William Shakespeare’s play King Lear is a play full of deceit, betrayal and meaningless promises.  This becomes evident in the first few lines.  We first learn of the empty words of Goneril and Regan as well as their hatred for their father, King Lear.  This becomes the center of the play and also leads to the madness that the king suffers from.

The first words that Goneril speaks are totally empty and are the complete opposite of what she really feels.  She says, “Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter; Dearer than eye-sight, space and liberty;” (I.i.54-55)  The reason why there are no words to express her love for her father is that she has no love for him and it does not exist. 

The same goes for her sister, Regan, who is plotting against her father as well.  She says that she feels the same way as her sister and expresses how Goneril has named her very deed of love.  Regan adds a little twist to this and professes that she loves Lear more than her sisters and that Goneril’s affection for her father “comes too short.” (I.i.71)  By uttering these words, Regan shows that her love is even less true than that of her sister.  She goes even further to say:

“…that I profess, Myself an enemy to all other joys, Which the most precious square of sense possesses, And find I am alone felicitate, In your dear highness’ love.” I.i.71-75. This goes to show that she is greedier than her sister and her words are also falser.  She wants more than her sister and will do anything to attain her goal.  Her ambition to get what she wants is evident in the words that she speaks.  She claims herself to be “an enemy to all other joys” but she is really the enemy to her father.

The next person King Lear calls to speak is his soft-spoken daughter, Cordelia.  Lear does not have much respect for her because she does not flatter him and put him on the pedestal that he feels that he should be put on.  This is exactly what his other daughters do and he feels very strongly that Cordelia should do the same.  Because of all the flattery that was given him by his other two daughters, he gives them most of his possessions. 

The first thing that Cordelia says when the King asks her to speak is “nothing.”  The king is enraged by this remark and says that “Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.” (I.i.89)  When Cordelia speaks again she says that she does love him but according to their bond, no more no less.  The king is also angry by this remark and tells her to “mend” her speech a little. 

The king really means that he wants to be flattered more and that she is not doing so by saying what she does.  In the speech that Cordelia gives beginning on line 95, she says: “Good my Lord, You have begot me, bred me, lov’d me: I, Return those duties back as are the right fit, Obey you, love you, and most honor you.” I.i.94-97. This speech professes that she loves him for all that he has done for her including raising her and the bond that they have to each other.  It is the bond that keeps them together.

Throughout the entire play, the bond is the only thing that helps Lear in the end.  Cordelia takes him in and does whatever she can to ease his pain.  She does not do this out of sympathy but because of the bond that they have as father and daughter. In line 106, Cordelia says, “So young, my Lord, and true.” (I.i.106) She is saying that the love that she has for the king is true and sincere.  She is the only one out of all of her sisters that speaks the truth and shows that she really is sincere. 

Because of her sincerity and her wish not to flatter him like the rest of his daughters, Lear proceeds to ridicule her and then takes away her dowry.  This is what she meant when she utters the words “nothing.”  She has nothing to say that will flatter the king because she is true and sincere. She is not like her sisters who would do anything to get what they want. After he does this, he continues to badger and ridicule her for her lack of affection and love for him. He does this to anyone who does not put him on the pedestal that he feels that he rightfully deserves to be on.

Cordelia is finally courted by the King of France even though she is “rich for being poor.”  She is the only true person in the play and in the end pays for this by dying.  This shows that you cannot always be truthful and get what you rightfully deserve.  Cordelia deserved her dowry but does not get it because she is not the type of person that the king wants her to be.  The ones that prevail in the first act of the play are those that are dishonest and false.  This helps set the stage for the rest of the play. The next deceitful person in the play is Edmund. He is the bastard son of Gloucester and wants everything that Edgar has.  At the beginning of Act 2, he draws his sword on Edgar and tells him to pretend like he is protecting himself because he hears Gloucester coming.

Edmund says: “I hear my father coming; pardon me; In cunning I must draw my sword upon you; Draw; seem to defend yourself; now quit you well. Yield; come before my father. Light, ho! here! Fly, brother. Torches! torches! So, farewell.” II.i.28-32. Edmund tells Gloucester that he was attacked by Edgar and that he even drew blood from Edmund.  The motive behind this is also greed and envy.  Edmund is envious of the fact that he will not inherit any title from Gloucester because he is a bastard and not the biological and rightful son that Edgar is. 

Edmund goes on to say: “With his prepared sword he charges home, My unprovided body, lanch’d mine arm: And when he saw my best alarum’d spirits, Bold in the quarrel’s right, roused to th’ encounter, Or whether gasted by the noise I made, Full suddenly he fled.” II.i.50-54. He incriminates Edgar for attacking him and gets Gloucester to sympathize with him and send out a warrant for Edmund and the death to anyone who helps to hide him. 

Edmund is just as bad as Goneril and Regan by what he does and does not win in the end.  Gloucester is so taken with the events that have just occurred that he plans to give all of the lands that he has to Edmund now because Edgar is no longer considered to be his son.  Edmund has the same plan as Regan and Goneril had and has done a good job so far as playing the victim instead of the victimizer.

Throughout all of King Lear, the children plan to overthrow and get rid of their parents.  Their motive for doing this is sheer greed and lack of feeling.  In the end, Lear is saved from his insanity because Cordelia, the one that Lear liked most, comes back to take care of him.  She was the one thing that really filled Lear because of her honesty and he did not realize this until she was gone and none of his other daughters would take him in.  They just left him to rot. 

The real tragedy is that poor Cordelia is hung in the end and suffers the greatest loss.  She is killed for being true and sincere.  A similar thing happens with Edgar.  He comes back disguised as a madman in order to prevent his father from harm and warns him of the evil plans that Edmund has in store for him.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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