Family Relationships Family relationships is a big issue in the play King Lear. Like any family, King Lear and Gloucester believed they had perfect families. Both fathers had a false sense of love, and throughout the play, they became aware of the deceit and greed within both their families. Gloucester is told of Edgar’s plot against him and Lear divides his kingdom so; “that future strife may be prevented now” between Gonerill and Regan (Act 1 Scene 1). There is a strong focus on the bonds that the daughters and sons have with their father. Although the bond seems strong; it begins to unravel in the first scene when Lear banishes Cordelia, “Therefore be gone, without our grace, our love, our benison.” (Act 1 Scene 1).
The tension is prevalent amongst family members in Act 3 when it is mirrored by the storms. Greed was prevalent throughout the entire play. Great resentment, generates from each daughter of Lear and son of Gloucester. Gonerill used her exaggerated speech to receive her riches: 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,… A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable; Beyond all manner of so much I love you (Act 1 Scene 1).
In Act 1 Scene 1, Regan also claims that her greatest joy is her father’s love: I am made of that self-mettle as my sister And prize me at her worth. In my true heart I find she names my very deed of love. Only she come to short,….. And find that I am alone felicitate In you dear highness’ love. Lear’s mistake was to divide his kingdom between two greedy women who cared only of wealth and power.
Lear shows an attitude of their love when he rates Regan’s and Gonerill’s affection according to the number of his servants that they are willing to give him. Whoever accepts the larger number must love him the most: “Thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty, and thou art twice her love.” Once they received what they wanted, they saw no importance for their father. This is evident in Act 1 Scene 4, where the king begins noticing the disrespect being shown towards him and his soldiers. King Lear in his old age expected to be cared for by his daughters after he has given up his power, he had hoped to live with Cordelia: “I loved her most, and thought to set my rest on her kind nursery.” (Act 1 Scene 1). Lear’s madness and his growing awareness for everyone’s needs, helps him to become aware of the love Cordelia has for him. Eventually Lear is healed by Cordelia’s love.
Unlike Lear, Gloucesters riches could only be received after his death. Edmond is regarded as inferior because his parents were not married. He complains about his treatment as a bastard’ or illegitimate child. In Shakespeare’s day there was a stigma attached to children born outside of marriage. In Act 1 Scene 2 Edmond talks about the treatment he receives: Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law My services are bound. Wherefore should I Stand in the plague of custom and permit…
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines Lag of a brother? Why bastard’? Wherefore base’? The letter Edmond wrote in Act 1 Scene 2, pretending to be Edgar; “this policy and reverence of age makes the world better to the best of our times, keeps our fortunes from us till our oldness cannot relish them”, shows the resentment Edmond had towards his father. Gonerill’s and Regan’s qualities of good and evil are reflected in Edgar’s struggles to protect his father, and Edmond’s plan to harm him. Edmond seems to be very devious, seeking whatever will serve his own interests. Edmond’s plan to inherent his father’s wealth and destroy his brother Edgar, is evident in Act 1 Scene 2: ……………Well then, Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s loves is to the bastard, Edmond, As to th’legitimate. Fine word, legitimate’….. And my invention thrive, Edmond the base Shall to th’legitimate.
I grow; I prosper; Now gods, stand up for bastards! On the other hand Edgar is assuming the disguise of Mad Tom to try to protect his father. Edmund, meanwhile, allied himself with the dukes of Cornwall and Albany to defend Britain against the French army mobilized by Cordelia and her husband to avenge Lear’s cruel treatment. Edmond won Regan and Gonerill through his personal attention to them and set the sisters against each other through jealousy. The experience of Lear is mirrored in the Gloucester subplot. Gloucester too suffers ingratitude.
Gloucester like Lear mistakes appearance for reality in trusting Edmond and disinheriting the honest Edgar, but his behavior is an existing moral confusion, which is reflected is his affection for his illegitimate son. Gloucester’s moral blindness leads to physical blindness when his judgment makes him vulnerable to villains. In his blindness, he finally sees the truth of his situation. It is tragic that both fathers originally thought their families were perfect, but then discovered that they were far from being the ideal family. Although there is great resentment, deceit, and greed throughout the play there are those few characters that are true. Characters such as Edgar and Cordelia showed that there are people that don’t care for wealth and power but instead for love. Cordelia said it perfectly in Act 1 Scene 1, when she stated: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty According to my bond, no more nor less.
It were these simple words that destroyed a kingdom. She had no flattering words to display the love she felt for her father. So without the love of her favorite daughter the King fell apart and so did the power of the kingdom. With the exceptions of a few characters, no one really spoke from their heart. Greed was talking for most of the characters throughout the whole play. Maybe we should consider Edgar’s last words: The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long (Act 5 Scene 3).