King Lear Extract 1 – Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 35 to 78

This extract comes right after the conversation between Gloucester and Kent to create tension in the audiences regarding the division of the kingdom. In this extract, we will see the division of Lear’s kingdom among three of his daughters through a love test. The love test is simply a procedure where each of Lear’s daughters has to profess their love for him to get a share of his kingdom. The more exaggerated their praise, the larger the division of kingdom they can expect to receive. After this extract, we will be brought to Cordelia’s turn in the love test where she does not flatter Lear with exaggerated praises leading to her banishment together with Kent. In my commentary, I will be focusing on the characterization of Lear, characterization of Goneril and Regan and the characterization of Cordelia.

Firstly, in the characterization of Lear, we are exposed to the prestige and authoritative power that Lear wields as seen from the use of royal plural ‘we’. Lear’s speech is also in the form of blank verses which indicate that he is a high born character with authority and power at that point in time. This is significant because Lear’s authority and power are shown to degrade over the course of the play as seen in A3S4 during the storm scene where he ceases to use royal plurals and his speech descends into that of a prose. Lear is very superficial causing him to be blind to the truth. His logic is flawed as he thinks that the daughter who praises him most should love him the most. This is ironic as Cordelia who spoke nothing was the only daughter who truly loved him from the bottom of her heart. This is seen in ‘Which of you shall we say doth love us most’ displaying his superficial character. Furthermore, Lear is extremely stubborn and has his say in all matters. This can be seen from ‘Know that we have divided’ which tells us that the kingdom has already been divided before hand and it is ironic to even hold a meeting for the love test to take place. His stubbornness is also seen in the phrases, ‘fast intent’ and ‘constant will’ which reflect his firm and unwavering decision to divide the kingdom. Despite having power and authority, Lear’s tragic flaw which is his vanity and ego prevents him from seeing the truth. This is a characteristic of all Shakespearean tragedy, where the main protagonist of high social standing is led to his downfall due to his tragic flaw. This is reflected in ‘Darker purpose’ at the start of the extract. The phrase ‘darker purpose’ has a sinister feeling to it and it foreshadows Lear’s tragic downfall because of his abdication which is to go against God’s will leading to social, moral and political chaos. During the Victorian era, people follows the Elizabethan world view which states that God is the highest rank in the system, followed by angels, King, men and animals and plants. By abdicating his throne as seen in ‘To shake all cares and business from our age, conferring them on younger strengths, unburdened crawl toward death’, it shows that Lear is trying to free himself from the burden and his foolishness is seen here probably because of old age. He claims that his actions will prevent ‘future strives’ from happening however this is ironic because the division of the kingdom is the main catalyst for the strife and conflict that will be shown in the play. What Lear has done is going against God’s will as the King is mandated by God and by giving up on throne, social, political and moral chaos will occur. Dramatic tension is build up in the audiences in this part because the Elizabethan world view does not support what Lear is doing so they would expect a tragedy to occur in the later part of the extract.

The statement ‘A love that makes breath poor and speech unable’ is also ironic just like the previous one. her character does not change. This shows us of Lear’s poor sense of judgement and his lack of insight. stating that words are unable to truly describe how she feels. As we can see. Lear would rather believe in Goneril’s and Regan’s flowery tales instead of Cordelia’s honest words. I do love you more than word can wield the matter’ and ‘A love that makes breath poor and speech unable’. Mettle is a pun which can be spelt as ‘metal’ indicating that she is hard and cold just like her sister Goneril and this is seen in the later extract when they conspire together against Lear. Therefore we can see that Regan is exactly like Goneril. The tension is created here as the audiences know that Lear is a vain person who needs to be flattered and Cordelia’s action serves as a premonition to a bad event. In the extract there are many occasions where Goneril praises Lear excessively to obtain a division of his kingdom. They are ‘Sir. we can see that Goneril is hypocritical. materialistic and shrewd because she knows about Lear’s weakness against flattery and goes all out to exploit him. Both of their statements hold no real meaning and they are simply just exploiting Lear. The dramatic tension is heightened even more when Cordelia repeats the word ‘Nothing’ twice in the later part of this scene. From her speech. Here Cordelia states that she believes that her deed of love is more significant than her sisters’ speeches and she stands firm in her decision to not praise Lear like what her sisters had. Goneril claims that her speech makes her out of breath causing her to be unable to speak. she states that she is the same as her older sister. Also Regan’s speeches are empty just like Goneril. cannot. Cordelia is a stock character in this play as she represents the virtue of purity and sincerity. Regan is declaring that she does not love her husband which is an irony.Now I will be speaking about the characterization of Goneril and Regan. just like her father Lear even though she knows the severe consequences that she may face. It shows Cordelia’s unwavering decision. By proclaiming such a statement. Goneril as seen in ‘Sir I am made of that self mettle as my sister’. This point is emphasized when Cordelia makes use of four negatives ‘Unhappy. however she persists in her flattering of Lear and shows that she does not mean what she says. However the audiences are able to . rich or rare’ showing that she measures love by something concrete. Goneril is the eldest daughter of the family however she does not show as much care and compassion as compared to Cordelia towards Lear. Throughout the play. These two phrases are ironic because Goneril mentions that she ‘loves Lear more than word can wield the matter’. no more and nor less’. ‘Poor cordelia’ evokes sympathy in the audiences as Cordelia seems unwilling to praise Lear. Regan on the other hand is the second daughter of Lear and in the beginning of her speech. we can see that he is blind to things around him and this is the first incident where the motif of blindness is introduced. In ‘I profess myself an enemy to all other joys’ we can see that this is a hypocritical statement because she is married herself. However she continues to talk a lot in flowery language contradictory to what she has just mentioned. Looking from Lear’s point of view. ‘I am sure my loves more ponderous than my tongue’. Goneril is also portrayed to be materialistic from ‘Beyond what can be valued. As mentioned by Cordelia.

.tell that Cordelia means well for Lear and her sincerity is shown through ‘I love your majesty according to my bond’ which suggests filial obligation.

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