The Dysfunctional Family of King Lear
In his tragedy King Lear, William Shakespeare presents two families: a family consisting of a father and his three daughters, and a family consisting of a father and his two sons, one of which is a bastard son. While he has the sons basically come out and admit that one of them is good and the other evil, the Bard chooses to have the feelings of the daughters appear more subtlely. At no point in King Lear does Shakespeare come out and blatantly tell his audience that Cordelia is the most caring and loving daughter, while her two sisters are uncaring and greedy, and love their father only when they stand to gain from it. However, via the three daughters’ speeches throughout King Lear, he does give subtle hints as to the daughter’s personalities, and it is through these implications that the audience discovers the extent of each of the daughter’s character. As would be expected, most of these revelations and implications about the daughter’s personalities arise during the first act.
One of the best attributes about King Lear is that the main action of the play begins almost immediately. There is little of that introductory stuff that there usually is in plays, the stuff that usually amounts to nothing. Instead, in the first scene of King Lear, the audience immediately sees what will be the main story of the play. Of course, it is also in this opening scene of the play that the audience gets their first taste of the three daughters. It is a defining taste. After Lear announces he will divide up his land between the three, he announces he wishes to hear each of the daughter’s profess their love for him, to see who loves him most. The very fact that a father would need to demand such a …
…his ways, and he spends his final moments with Cordelia, begging her forgiveness without realizing she has already forgiven him, because that is the kind of person she is. In King Lear, the audience never does learn why Cordelia is so much nicer and more caring than her sisters. Ultimately, though, it does not really matter. What does matter is the lesson Shakespeare teaches the audience. The truest form of love does not need to be spoken, and it is Cordelia who possesses this truest form of love. The audience sees this. In fact, the audience picks up on this fact immediately in Act One, and that is why that act was dealt with most in this essay. Lear himself recognizes this, but, unfortunately, it is a little too late.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear in The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th edition, Volume I, New York: Norton, 1993.