King Lear Essay

Posted on July 31, 2009

King Lear, follows the time old tradition in which children take advantage of the love and trust of their parents. In the world of action in King Lear, balance and symmetry in structure are apparent. Lear’s banishment and disinheritance of Cordelia are paralleled not only by his exile of Kent, but also by Gloucester’s banishment of Edgar (Eddy 15). In King Lear the main plot and the sub plot intertwine in such a way that you start to wonder if either of Lear’s daughter’s, Goneril or Regan, or Gloucester son Edmund have any respect for their fathers. Do they even care about their fathers or are they all about doing what is best for them? Then you have the two good children Cordelia and Edgar who are banished from both of their father’s kingdoms. Cordelia and Edgar devotion to their father in King Lear shows a great since of dramatic irony. Cordelia and Edgar are banished by their fathers while Regan, Goneril and Edmund plan to throw their fathers out of power.

In the main plot Lear asks his daughters to profess their love for him. The first two daughters Goneril and Regan go into great detail about the love they share for their father. Goneril goes on to tell her father, “I love you more than words can wield the matter; dearer than eye sight, space, and liberty.” Of course Lear takes this as a great compliment. His second daughter Regan then goes on to say, “Sir, I am made of the self-same mental that my sister is, and prize me at her worth. In my true heart I find she names my very deed of love”(King Lear Act I Scene I lines 56-57, 70-73).

After Lear hears his two eldest daughters proclaim their great love for their father he expects great words from his favorite daughter Cordelia. Too much dismay of her father the only word from Cordelia’s mouth is, “Nothing”(King Lear Act One Scene One Line 89). Lear is puzzled by the words of Cordelia. Cordelia explains that she can add nothing to what her older sisters have said. Cordelia refuses to go beyond her own heart and conscience, she loves her father, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Throughout the play Cordelia never regrets of her early rigor, though to the very end puts the blame entirely on her sister (Jorgensen 85). Lear expects Cordelia to dazzle everyone with her words of passion that she feels for him and instead says, “Nothing.” Lear is so shaken up and angry by Cordelia’s response that he banishes her. In the mist of everything going on Kent, Lear’s right hand man, tries to restore Cordelia. Unfortunately Lear does not take Kent’s words lightly and he is also banished. Later on in the play Kent will return in disguise to be with Lear in his time of need. When both of his daughter’s turn against him and he has no one else to turn to.

In the sub plot we have a similar situation occurring. Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, is devising a scheme to set his father against Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son. Edmund shows Gloucester a phony letter in which Edgar tries to enlist Edmund into a murder plot against his father. Edmund then plans for Gloucester to overhear an exchange between the two brothers. Once Gloucester is nearby, he makes it seem that Edgar is conspiring to kill his father, by causing Edgar to leave suddenly and then wounding himself making it look as if Edgar had inflicted the wounds on him. Gloucester feels deceived and vows to execute his son Edgar.

As we jump back to the main plot we have the two sisters Goneril and Regan who have decided to join forces and overthrow their father. Lear cannot understand why daughters who were thought to have loved him so much, can not treat him with any respect or dignity. At this point the main plot and the sub plot begin to intertwine. Kent, who is in disguise, has stayed by Lear’s side in his time of need. Edgar, who is disguised as Mad Tom, meets up with Lear and Kent while they are wandering in the storm. The three of them find shelter at Gloucester’s. It is there that Gloucestor reveals to Lear that Gonerial and Regan plan to kill their father. The tension between Lear’s two roles in life, one as king and the other as father generates the tragic situation that now arises in the play (McFarland 100).

The main plot and the sub plot share many of the same traits. Both have disloyal children. Gonerial and Regan turn against Lear after allowing Lear to believe that they care for him more than anything else. In the sub plot Edmund turns against Gloucester by allowing him to believe Edgar has plotted to kill his father. In both cases Lear and Gloucester have turned against their loyal children. When Cordelia’s sisters falsely declare their love for Lear, Cordelia refuses to take part in such a mockery of the true love she feels for her father. If Lear really loved Cordelia he would understand why she did not follow her sisters. A parent should never question the love that child feels for their parent. A child’s love should be unconditional and as a parent Lear should understand that. This is a major flaw of Lear that leads to the tragic death of Cordelia (Lyons 27).

As for the sub plot the loyal child Edgar is caste out by his father, Gloucestor, who believes that Edgar is threatening his life. If Gloucestor really loved Edgar and had approached him about his motives Edgar would not have fled. When Edgar left the estate he gave Edmund the upper hand. Now Edmund knew that his father trusted him and this allowed him to take control over Gloucestor and his estate. In both of these cases the loyal children felt no resentment towards their father. Cordelia and Edgar both realize that their siblings are to blame. Both Lear and Gloucestor have chosen sides and turned their backs against the children who love them the most. While Goneril and Regan fight over the interest of Edmund, Cordelia returns to help her father from the fate of her evil sisters. Jealous Goneril poisons Regan and then commits suicide. Next Edmund sends his henchman to kill Cordelia. Lear, now realizing that it was Cordelia all along who truly loved him, dies of a broken heart. Edgar reveals himself and battles Edmund. Edmund is wounded and shortly thereafter dies. In the parallel sub-plot, after realizing Edgar’s true identity and worth, a saddened Gloucester also dies. What makes Shakespeare’s King Lear such a tragedy is the amount of death at the end of the play. It is sad to see at the end Lear and Gloucestor realize that the children that loved them the most were the same children they banished. No matter how Edgar and Cordelia were treated they stuck by their fathers. These two parallel plots told a great story of the eternal love these two children felt for their fathers. Tragedy never tells us what to think; it shows us what we are and may be. And what we are and may be was never more memorably fixed upon a stage than in this kneeling old man whose heartbreak is precisely the measure of what, in our world of relatedness, it is possible to lose and possible to win. The victory and defeat are simultaneous and inseparable (Mack 69).

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