The Characters of Goneril and Cordelia in King Lear
Nothing makes a story like a good villain, or in this case, good villainess. They are the people we love to hate and yearn to watch burn. Goneril, of Shakespeare’s King Lear, is no exception. Her evils flamed from the very beginning of the play with her lack of sincerity in professing her love for her father:
“Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter; Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty; Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare; No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour; As much as child e’er loved, or father found; A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable. Beyond all manner of so much I love you. (I.i. 56-62)
One can just feel the insincerity and exaggeration in her words, perhaps even a touch of hatred that is bubbling like a volcano on the verge of explosion, which will wreak destruction on everyone and everything that gets in its path.
Of course, Shakespeare does not disappoint. The volcano is actually a good analogy for this character, for she does exactly what is expected. Not only does her father feel her wrath, but also her own husband, the Duke of Albany, who she has killed; The Duke of Gloucester whose eyes get gauged out in her presence; her other sister, Regan, who she kills out of jealousy; and Goneril, herself, when she comes face to face with her true self.
In regard to her role in the Elizabethan age, Goneril not only stood for evil, but also rebellion. She has rebelled against the accepted role for women by rebelling against both her father and husband. This reflects much of the theme of the play in that rebellion against accepted social order under mines that order, which leads to downfall and chaos. Ag…
…h the wicked prosper, and the virtuous miscarry . . . the audience will not always rise better pleased from the final triumph of persecuted virtue.”
What exactly was Cordelia’s role in the play? Was she there as an angel – like character who made the distinction between good and evil more visible? Was she just thrown in as a little goody- goody who did no wrong, and maybe, to some degree, we were supposed to despise? Or was she there to make us more aware of a crumbling society where many things were opposite to what one might think it should be, with evil generally prevailing over the good (which to some degree is prophetic to today’s society)? There are many theories surrounding this character in particular, and no one has reached a definitive conclusion as of late. The best one I can come up with, however, is simply the answer “Yes,” to all of the above.