Theme of Power in Shakespeare Play ”King Lear” Analysis

In the play “King Lear” written by Shakespeare, several themes are observable and easy to understand: love, ambition, power, betrayal, foolishness. One of the ideas that is important to understand and easy to grasp while reading the play is ‘’loyalty’’. In ‘’King Lear’’ loyalty is contrasted through the relationship Lear has with his three daughters especially the drive for power of Goneril and Regan, while Cordelia is a definition of the theme itself in that she demonstrates honesty and allegiance, to her father.

This essay will explain the importance of loyalty and its contrasts throughout the acts of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. The two oldest daughters of the King, Goneril and Regan are interesting when discussing the theme of loyalty in Shakespeare’s tragedy. They contrast this theme by lying to their father when they are asked how much they love him. Their ambition for power being greater than their sense of morality, they utter an expected speech to their father in order to get the most part of the land that he is giving away by reason of his old age.

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Goneril starts by making up elegant words to her father: ‘’ Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, Beyond what can be valued rich or rare, No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour, as much as child e’er loved or father found; A love that makes breath poor and speech unable beyond all manner of ‘so much’ I love you. ’’ (I. i. 55) Impressed and blinded by the words spoken by his two daughters, the king decides then and there to give his kingdom to the both of them. This is a decision that he regrets shortly after.

Later in the play, the two daughters betray their father by taking away his power, forcing him to give up on his knights, and making him go mad; therefore, Lear becomes virtually homeless. Goneril, being the first one who has a visit from the king, she tells the king that he cannot have as many knights as he because of the knights’ unpredictable behavior. Frustrated, the king decides to leave Goneril’s kingdom and to visit Regan who, in order to run away from her father, decides to spend a night to Gloucester’s castle. Regan, the youngest of the two evil children, is not any better than Goneril.

The hypocritical daughter waits for her sister to confront her father about the number of knights he is allowed to have in Regan’s castle, and then she locks him outside of the castle. Lear before leaving responds: ‘’O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars Are in the poorest thing superfluous. Allow not nature more than nature needs – Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady; If only to go warm were gorgeous, Why nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st, which scarcely keeps thee warm. But for true need – you heaves, give me that patience, patience I need!

You see me here, you gods, a poor old man as ful of grief as age, wretched in both; If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts against their father, fool me not so much To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger, and let not women’s weapons, water drops, stain my man’s cheeks. No, you unnatural hags, I will have such revenges on you both that all the world shall – I will do such things – What they are yet I Know not; But they shall be the terrors of earth. You think I’ll weep. No, I’ll not weep. I have full cause of weeping; (storm and tempest)’’(II. 258-278)

At this point the king is homeless and his insanity becomes more evident as the tempest gets serious. At the end of the play, after many foolish and cruel actions of the two sisters they finally turn against one another and Goneril tries to poison Regan to secure the love of Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester. Not caring about everything that happens to their father, Goneril and Regan show their true face and they continue to focus on their ambition for power. Cordelia at this moment is demonstrating the real meaning of loyalty and trueness.

The only daughter who is showing loyalty in the first act is Cordelia, the youngest daughter of King Lear, and the favorite one. She, when asked how much she loves her father, in order to get a part of the lands he is giving away to his daughters and wants to determine who loves him the most, speaks the truth and answers: ‘’Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth, I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less. ’’ (I. i. 92) Knowing that her father will not be happy about this answer, she decides to remain loyal and tell the truth to the king and to keep it that way, even after being disowned by Lear.

Unable to speak her love to her father, Cordelia is banished from the kingdom by the King then she leaves with the King of France, who is impressed by Cordelia’s honesty. Cordelia’s appearance in the play is very brief but crucial; after being banished from the kingdom she only returns in the act four where she shows how loyal she is to her father. After Lear’s rejection from his two other girls kingdom’s he goes mad. Cordelia decides to find him in the tempest to save his, life knowing what will happen to him. She finally finds him and meets him with hesitation and fear, but Lear’s madness has caused him to lose his reason.

When she arrives Lear does not recognize her. Despite the king’s behavior, she manages to forgive him. Eventually Lear finally realizes that she is not a ghost but Cordelia, his youngest daughter. Lear begins to recognize her loyalty and honesty. They reconcile and Lear admits his errors and understands the meaning of loyalty. ‘’Be your tears wet? yes, ‘faith. I pray, weep not: If you have poison for me, I will drink it. I know you do not love me; for your sisters Have, as I do remember, done me wrong: You have some cause, they have not. ’’(IV. 7 72-76) This is just before she is hanged by the decision of Edmund, Gloucester’s bastard son.

At this moment Lear starts regain his grasp on sanity. Loyalty is the principal theme in “King Lear”. While being contrasted by the two evil daughters of the king Goneril and Regan who finally turns out one against the other, Cordelia is, by her behavior an evidence of the true love of a daughter and of the loyalty owed in a family. A lot of other aspects subthemes are noticeable when regarding the subplot. The message that Shakespeare was trying to present in “King Lear” has much to do with the bonds of the family and the real meaning of loyalty, this transcends the significance of kingdoms such as those formerly belonging to Lear.

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Theme of Power in Shakespeare Play ”King Lear” Analysis. (2016, Oct 04). Retrieved from