King Lear Theme Analysis

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Are all pretenses evil? In King Lear, William Shakespeare explores the theme of deception and its various kinds. Hungry for flattering words, King Lear tests the love of his three daughters by asking them to describe how much they love him. The winner would get the largest portion of his kingdom. Eager for land and power, Goneril and Regan try to do outdo each other in proving their love for Lear through empty declarations of love. On the contrary, Cordelia sees through the meaninglessness of speech and says nothing about her love. Infuriated, the King disowns Cordelia and divides his kingdom between his two remaining daughters who soon plots to kill him. Meanwhile, Gloucester keeps on demeaning his illegitimate son, Edmund, in public. Vengeful,…show more content…
To prove her love for Lear, Goneril announces that she loves him “more than words 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” (Shakespeare 1.1.60-66). Her declaration is false because if she truly loves him more than words, she should have avoided using too many words to describe her love. Similar to Goneril, Regan boasts of a greater love for her sister’s words “[come] too short,” while she can “profess [herself] an enemy to all other joys / Which the most precious square of sense / possesses, / And find [she] alone felicitate / In [her] dear Highness' love” (Shakespeare 1.1.78-84). She is saying that no one can love the King more than her. The speeches of Goneril and Regan are deceiving in that they use words to fake their love for Lear. Because their father assumes that love can be measured through words alone, they are successful in persuading the King to believe in their phony declarations. Edmund deceives his father too by making up a false story that Edgar plans to murder the latter, and then saying that maybe his brother wants to test him with “an essay or taste of my virtue” (Shakespeare 1.2.45). Cunning, he uses these words to pretend that he may be wrong which can further emphasize that he is a good brother for not immediately thinking the worse of him. Goneril, Regan, and Edmund know how to use words…show more content…
When Goneril and Regan feign to love their father beyond words, they did this to gain their share of the kingdom. The only person who loves without asking anything in return rejects speech, so Cordelia says, “What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent” (Shakespeare 1.1.68). Words are unnecessary for true love that exists in the silence of devoted actions. Likewise, Edmund lies to his father about the letter to gain his trust and ruin Edgar’s reputation. He says that the latter “is [Edgar’s] hand…but [he hopes] his heart is / not in the contents” (Shakespeare 1.2.69-70). Edmund deceives his father by pretending to be the good son who cannot believe that Edgar can plot against their
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