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King Lear Essay, Research Paper

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’s. She goes even farther 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.”


This goes to show that she is more greedy 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 right fit,

Obey you, love you, and most honour you.”


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.

In 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.”


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’


Or whether gasted by the noise I made,

Full suddenly he fled.”


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 land 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 lost. 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.

I think that King Lear was a great play and showed the reader that although you are a false person you can fool people

who are blind and think that you are incapable of doing harm. This was certainly the case with Goneril and Regan. They

showered Lear with such great words of flattery that he reagarded them as his true daughters and left them everything

because he really felt that they deserved it. He did not leave Cordelia anything because she did not flatter him like the

others and therefore felt that she did not love him at all. In truth, she loved him more than her other sisters because she

really did feel the “bond” that they had as father and daughter.

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