the polarity that exists between her and Albany who is much more cautious than her. She is the first sister in all actions: in deceiving and denying her father, deciding Gloucester’s punishment, the poisoning of her sister and furthermore she was the first to be ‘seen’ with Edmund and Oswald. She is referred to in wholly unflattering terms such as "marble-hearted kite", compared to a snake, a fiend and a hag. Lear denies her femininity, calling her unnatural and cursing her womb so that it becomes barren. Goneril can also be compared to Lady Macbeth. She emasculates her husband in rhetoric, denies her own femininity and is childless. She attempts to devalue the males that surround her. It is she who woos Edmund. She attempts to emasculate her father who is too old to fight. She diminishes his entourage which is a sign of his power and kingship and in turn this removes any traces of filial love therefore she instigates the loss of his visible power. Goneril refers to her husband as "Milk-livered….lily white", she cuckolds him with Edmund and perhaps Oswald, and she has the intention to kill him.


She is in a sense alienated by the play – she is absent for the majority of it, is disinherited, married without a dowry and has an ignoble death. Her main motivation is love and a sense of right rather than of practicality. It is certainly questionable whether or not she is the "ideal woman" because she is too perfect and forgiving to be believed or liked. She has no grit, wit or purpose but as a foil for the other sisters and as a corpse (perhaps more comparable to Hero in Much Ado About Nothing rather than Beatrice). Cordelia is too good for the world that Lear is set in. When she is actually present she is largely ineffectual; she commands the French army but is captured. It should also be noted that her undiplomatic self-righteousness sets in motion a whole train of events it seems that in the world of Lear and her integrity thwarts her survival. For Shakespeare, Cordelia is a plot device and a wholly unconvincing female. She is a Virgin Mary- styled figure who cannot appear in the play because she is merely a symbol of righteousness and what Lear has lost. In this sense she is as purposeless a heroine as Ophelia in Hamlet and is more evidence as if evidence were needed that Shakespeare portrayed women as extremes of good or evil in his later serious plays


This is portrayed as a female figure – an "arrant whore" which is wholly unpredictable and faithless. This is a tradition, Fortune being the female in charge of the wheel of fate and in this play is referred to more than in any other famous work of literature except perhaps Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. Lear and others fail to realise for much of the play that Fortune is without fault and is machine of the gods.

Types of Madness


We never see the King in a fully sane state. Even at the beginning he is irrational and incensed by his youngest daughter’s reaction to him. As the play progresses his rage and madness are intensified by his reduction in circumstances. Lear’s costume mirrors his change: as he becomes less and less lucid his clothes and the vestiges of the world he used to belong to are stripped from him. He fights against his madness, he becomes almost schizophrenic before he descends into fragmentary disjointed sanity while his language is reduced on occasion to foul and delusory phraseology. Nonetheless at times he does show moments of lucidity – an understanding of humanity and social justice – particularly in his deep concern for the Fool and Poor Tom.


It can be argued that Edgar only uses madness as a way of indulging those that surround him – Lear relates to his mad persona. This is illustrated by the fact that the King can find meaning within Edgar’s madness. Edgar takes on a role (of Poor Tom) but his insanity is superficial, he has two selves (as Lear does). The madness Edgar uses is one of convenience: it is a disguise when his father has disowned

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