Love Contest: What's Love Got to Do with it?

Essay by sunshineangelHigh School, 12th gradeA-, May 2004

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Shakespeare's King Lear opens with the 'Love Contest' in which Lear, King of Britain, sinfully surrenders all of this power to his three daughters - Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia as a reward for their public declaration of love towards him. This untimely abdication of his throne displays the manifestation of Lear's character, his mistakes, and the foreshadowing consequences leading to his downfall.

Lear's character rapidly develops through the staging of the love trial. His state of insecurity and fear at old age develops his demanding scheme for the competition of empty, flattery love, which Goneril and Regan quickly seize to their advantage, and portrays his idiocy as both King and father. Lear's proud, egotistical nature overrides moral judgment as he fuels upon his daughters' extravagant lies and resulting blindness is evident through the banishment of his most beloved and honest Cordelia, as his "sometime daughter." (1.1.119) The King's stubborn, irascible temperament, "come not between the dragon and his wrath," (1.1.121)

is evident as Lear banishes Kent, his loyal supporter, when he intervenes with rational words. The tragic frailty in King Lear's own nature is revealed through this opening scene, which sets the stage for his folly.

Lear makes the decision to base his daughters' love on quantity, not quality is due to his distorted perception of its true meaning. "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?"(1.1.50) The faulty judgment of words being superior to action provokes the hypocritical, grand pronouncements of Goneril and Regan more pleasing to Lear and they are rewarded. Cordelia, the youngest daughter, who truly loves Lear, refuses to make an insincere speech and her truthful reply of "nothing"(1.1.86), brings her to disinheritance. Lear's overestimation of his two evil daughters, underestimates the true value of his good one and his conceited nature...