King Lear is a play written by William Shakespeare that focuses on the relationships of many characters, some good, some evil. This is a great tragedy that is full of injustice at the beginning and the restoring of justice towards the end. The good are misjudged as evil and the evil are accepted as good. It is not until the end of the play that the righteous people are recognized as such. There is great treachery and deceit involved in the hierarchy of English rule. The great mistake in this play was made by Lear when he decided to divide up his kingdom to his three daughters. In order to determine which share each should get, he had each of his daughters give testimonies of love for him. Cordelia, the youngest, refused to go overboard with her statement. When asked for her testimony, she simply replied, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty according to my bond, no more no less.”(I,i, ln 91-93) Lear becomes enraged and casts her off saying, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, propinquity and property of blood, and as a stranger to my heart and me hold this from thee for ever.”(I,i, ln 113-116). Some think that Cordelia was prideful, or even a fool in her response, but I believe she was simply being honest and true.
Another mistake that was made in the course of the play was by the Earl of Gloucester. After being tricked by his bastard son, Edmund, into believing that his other son, Edgar, was plotting to kill him, he put all his faith in Edmund, which would eventually lead to his demise. Besides believing that Cordelia was being true and honest to her father, I think that Lear and the Earl of Gloucester were fools, regarding the banishments of their righteous children.
After reading this play, I found it hard to believe that Cordelia was being anything but true in her simple proclamation of love for her father. I can’t believe that Shakespeare was trying to portray her as a spoiled, prideful child. I do not believe she was foolish in her decision to restrain from trying to persuade him into giving her a larger portion of his kingdom. I think it was apparent early that Cordelia was struggling with what she was going to say to her father. In her asides she says, “What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent”(I,i, ln 62), and after Regan spoke, “Then poor Cordelia; And yet not so, since I am sure my love’s more ponderous than my tongue.”(I,i, ln 76-78). It is obvious that she loves her father, but she can’t express it the way in which Lear wants her to. Because of this, she is disowned and sent away to France. The King even refers to her as, “Unfriended, new adopted to our hate, dow’red with our curse, and strangered with our oath.”(I,i, ln 203-204). Cordelia’s love for her father was shown further when she received the letters concerning Lear’s mental state after being mistreated by his two other daughters. It was said that, “now and then an ample tear trilled down her delicate cheek.”(IV,iii, ln 12-13). Cordelia then orders for some of the French soldiers to bring Lear to her so that she can look after him before the war between Britain and the French soldiers begins. Her love was further displayed when she says, “But love, dear love, and our aged father’s right. Soon may I hear and see him!”(IV,iv, ln 28-29). Because of all of this, I firmly believe that Cordelia truly loved her father and was only being honest when she refused to profess her love for him in order to rule a portion of Britain.
Besides believing that Cordelia was true in her response, I also think that Lear was acting as a fool when he disowned his only loving daughter. He made a monumental mistake when he handed over British rule to his two evil daughters, Regan and Goneril. This is what eventually led to his mental breakdown and the deaths of many of the heads of Britain. If he had only chose to keep control over his kingdom or to give up control to someone trustworthy, no one would have had to suffer as they did. Some people knew he was committing a terrible folly, especially the Earl of Kent. This is apparent when he says, “Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak when power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound when majesty falls to folly. Reserve thy state, and in thy best consideration check this hideous rashness.(I,i, ln 147-151). Lear ignores this plea and even banishes Kent, who returns later, disguised as a servant. Another person to recognize his mistake is the fool. In one of his rhymes, he says, “That lord that counselled thee to give away thy land, come place him here by me – Do thou for him stand. The sweet and bitter fool will presently appear; the one in motley here, the other found out there.(I,iv, ln 133-140). After giving all his power to Regan and Goneril, they reject him, kicking him out of their houses. This treatment of Lear drives him mad and he wishes that he had never given away his power or disowned Cordelia. This can be seen when he states, “No, you unnatural hags! I will have such revenges on you both that all the world shall-I will do such things-What they are, yet I know not; but they shall be the terrors of the earth.(II,iv, ln 273-277). It would take an entire book to explain all the ramifications of his great folly. However, I can say that the deaths of Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, and of himself may be attributed to his mistake. He also caused a war between Britain and France that should not have occurred. I believe it is clear that Lear acted as a fool when giving his land to Goneril and Regan, but not to Cordelia.
Another character who was very foolish in distinguishing between good and bad children was the Earl of Gloucester. Edmund, a bastard son of Gloucester, tricked him into believing that his brother, Edgar wanted to kill him and take his inheritance. He wrote a phony letter which implied all of this. Gloucester became outraged and gave all his trust to Edmund. He even declares, “O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter. Abhorred villain, unnatural, detested, brutish villain.”(I,ii, ln 74-76). Edgar then convinces Edgar that he should flee because his life is in danger. He also believes Edmund, so he leaves his home and ends up hiding in a cave. Gloucester again takes Edmund completely into his confidence when he informs him that he was going to try and help Lear when he was out in a storm, even though he was given strict orders by Regan and the Duke of Cornwall. Edgar immediately tells Cornwall of the information he has just learned. He says to himself, “This courtesy forbid thee shall the Duke instantly know, and of that letter too. This seems a fair deserving, and must draw me that which my father loses-no less than all. The younger rises when the old doth fall.”(III,iii, ln 19-23). This treachery by Edmund ultimately leads to Gloucester having his eyes gauged out. Despite the efforts of Edgar to take care of him and restore his desire to live, Gloucester dies of a broken heart. Edgar explains, “His flawed heart – Alack, too weak the conflict to support – twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief, burst smilingly.(V,iii, ln 197-200). Edgar ends up killing Edmund, which means that Gloucester’s folly resulted in the deaths of both he and Edmund. It is very clear that the Earl of Gloucester can be considered a fool for taking Edmund into his confidence.
Overall, this play was full of evil and treachery. However, justice seemed to be served somewhat at the end. I do believe that Cordelia was very good-natured and was the only “true” daughter of King Lear. In a play full of evil people, she was one of the only honest and loving. It is amazing that only through great hardships, such as Gloucester having his eyes plucked out, could he and Lear receive true insight.