It is vital to note during the course of the play that certain words are repeated in numerous different contexts and form themes of their own. Of these, the most important is "nature" which can also be found in a number of other Shakespearean tragedies as the basis for life and actions. Lear himself refers repeatedly to the "offices of nature", Edmund declares nature his "goddess" before the king mirrors this with "Hear, nature, hear; dear goddess, hear!" Gloucester speaks of "the wisdom of nature" and banishes the "unnatural" Edgar, Cornwall speaks of "Natures of such deep trust", Goneril and Regan are "unnatural hags", and so on. Nature may be seen in this play as the superhuman force that drive the action, and it is certainly (as Edmund suggests in I.ii) pagan in its origins and implications. Nature is, on one level, just another way of describing Fortune’s Wheel. However, it is also crucial due to the sense of having "natural" and "unnatural" children: bastards literal or otherwise. Nature defines what is right but it is also the cause of all that goes wrong.

Two other key words to note in the way they hold the disparate elements of the play together are:

    1. Service: consider the selfless servitude offered by Kent, the Fool and Cordelia that transcends wealth and does not demand favour and the way it is juxtaposed with the actions of nominal service of the ‘evil’ characters. This form of service is not lasting: thus the servant who will not blind Gloucester is murdered.
    2. Nothing: Act I has the mantra of "Nothing" running all through it pronounced by all the central characters. Consider its various purposes and meanings. When Cordelia says "Nothing", she means "Nothing that I can put into words". Lear, however, means "No money" and "No flattery" when he responds, "Nothing will come of nothing". Edmund uses "Nothing" as bait for Gloucester which works since in the context "The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself" as the father observes. Finally in Scene IV there is a whole dialogue about "nothing" between Kent, Fool and Lear. Kent dismisses Fool’s song as meaningless "nothing", the Fool defends the concept while punning on the word’s various meanings and Lear concludes "nothing can be made out of nothing". Of course, as the play proves, nothing is what one must be reduced to in removing oneself from base foolishness and greed.

The Presentation of Women


It should first be noted that lust causes the downfall of Regan, Goneril and Edmund: the two sisters use their sexuality as a bargaining tool with both Edmund and Oswald. Edmund actually appeals to the "natural" appetites that begot him to help him fight against his naïve father and trusting brother. As a result Gloucester is symbolically punished for this through his blindness.


It could be argued that Regan is slightly softer in her words to Lear. She also speaks of "gorgeous apparel", she is vain and extravagant and this contrasts with Goneril who almost entirely lacks femininity. She is slightly subordinate to her sister and her husband – she is mocking (in the situation with Gloucester where she plucks a hair from his beard) yet she does not seem to instigate the cruelty to such a large extent. This is illustrated by the fact she tried to activate a trick to keep Edmund but she is outwitted by her sister who punishes her with death.


It is a mistake to see Goneril and Regan as an identical duo, united against their father. There obviously are a number of similarities: Regan even admits she is of the ‘self-same metal" as her sister. They are also referred to as "pelican daughters" and "unnatural hags." They both thrust aside their husbands and father and indeed each other in order to further themselves. Nonetheless Goneril seems to be more independently evil than her sister. She doesn’t need any bolstering from her husband and this increases

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