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The Dysfunctional Family of King Lear

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 …

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…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.

A Lesson Learned Too Late in King Lear

A Lesson Learned Too Late in King Lear

In the first half of the play, King Lear struggles with the problem of authority and the consequences of giving his own authority away. Lear’s eventual loss of sanity is a result of his ill judgement and unwillingness to part with his power as king. Yet, the issue of authority is not the only theme that is being dealt with in the play. King Lear is also about Lear’s search for identity and wisdom in his old age. The play explores the concept of the human worth in regards to Lear and the other characters associated with him. In addition, the play is about the shifting definition of Lear’s identity and human worth. Although the majority of the play is spent presenting the audience with these issues, the fact remains that the protagonist figure (Lear), and the other innocent character (Cordelia), die at the end although they are the characters who present the knowledge and issues of the play. It is necessary to understand the impact of the deaths of these characters because their deaths have the potential to cancel out the values and issues that they present and embody throughout the play. Yet, in the case of King Lear, the issues with which Lear struggles are not negated with his death. With the death of Lear and Cordelia, the audience gains more than a sense of loss from the deaths of these two characters who have finally come full circle and who have reconciled. The audience, more importantly, is presented with the tragic consequences of events that are set into motion and unable to be reversed or canceled. It is this main issue of consequence that is not negated with the deaths of Lear and Cordelia, but instead, strengthened with their deaths.

Lear’s struggl…

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…, the audience is left with a purely, tragic conclusion. The audience is also left with a feeling of loss for the wisdom that comes too late for Lear. The fact that the play focuses on Lear’s search for wisdom and meaning in life gives the audience a sense that the wisdom he has gained has only come too late. Thus, the theme that remains is that of the inevitable and severe consequences of our actions. Ultimately, deaths of Lear and Cordelia serve as an illustration of just how dire the consequences can be.

Works Cited and Consulted

Brower, Reuben A. _Hero and Saint: Shakespeare and the Graeco-Roman Heroic Tradition_. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1971.

Leggatt, Alexander. _King Lear_. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.

Shakespeare, William. “King Lear”. _The Riverside Shakespeare_. Ed. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

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