How effective is Shakespeare's presentation of the relationship between Lear and his daughters?

Essay by aimzy December 2003

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Our first impression of the relationship is influenced by Shakespeare's portrayal of Lear and his daughters' characters; this is illustrated in the first scene of the play. He presents Lear as a controlling father and King; he seems to love his power and uses it to his advantage. The unnatural way in which he encourages competition between his daughters, causes the true nature of each character to evolve. Through the language Shakespeare creates the mood and also feelings of the characters, this is Important especially when identifying Lear's relationship with each of his daughters. Which is clear when the eldest daughters shut Lear out; his violent use of animal imagery produces his rage and judgement.

In the first scene it is quite apparent that Cordelia is his favourite "A third more opulent than your sisters?" (L87) Yet it is harder to identify between the older, similar daughters. Lear introduces Goneril "Goneril our eldest born, speak first."

(L54) He does this with a less enthusiastic tone compared to Regan "Our dearest Regan, wife of Cornwall? Speak." (L69) He mentions her husband and adds 'our dearest' implying he thinks more highly of her, yet it's usually the case that the eldest is the favourite. Lear's basic flaw at the beginning of the play is that he wants to be treated as King and enjoy the title, but he doesn't want to fulfil the Kings duties. His test of his daughters demonstrates that he values a flattering public display of love over real love.

Goneril is the first to 'speak'; Shakespeare instantly reveals the daughter's characters basically in their first line. Goneril states that she loves Lear "more than words can wield the matter." (A1 Sc1 L56) and yet she pours out a speech rich in flattery and empty words "Speech unable".