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 Struggle of Being a Woman

Back in Shakespearean times, being a noble woman carried a lot of weight. Males sexualized us. We would have to look and dress a certain way. Our mannerisms mattered (even if they were not authentic). And last but not least, we were expected to be docile and follow the lead of the men in our life, especially our fathers.

The struggle of being a woman is very present in the play, King Lear, by William Shakespeare. In the play, King Lear’s daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are expected to proclaim their love for their father in order to receive their inheritance. Regan and Goneril overexaggerate their love for their father, while Cordelia remains true to herself and does not blanket her father compliments in order to gain his favor. Because of this, she receives none of his power or inheritance, despite her authentic love for her father being more than her sisters’. This is just the first of many examples in the play, where the struggle of being a woman is very real. Non-submissiveness results in great consequences, as seen with Cordelia. “Fortunately” for her, the King of France decides to court and marry her, which means she will remain in nobility. This further exemplifies how difficult it is to be a woman because she must marry someone in order to remain above water. Without a noble man, she would have been nothing.

Later in the play, the portrayal of Goneril and Regan is quite dramatic due to the power that they hold. When Goneril requests that Lear downsizes the amount of knights that he brings, Lear exclaims that Goneril has a “wolfish visage” (1.4.325). In the play, women of power are frequently described as rabid animals. In this case, because Goneril was exerting her authority over her father, who distributed all of his power, she was bashed and described to be a wolf. Moreover, after abandoning their father. the Duke of Albany condemns Goneril and Regan when he states, “Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?”(4.2.49). By describing them as tigers, he is emphasizing that they are acting wild and animalistic.

Even more, the fact that the females in the story act out of control when in power plays on to a theme that we as women cannot hold power without being ruthless. In reality, women can act and rule in a very normal way. The chaos in King Lear does not serve as a proper example of women in power, but does emphasize the many bad perceptions of women. In this modern day and age, ruling as a female is still quite difficult. It is nice to think that progress is still happening. With Kamala Harris as the first female vice president of the USA, we can clearly see change and understand that females are very capable of leading. There is still hope for future women in power.