Parent-Child Relationships in King Lear
The Shakespearean tragedy King Lear focuses heavily on the relationships between fathers and their children and shows the effects of favoritism on all their lives.
Bailey Shoemaker RichardsAug 22, 2009
King Lear is a play of many things, the madness of rulers among them, but one of the most profound aspects of the play is its treatment of family life. From the dysfunctional relationships of King Lear and his daughters to that of the Earl of Gloucester and his sons, Shakespeare shows the ways in which favoritism and unquestioning belief can damage a family.
King Lear and His Daughters
At the beginning of the play, Lear is abdicating his throne and attempting to divide his kingdom between his three daughters: Regan, Goneril and Cordelia. To gain their share of the inheritance, he commands his daughters to tell him of their affection for him.
Regan and Goneril speak eloquently about the vastness of the love they hold for their father, although they are speaking falsely, each attempting to appear the most loving and thus gain more territory. Cordelia, on the other hand, refuses to stoop to such obvious pandering, stating instead that she shows her love through her deeds and does not possess the oily, flattering ways of her sisters.
Lear’s reaction to Cordelia’s pronouncement is outrage. He banishes her and gives her inheritance to her sisters. The relationships evident in just the beginning of the story highlight the tragedy that is yet to unfold. As the play progresses, it becomes evident that Goneril and Regan bear no love for their aging, mentally ill father. He sees them as they really are only when it is too late, and he flees his own palace, cursing them.
The Result of Favoritism in King Lear’s Family
Regan and Goneril could have treated their father the way they did as the result of jealousy towards Cordelia. She had been acknowledged as Lear’s most beloved daughter and such favoritism often creates resentment within a family. Once their positions and inheritances were assured, Goneril and Regan began to feel comfortable loosing their resentment on their father.
Cordelia, who had been the favorite, did not abandon her father even following his proclamation that she was dead to him. Through the aid of Kent, disguised under the name Caius, she located her maddened father and, at the end of the tragedy, died with him at the hands of traitors. She had been the recipient of love for her entire life, and because she had loved her father in return and was sympathetic to his senility, she had the urge to help him.
The love Cordelia received enabled her to express true love, and, even following her cruel treatment, she continued to love Lear and do everything in her power to save him from the machinations of her sisters. However, because Regan and Goneril had not received the same quality of love their sister received, the only way they knew how to get what they wanted was through flattery and fake love.
The Earl of Gloucester, Edgar and Edmund
The relationship between Lear and his