The Role of Women in King Lear
The role of women in “King Lear” Introduction King Lear is deservingly considered to be the one of the greatest works by William Shakespeare. A representation of the attractive and strong personalities of the main heroes is so bright that no reader stays indifferent after reading the play. The play makes us think about the deepness of people’s inner world. The difficult temper of King Lear is depicted along with the true and deep feelings of love. Love is a feeling, which is brightly expressed due to the most emotional creatures of the world – women. Women can feel deeply and like to brightly express their emotions. Women’s soul reflects all the humans’ feelings. In the play King Lear women help the king realize what true love really is. The given paper will prove that the role of women in the play is really great.
Women are usually emotional and many of them are guided by their emotions. They can feel love and in contrast to men do not usually deny their feelings. This is what we can see in the play King Lear. However, women can also be cruel and self-seeking. In the play we can really see different types of female characters: two elder daughters, who are guided by the desire to become rich and influential, and the youngest, Cordelia, who is guided by her real love to her father. She is among the characters who can really feel true love together with Kent and Edgar. Cordelia is a beautiful personification of the real love and her character disproves her father’s understanding of this concept. He lived his life, but was not able to understand what love is. Thus, he rejects the feeling of his daughter, because they contradict with his own concept of love:
Hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better (Lear, 1.1.234-5).
A true love of her younger daughter lives in her soul and does not need to be specially expressed. Kent’s also loves king, but his love is expressed by what he says:
To shield thee from disease of the world;
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom… (Lear, 1.1.174-77)
Being a woman, Cordelia shows her true love to her father openly not demanding anything from him. Only female characters can express such feelings. The girl lacks cold interest in her father’s money in contrast to her sisters, which represent another type of human soul. They reflect humans’ desire to get profit, but this reflection is much deeper than, for example, the depiction of king’s cold calculations. They represent the personification of other feelings of humans – the desire to get advantage, the love to wealth and power. This is another side of human soul, which was not understood by the king from the beginning. Such motives made daughters lie their father, at the same time as Cordelia refused to pretend and explained that her love is a simply the love between the father and the daughter.
Female characters helped the king and the readers understand what true love is. Cordelia demonstrates the constancy of a true love by not rejecting it even when her father implemented cruel actions against her. He was misled by his inability to realize, which of his daughters really loves him. The king, who had many good traits appeared to be a victim of the wrong development of his own soul. His power over other people made him cruel and heard-hearted, unable to feel. He is confused stating:
This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgment.
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds
Reverb no hollowness. (Lear, 1.1.151-4)
King Lear is a character, which arouses sorrow with readers. He is confused thinking that he would still be loved and respected without his kingdom. He trusts his daughters and thus decides to make them rule the kingdom. But they – three women- open his eyes to the realities of life and to the secrets of human soul. It is women who made the king to make the greatest mistake in his life. And it is them who made his realize this mistake. It seems ridiculous as he is a father, who lived his life, he is a king, who appeared to be deceived by very young women. The role of women is great, they are a personification of the great wisdom, which became known to King Lear, but, unfortunately, too late.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012.