William Shakespeare’s play King Lear is one of his most famous and popular tragedies. Part of what makes King Lear so interesting is that it was written between 1603 and 1606, it has been critiqued throughout history and, yet, still remains relevant to modern day society. Dealing with themes of human nature, King Lear can be literarily analysed through many lenses to allow its critics to reflect upon the stereotypes and social norms of their own culture.
Critics can particularly reflect upon gender roles; the public image of being male or female that a person presents to others. King Lear, then and now, reinforces gender roles in society. The symbols and language used are gendered, the portrayal Of male and female characters reinforces sexual stereotypes, the relationships between male and female characters are imbalanced and this is reflected in their relative roles in society. Body Paragraph 1: Point: “Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
Throughout King Lear the use of literary devices, such as imagery, ymbolism, themes and motifs, are gender specific and, therefore, perpetuate the ideologies of the roles of men and women. Evidence: The storm on the Heath in Act 4, is perhaps the largest form of symbolism in the entire play and it is a direct representation of King Lear’s rage against his wicked daughters, as well as Edgars sexual sin with women. “What, has his daughters brought him to this pass!… Death, Traitor!
Nothing could have subdu’d nature to such a lowness but his unkind daughters. ” (3. 4. 61-67,68) “A servingman, proud in heart and mind; that curl’d my hair, wore gloves in my cap, and did the act of arkness with her;” (3. 4. 81-82) Explanation: The storm is a representation of the results of the sin, and ambition of women. Evidence: Lear feels betrayed by women throughout all of King Lear, whether mistakenly or not, and this betrayal is represented over and over again through monster, and disease imagery associated with women. We’ll no more meet, no more see one another: But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter; Or rather a disease that’s in my flesh, Which must needs call mine: thou art a boil, A plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle,ln my corrupted blood. (2. 4. 29) Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend, more hideous, when thou showst thee in a child, Than the sea-monster. ” (1. 4. 250) Explanation: When Lear’s daughters are not behaving the way that he deemed expected Of women, they are compared to plagues, beasts and even venereal diseases.
Link: The symbols, language and descriptions in King Lear are directly related to the actions of women in the play; particularly when these actions are contrary to the expectations of men. Whether it is sexual sin, or simply rising to power, there is continual negative connotation when women are being discussed in the play. Wrap up: These negative connotations of women reinforce the idea that women must not step out of place to cause man strife.
Body Paragraph 2: Point: The idea that men and women are expected to behave in a certain way is greatly emphasized in the play King Lear, through the contrasts in the portrayal of male in female characters. Evidence/ Explanation: Cordelia and Edgar are always portrayed as pure, and good to the audience. Cordelia was not ambitious, she loved her father, and when tragic things happened to her the audience sympathised with her. Edgar was also noble, pure, and the legitimate son. He, too, received the audience’s sympathies and ended up ruling the kingdom. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth: I love your majesty according to my bond; no more no less” (1. 1. 90) Cordelia’s only downfall is that she has the uncharacteristic trait of a woman of stubbornness that is viewed as rebellious. She refuses to flatter her father and gets banished because she has the same trait as her father. This act of power and defiance from a woman, no matter how good the intentions, sets the chaos in motion for the rest of the play, simply because she was not perfect.
Evidence/ Explanation: Edmund is portrayed as lowlier than that of his legitimate brother. He cannot have the same honours of a man born in wedlock, and his jealousy and ambition causes him to upset the fine balance in the patriarchal society. Edmund is closest to understanding the struggle Of female characters in the play because he is treated differently for being brought into the world differently than his brother Edgar. “Wherefore should I Stand in the plague of custom, and permit The curiosity of nations to deprive me,For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines Lag of a brother?
Why bastard? wherefore base? ” (1 . 2. 1-22) Evidence/ Explanation: Regan and Goneril are portrayed as evil, and wicked when they take upon the characteristics of men and do not respect the demands of the men around them. As a result, in King Lear, all women are continually being portrayed as emasculating disloyal, promiscuous and, essentially, the root of every problem in the world. This idea of the evils of women when they over step men is so heavily emphasized in the play, that it is what drives Lear crazy and causes him to actually be fearful Of women. Down from the waist they are Centaurs,Though women all above; But to the girdle do the gods inherit,Beneath is all the fiends’; There’s hell, there’s darkness, there’s the sulphurous pit,aurning, scalding, stench, consumption; fier fie, fie! pah, pah! (4. 6. 6) Link: The sexual stereotypes of men and women are very much the same in the Elizabethan times as they are today. Women are expected to be humble, loving, caring, and fruitful, while men are expected to be noble, honest and to take their rightful place.
Wrap up: The contrasts of each of these characters exemplify the expectations of the male and female roles in ociety, and what happens when this order is over thrown. Body Paragraph 3: Point: During the Elizabethan era, a woman did not have equal rights to men although they were equals in the mind. In King Lear, the struggle with this imbalance in equality was shown in the male and female relationships and was reflected in their relative roles in society. Evidence: Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril’s worth came from their dowry and their relationship to their husbands. Know that we have divided In three our kingdom; and ’tis our fast intent To shake all cares and business from our age, Conferring them on ounger strengths, while we Unburthen’d crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall, and you, our no less loving son Of Albany, We have this hour a constant will to publish Our daughter’s several dowers, that future strife May be prevented now” (1. 1. 36-44) Explanation: Women at the time could not even own land, so their husbands were given the dowry and rights. The purpose of King Leads daughters was to be wed to be peacemakers and to be able to have what was rightfully theirs.
Evidence: Cordelia being wiser than even her father, refused to flatter him just to receive a larger bounty, and nded up with none. The King of France, understood her wisdom and surprised everyone when he took her as his Queen and she received far more than any dowry from her father. Regan and Goneril ended up using their husbands to have rights as rulers of “interest of territory, care of states” (1. 1. 48) to take advantage of their father and gain power over both their husbands, and King Lear.
In the end they paid the ultimate price with their lives for their ambition. Explanation: Both Cordelia and her sisters scenarios fell outside of the expectations of society at the time. Cordelia and her arriage to the King of France showed that women are of equal wit to men, and the positive results when this is recognized and acted upon. Regan and Goneril’s marriage to Cornwall and Albany shows that women are of equal wit to men when they take advantage of the dowry, but it also shows the negative consequences of being unequal’s for their entire lives.
They couldn’t handle the power and became too ambitious. Link: King Leafs daughters and their relationships to their husbands shows the negative effects of women not being treated as equals in patriarchal societies. Wrap Up: As shown by the omen of King Lear, a woman’s worth does not, in fact, come from following the expectations Of society, but from themselves. It was clea rly demonstrated that women must be treated as equals in order to maintain a balance in nature, by showing what happens when gender roles are enforced.
Conclusion: King Lear will forever be a great literary masterpiece because of its deep social commentary which can be applied to even modern day lives. It reinforces the negative effects of gender roles in society by demonstrating how the literary conventions are gendered, portrays characters in such a way hat reinforces sexual stereotypes, and shows the negative results of the inequality in male/female relations and their relative roles In society.
A similar, modern, take on gender roles in our society which are still the same as the issues of William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” can be seen in the lyrics of the modern song “Flawless”. They are as follows- “We tell girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important .
Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each Other as competitors not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings In the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.