example, both Lear and Trump tried to fix all problems on their own instead of relying on others for help and advice. Lear does not really listen to those around him, as he thinks that because he is the King, he is in charge, and only his ideas are the acceptable ones.

Another example of King Lear coming to life in politics today can be seen through the President’s cabinet. In King Lear, his daughters Goneril and Reagan both praise King Lear, telling him how much they love him, and how devoted to him they are. However, it becomes clear that his daughters do not truly love him, but just wanted the power and land that their father could give them. The President’s cabinet is a group of people that the president surrounds himself with to give him advice and handle more specific problems. The idea is to have some people that do not have the same viewpoints as you, so that you have a variety of viewpoints to make the best decision for the country. Nowadays, however, it has become increasingly polarized, and the cabinet is often filled with people that have the same viewpoints as the President. During Trump’s presidency, I remember reading an article about how Trump fired one of his cabinet members for something that he said against Trump. This seems very similar to Lear kicking Cordelia out for not professing her love to him.

While it is clear that any president is not as bad as King Lear, and not nearly as crazy, the correlations between Lear and politics today do make me think about practices in politics, and the way that people have been conditioned to respond to ideas they do not agree with. This idea of hearing different viewpoints is extremely important in today’s culture, as social media has made it so people only hear ideas that they agree with, creating an even greater political divide. By keeping in mind the Tragedy of King Lear, we can avoid these problems and not fall down the rabbit hole that Shakespeare prophesied.

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?

Where’d the Fool Go?

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Fool is an important character who helps guide Lear through his loss of power and gives him important advice along the way, along with offering comedic relief. That being said, I, along with many other readers, are likely left wondering where The Fool went for acts 4 and 5.

The Fool was extremely loyal and honest to Lear, and stayed by his side throughout his downfall, which is more than many did. The Fool’s role was important, as his honesty likely kept Lear the little sanity he had, saying things such as “Thou hast little wit in thy bald crown when thou gavest thy golden one away” (I.IV.159-160) and “He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath (III.VI.18-19)”. Lear let nearly no one talk back to him, with The Fool being an important exception, as he did it in a comedic manner. The Fool’s honest advice displays his loyalty to Lear, which is partly what makes his disappearance even more mysterious.

The last time The Fool was seen was in Act 3 Scene 6, when Lear is still in the process of going mad and is causing trouble for Kent, Edgar, and The Fool. This makes The Fools disappearance even more strange, as he cares deeply for Lear, and left when Lear needed him most. He dealt with Lear’s madness before, and knew how to handle it, so his sudden disappearance seems a little strange. The Fool doesn’t say anything about where or what he is going to do, which is what truly makes this a mystery. The last line he says is “And I’ll go to bed at noon”(III.vi.90). This line doesn’t exactly say what The Fool is going to, but it hints at the idea that he will die in some way, potentially suicide. This is never proved, however, and Shakespeare’s lack of stage directions builds into this mystery about what happens to The Fool, as it says nothing about what he actually does in that scene.

Finally, in the end, Lear casually mentions “And my poor fool is hanged”(V.iii.369). This line could’ve been interpreted to meaning Cordelia, as she was hanged recently, and calling her his “fool” could’ve been as a sign of endearment to her. On top of that, “fool” isn’t capitalized as the character The Fool’s name had been throughout the entire play, so that also points toward the idea that Lear was referring to someone else. However, it does go along with the fact that The Fool ominously hinted towards his death, and it would explain his absence in Acts 4 and 5, as he was loyal to Lear, and it doesn’t make sense that he would abandon Lear when Lear needed him most.

Overall, The Fool is loyal to Lear, and is one of the few characters who actually cared for Lear and gave him honest advice when he could. The disappearance of The Fool is up to the reader’s interpretation, and, just for what it’s worth, I believe The Fool hanged himself.

The Negative Connotation of a Woman in Power

Throughout the unfolding story of King Lear, I could not help but favor Goneril. To me, she displays a confident character who makes choices for herself rather than cater to other men around her. Not only does she challenge her father’s leadership, but also goes against her husband’s wishes, and takes charge of her military.

A Common rebuttal would be that many of Goneril’s actions were to please Edmund, whom she acted romantic with throughout the play. At the end of the day, she isn’t doing this for Edmund but instead to be betrothed to him instead. Not only did Goneril promise Edmund status, who is a bastard and not born into power, but she also murdered her own sister because she was also in love with Edmund. Maybe Goneril was a favorite of mine because she was bold, I think it had more to do with her strive for power in a male-dominated society.

Unfortunately, Goneril is deemed an antagonist to the story because of her attempts to claim power. Deciding she is a villain is unfair to the circumstances she was placed in society due to her sex assigned at birth. Goneril did what was necessary for a woman in society at the time to obtain and maintain her power. The other characters and many other readers confuse an assertive woman as a villain with mal intent because society has an issue with women in power. This common narrative of women with power being slandered is happening in society today. While running for president, Hilary Clinton was heavily criticized for her views on feminism in America. Her thoughts and ideas scared the greater public because people confuse a woman in power with an antagonist solely based on the fear that women are held to higher standards than men are.

Although Goneril was made out to be the villain of the story, I think her efforts for power portray a strong woman who truly did what she wanted for her and not others. In my eyes, she serves as an example of the almost impossible standards women are held to compared to men and how hard it is to defy the perception of others when your capabilities are already decided based on your sex assigned at birth.

Edmund is not evil

One of my favorite characters in King Lear was Edmund. Although he was one of the main antagonists in the play, there was a depth about his character that intrigued me. Edmund had grown up feeling illegitimate as a bastard and was part of his family but was also not a part of it. This caused a lot of confusion for Edmund and led to a lot of jealousy towards his brother. He became the villain as he tried to scheme and manipulate in order to gain power. But, unlike usual villains that are just straight out evil, Edward just wanted to fit in. He had always been treated differently and as less than his brother or any of the other “legitimate” sons. A theme throughout the play was power and how it can be obsessive and cause one to lose sight of what truly matters. Many characters like King Lear himself, Regan, Goneril, and Edmund, all began to lose sight of themselves and fell into the dangerous trap of power. What makes me sympathize the most with Edmund is that he had grown up without any power. He had been treated inferiorly and less than because of society’s views. Over time, this took a toll on him and he became this antagonist we see in many other pieces of literature that schemes and commits crimes in order to feed their selfish needs. But unlike Goneril and Regan, Edmund had strived for this power because he never had any, he was never treated as an equal, and he wanted to make a change in order to be seen as legitimate and worthy,

Edgar: Too Good for His Own Good?

In King Lear, it is hard to find a more honorable character than Edgar. Edgar, being Gloucester’s only legitimate son, had the ability to ignore his brother when he advised him to flee. But, like the good brother he was, he listened to the “illegitimate” Edmund. Edgar’s loyalty and trust were vital to the development of the plot of King Lear.

Edmund’s plan to gain power began with overthrowing his family. Edmund knew that he wouldn’t inherit anything from his father, since he wasn’t “pure” in blood. Edmund needed to somehow gain his brothers status. To do so, Edmund used Edgar’s loyalty against him. He convinced Edgar that he was banished, and turned his father against his brother. Edmund then had the power and influence to begin his attempted claim that lead him to contribute to the tragedy of King Lear. Without Edgar, Edmund would never have gotten past his father.

If another character was in Edgar’s shoes, such as Lear, Edmund would have never been trusted. Edgar is both a good character and a good person. He has the ability to look past the fact that his brother isn’t completely related to him, something many others could not look past at the time.

While Edgar’s banishment and his transformation into Poor Tom feel unjust at the time, Edgar gets his revenge at the end of the play when he takes down Edmund as the honorable Edgar. Most deaths at the end of the play feel justified, except for the death of Cordelia. As a reader, I was happy that besides Kent, at least one likeable character remained well at the end of the play. I liked that even while Edgar’s trust and devotion to his family almost cost him his life, he gets the revenge he is looking for.

Loyalty — Admirable or Just Plain Stupid?

In the play King Lear, Kent is a servant of King Lear. He is banished from the kingdom when he points out that King Lear is making a bad decision in Act 1. However, he takes on a different persona, goes by the name “Caius,” and rejoins King Lear’s entourage of men. He follows Lear everywhere making sure to protect him from the treacherous whether and trying to reunite him with his daughter Cordelia. At the end of the play when Lear dies, Kent is offered the kingdom to rule but Kent responds with “I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; / My master calls me. I must not say no (V.III.390-391).” This can be interpreted in many ways but I see it as he leaves to kill himself because his master, Lear, has died. Through this character I have wondered what Shakespeare meant to say about loyalty — admirable or stupid?

When answering this question, I think it is best to look at the two most loyal servants in the play — Kent, servant of Lear and Oswald, servant of Goneril. Oswald and Kent are both very loyal, defending their masters and both even die because of their loyalty to their masters.

However, there lies a key difference between the nature of Oswald’s and Kent’s servitude. Unlike Oswald, Kent seems to have his masters best interest at heart. Kent is kicked out of the kingdom because he told King Lear the truth, that he is making the wrong choice of disowning Cordelia because she actually loves him the most. Kent knew that Lear was making a bad decision that would hurt him later and acted upon Lear’s best interest. He then proceeds to help King Lear in the storm and throughout the whole play, showing that his loyalty rides deep and can’t be broken by his master even kicking him out. On the other hand, Oswald blindly follows Goneril’s orders never questioning anything she tells him to do. His loyalty also seems to stem from his self-seeking characteristic. For example, in act 4 he is more than willing to take Reagans orders to kill Gloucester; “That eyeless head of thine was first framed flesh/ To raise my fortunes”(IV.VI.254-255). He implies that he is getting a reward for his loyalty which doesn’t feel like loyalty because it could be broken easily.

Ultimately, I think Shakespeare is saying that true loyalty is very admirable and is a virtuous trait to have. Yet, I think it is important to note that it is Kent’s loyalty that is admirable, not Oswalds.

King Lear Poems

Howdy. I am going to write a few poems inspired by King Lear.

This poem is a golden shovel and a double Haiku. It follows the typical golden shovel form, yet is in a 5–7–5, 5–7–5 format. This is inspired by Edmund’s speech at the beginning of King Lear, where he laments his place in society as a bastard, but makes a wish at the end to topple his legitimate brother. The POV of this poem is Edmund speaking to fellow bastards before his rebellion.


they all see us now
the world’s armpit. the gods
don’t call us wrong. stand
up proud, tall, lift up
our true real names, for
they just use “bastards”

The POV of this next poem is a speech from Edgar to Edmund as Edmund dies. It has greater themes of revenge and triumph.

You, Edmund, I call you a fool
But you don’t wear a hat with bells
You told our dad that I was cruel
From our kingdom, I was expelled
I’ve seen many things since
Including father, no eyes on his face
But even the blind could see this:
That you could never take my place
And now you lay beneath my sword
A dying man, a thing to savor
I hope the history books record
What happened to you, you bastard traitor

The Development from King to Person

Throughout the play, The Tragedy of King Lear by Shakespeare, the two characters that have always caught my attention was King Lear himself. At the beginning of the play he was very arrogant while asking his daughters pretty much, “Which one of you loves me the most for land.” This in itself shows the power craved Lear, as he banishes Cordelia for telling him she loves him as any daughter would love a father to which he says, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity, and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this forever. The barbarous / Scythian” (I.i.125-129). Here Lear —after being told that his daughter only loves him normally— is very upset and gets rid of any connection between Cordelia and him even by blood. By this we can see that he is very self-centered and is upset that he does not have faked loved. However, as the play continues we see that Lear changes and is considerate of poorer people who must endure the raging storm. It is then that we see the formation of humanity in Lear, something we did not see previously. With the banishment of Cordelia, also, shows the lack of parental understanding or parenting in general, however, this changes around the end of the story Lear tells Cordelia, “Pray do not mock: / I am a very foolish and fond old man, / Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less, / And to deal plainly, / I fear I am not in my perfect mind” (IV.vii.68-72). We notice a major difference from the beginning to the end with Lear’s characteristics, such as taking accountability for his wrong doings and expressing his fear of going mad to Cordelia, which he would typically push aside exclaiming to the gods that he hopes he does not go mad. A representation of parenthood is expressed when Lear tells Cordelia, “No, no, no, no. Come, let’s away to prison. We two alone will sing likes birds i’ th’ cage. / When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down / And ask for thee forgiveness. So we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh…” (V.iii.9-13). Lear, here, is completely willing to go to jail to be able to spend quality time with Cordelia as he possibly did not do before. This shows Lear’s change in perspectives as he is not wanting to talk to Cordelia and even willing to kneel and beg for her forgiveness, which a king, and definitely not King Lear from the beginning. I find the development of Lear’s character and the perspective shift he had because of his lost of control and power may illustrate how power, while it can be used for good things, it can corrupt someone.

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.

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.

Apologize

King Lear isn’t much of a king in my book and actually makes me angry. He’s arrogant, petty, and dumb. How does one expect to be treated like a king when he is giving all of his power away. The fact that he thinks he should still be treated as a king for nothing makes me kinda angry I’ll admit. I don’t even think he was that good of a king to begin with as he doesn’t seem very well liked. But the main part here is what happens after he finds out he’s gonna be nothing soon. The storm arrived and is rampaging through the village and now Lear feels bad for the homeless in the kingdom. Bruh. He starts to feel bad for the people that needed the most help after he loses everything. Lear isn’t a king anymore but now that he’s lost everything he becomes Mr. Thoughtful which is ridiculous. Shakespeare did such a great job of making such an unlikable main character. I think its rather comedic the timing of this statement and I actually started laughing when he said it. I can’t wait so see where this story ends and what happens to Lear in the end. Also check the One Republic reference in the title. lol

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.