King Lear by William Shakespeare

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55 ‘I love you more than words can wield the matter’ – Goneril’s speech is full of irony. True love cannot be expressed in words. Lear is a fool to think it can be. Cordelia will ‘Love and be silent.’

56 ‘Dearer than eyesight’ – introduces the whole theme of ‘seeing’ and ‘blindness’ in the play. Goneril’s ‘love’ is excessive and exaggerated.

75-6 ‘And find I am alone felicitate/In your dear Highness’ love’ – words that would seem more appropriately directed to God than any human being.

86 ‘A third more opulent than your sisters’ – Lear is clearly enjoying this adulation. A director needs to decide how Lear’s court will respond to these speeches. One important point to note here is Lear’s favouritism towards Cordelia. He is being openly unfair to Goneril and Regan (just as Gloucester treats Edgar and Edmund differently).

90 ‘Nothing will come of nothing’ – Lear is quoting Aristotle’s doctrine, formulated in Latin as ex nihil, nihil fit . He is telling Cordelia that if she says nothing affectionate to him, she will gain nothing from him. It provides, therefore, further evidence of Lear’s self-centred nature: love, generosity should not hope for anything in return. Love is created ‘out of nothing,’ just as, according to the traditional Christian teaching, God made the world ‘out of nothing’ in the ultimate act of generosity.

93 ‘according to my bond’ – a firm, almost brusque, affirmation of the natural law: ‘I love you as a daughter is required to love a father.’ As she later states, a married woman must love her husband at least as much as her father. Exclusive love can only be for God.

108 ‘thy truth then be thy dow’r’ – one of a few references in the play to the idea that truthfulness is uncivil and to be despised.

109ff ‘For by the sacred radiance...’ – Lear swears by the sun, the moon (here ‘Hecat’) and the planets (quasi-deities in the play). He swears by the natural universe which will, as a result, turn against him later.

113-4 ‘Here I disclaim all my paternal care,/Propinquity and property of blood’ – Lear breaks the natural law by denying his relationship with his daughter. He destroys the ‘bond’ that should hold them together, referred to before by Cordelia, and he does so unjustly. He therefore opens the door for others (Goneril and Regan) to break their own bonds with him.

122 ‘Come not between the dragon and his wrath’ – It is interesting that Lear identifies himself with this creature, if only because of its Celtic/Briton associations. In Shakespeare’s last tragedy, Coriolanus , the hero, another character who denies the bonds of nature, is frequently described as a dragon.

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William Shakespeare