Thursday, May 31, 2012


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In the first act of the play, Lear plainly sees himself as a good king reigning over a country that is prosperous and at peace with its neighbors and using the marriage of his daughter Cordelia to enlarge his nations foreign alliances. Yet Lear is blind long before he reaches the status of unaccomodated man raging on the heath. He fails to take counsel from the loyal Kent, and he fails to realize that the relinquishment of his throne will necessarily entail a reduction in the privileges he enjoys. Indeed, Lear appears to want things both ways he wishes to unburden himself of the responsibilities of kingship while retaining the power of a king, at least insofar as his personal circumstances are concerned. Worst of all in the eyes of Shakespeares audiences, Lear divides his own kingdom, thereby creating the conditions for civil war. Lear thinks of himself as a good king, but he is not.



King Lear Is Lear a good father?

From the standpoint of his role as the father of three daughters, Lears division of his kingdom into three equal parts seems fair. Yet, as noted in Q&A #1, this division is actually a recipe for discord. What strikes us though is how little insight Lear has into the basic character of his daughters. Having lived with Goneril and Regan for two decades or more, Lear is completely unaware of their capacity for deceit; he seems genuinely shocked when they begin to undermine his status as regent emeritus. By the same token, Lears dismissal of Cordelia as an ingrate stands in sharp contrast with her actual character as his only honest progeny. On this count too, Lears view of himself as an ideal father does not square with his lack of insight into the respective characters of his daughters

King Lear Does Edmund have legitimate cause for complaint?

The bastard Edmund is even more villainous than Lears unfaithful daughters. They exploit the circumstances that Lear creates; Edmund creates the circumstances that cause the break between Gloucester and his legitimate son Edgar. Nevertheless, Edmund does have some cause for complaint. Not only is he the product of his fathers licentious behavior, Gloucester maligns Edmunds character. But Shakespeare assigns so many evil tasks to Edmund that the validity of his complaint against Gloucester is negated. Once Edgar has fled, Edmund moves to get rid of his father as well so that he can inherit Gloucesters estate in short order. Kent is sorely mistreated by Edmund, but above all, it is Edmund who arranges the death of the innocent Cordelia. Edmunds last minute effort to redeem himself fails. His status as a bastard provides Edmund with a cause for discontent, but his actions go well beyond the redress of any legitimate complaint.

King Lear Why did Shakespeare insert the conflict between Goneril and Regan over Edmund?

In the last scene of the play, Goneril confesses to poisoning her sister Regan and then commits suicide herself. The crux of the conflict begins in Act IV, when a love affair emerges between Goneril and Edmund. At the same time, upon learning of the death of her brother-in-law Cornwall, Goneril immediately suspects that the widowed Regan will try to supplant her as Edmunds lover. In the first scene of Act V, Gonerils jealousy leads her to exclaim that she would rather lose the battle at hand than see her sister get Edmund. The insertion of this odd love triangle into the plot of King Lear is intended to intensify the animal-like viciousness of the two women. Their cooperative endeavor against their father and Cordelia is a matter of sheer expediency. In the end, Goneril and Regan are so irredeemably evil that they cannot keep their unholy alliance together. Neither displays true passion for Edmund, each would rather deny satisfaction to the other than to realize a perverse love affair with the bastard.

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