Lear: Dependent Or Independent?

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King Lear's "self-castration" may also be called pure, unadulterated ignorance. His daughters, Regan and Goneril, give a very convincing performance when asked to vow their love for their father. Cordelia, the youngest, and most favored daughter of Lear, gives no fervent avowal of love as her sisters do before her. Upon hearing this, Lear wastes no time in disowning her, thus sealing his fate. He has now given up the one source of true love in his life for his other daughters, whose treachery is found out when it is too late.

It does not actually occur to Regan and Goneril to "castrate" their father until after Cordelia is disowned. They were both shocked to see that Cordelia appeared to love their father less than they did, when all Cordelia really said was that she had no words to describe her love for her father. Later, when Regan and Goneril begin their treachery, Lear realizes that the decision he made was faulty.

Whatever little power his two daughters do not have, he is losing to insanity.

Ignorant of their ignoble deeds until it is too late, Lear has already "castrated" himself before he fully understands the enormity of his decision. The Fool plays a medium sized part in the play, however, morally, the Fool's character and his speeches are key to understanding; not only for the audience, but for Lear as well. After Lear disowns Cordelia, Kent tries vehemently to persuade Lear to change his decision, but to no avail. Lear will not be swayed. He keeps the Fool for entertainment, but never for advice. The Fool, who is actually quite astute, takes advantage of his position when he takes the liberty of saying such things to Lear as "Thou wouldst make a good fool," in response to a silly question the Fool asked. Not only does the Fool say things like this, but he also uses his talent with words to oftentimes insult Goneril and Regan, even while they are present. Lear sees no harm done in this because he believes that the Fool is still, and will always be, A FOOL. His daughters, however, are not that obtuse and they both have the mind to rid themselves of him. It is almost uncanny how similar these two sisters are. Both of these women are jealous, treacherous, and amoral. Goneril is incredibly aggressive. She challenges Lear's authority, brazenly initiates an affair with Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester, and takes military power away from her husband, the Duke of Albany. Regan has the exact same qualities, including the initiation of an affair with the very same Edmund.

When challenged incessantly by his two daughters, Lear's authority dwindles until he realizes that he has digressed to a kind of infantile dependency. One of Sigmund Freud's theories is called the "castration complex." In it, young boys fear castration because they are infinitely jealous of their father's endowments. This causes them to turn to their mothers for love and support, developing an infantile dependency. Lear has no mother, but he has given most of his authority to Goneril and Regan, who eventually wrest all of Lear's power from him, forcing him toward an infantile dependency upon them. The two daughters seem to take over the position of "loving mother" and instead of giving love, they give nothing but betrayal and treachery, leading Lear slowly but surely toward insanity.

Later, when Cordelia returns upon hearing of all the misdeeds done to her father, Lear is first disbelieving, then extremely pleased to find that after all the years, his daughter still loves him as much as she always did. The only difference is that now he can see it. He knows of all the love she holds in her heart for him and this time, she says it. Cordelia talks to her father, speaks of her love for him, and tells him she will not leave him again. Lear tries to make things right. He beseeches Cordelia to come to prison with him and lead a peaceful life there, watching the "gilded butterflies," and catching up on all of the years passed. Edmund, however betrays Cordelia, and she is needlessly executed in prison. The final and most climactic scene of the play depicts Lear dragging his feet across the ground, holding his perished Cordelia, and weeping softly to himself. Her death is the very last thing his feeble mind can handle. He realizes that nothing in his life is worth living for now that Cordelia is dead. Bereaved, he shouts his distress, and faints to his death.

All of King Lear's actions, beginning from his disowning Cordelia, and ending with his giving in to Regan and Goneril's wishes, have contributed to his "self-castration." Granted, all of this was done in ignorance of his daughters' true characters, but the fact still remains, that the fault is his own. Shakespeare does not fail to mention that Cordelia was Lear's favorite daughter, implying that she must have done something to win his love and admiration. Lear should not even have to ask for a declaration of love from her because if she truly was his most favored daughter, he would already know that her love for him was most definitely in existence. Lear selected a terrible time to value words more than actions, and when he did, he sealed his fate.