The play King Lear, written by Shakespeare was first printed around 1603 and its first known performance in 1607. It was the first attribution to Shakespeare and was a 1608 publication in quarto of uncertain provenance. The Tragedy of King Lear, a more theatrical version was included in the 1623 First Folio. Shakespeare explores many themes throughout this play but one of the key themes is responsibility; at the heart of all the problems present in the play is the lack of responsibility demonstrated by Lear and Gloucester. Through these characters, Shakespeare portrays how lack of responsibility can foreshadow great consequences.
King Lear, although enjoying the power of being king, he tries to shade away his responsibilities by ‘shaking all cares and business from our age’, he feels to pass his responsibilities to his daughters by giving them each great shares of land. Implying that he is ‘crawling towards death’ shows that Lear feels he is getting old and wants to omit his responsibilities. King Lear also shows somewhat narcissistic behaviour when he asks his daughters ‘which of you shall love us most...’ to compete telling him how much they love him in order to get a larger share of land. The audience can see how this foreshadows a ‘darker purpose’ and something sinister may occur but King Lear and his irrational ways of thinking cannot or rather refuses to see it. The play also begins as a midway conversation which creates a dramatic uncertain future. It is also quite shocking to an Elizabethan audience.
The presentation of Lear as parent shows that he puts a strain on his daughters and seems to see them as objects rather than human beings. Lear talks to Burgundy about how Cordelia’s ‘price has fallen’ because she refused to conform to her father’s rules; referring to her as having only commercial value. By disowning Cordelia, again he is shading away his responsibilities. Lear wanted his daughters to tell him how much they love him, so in return can get some share of land but Cordelia, being the sane one amongst her two sisters, refuses and chooses to ‘love and be silent’. She feels like she does not need to show off fictitious songs of praises like Gonerill and Regan. Gonerill and Regan on the other hand, cease this opportunity and use it to act up to their father’s endurance which also mirrors Edmonds endorsements when he hides his true hateful feelings towards his father Gloucester. Elizabethan England was a hierarchal society. They believed that demanding respect should be shown to parents especially the father and if they were amongst the elderly and royal blood. King Lear shows how vulnerable parents and noblemen are to the depredations of unscrupulous children.
Gonerill and Regan express their deceptive behaviour when talking amongst themselves mentioning that they are not looking forward to Lear staying with them every month. They also realise that King Lear is wrong in his decision made to disown Cordelia ‘with poor judgment and he hath now cast her off appears too grossly’. This is a reference to blindness. Blindness is a key theme in the play as well as responsibility. The king is clearly unable to see through the falseness of Gonerill’s claim to love him ‘dearer than eyesight’. Regan says that ‘the infirmity of his age’ emphasises his fatal flaws and impulsive irrational behaviour. Even though Elizabethans know that king Lear is wrong in his decision makings, they would see this as highly disrespectful simply because Lear is King and obeying the king is extremely important.
Cordelia is the honest one out of her sisters and she presents this by not conforming to her father’s expectations. By doing this she tries to show her love for Lear even more but of course Lear does not see it this way. Cordelia chooses to say ‘nothing’ when Lear asks her to speak. The word ‘nothing’