Deception in Shakespeare's King Lear
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The Deception in King Lear
William Shakespeare's play King Lear is a play full of deceit and betrayal.
This becomes evident in the first few lines. We first
learn of the empty words of Goneril and Regan as well as their hatred for their
father, King Lear. This becomes the center of the play and also leads to the
madness that the king suffers from.
The first words that Goneril speaks are totally empty and are the complete
opposite of what she really feels. She says, "Sir, I love you more than word
can wield the matter; Dearer than eye-sight, space and liberty;" (I.i.54-55)
The reason why there are no words to express her love for her father is that she
has no love for him and it does not exist. The same goes for her sister, Regan,
who is plotting against her father as well. She says that she feels the same
way as her sister and expresses how Goneril has named her very deed of love.
Regan adds a little twist to this and professes that she loves Lear more than
her sisters and that Goneril's affection for her father "comes too short."
(I.i.71) By uttering these words, Regan shows that her love is even less true
than that of her sister's. She goes even farther to say:
"...that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness' love."
This goes to show that she is more greedy than her sister and her words are also
falser. She wants more than her sister and will do anything to attain her goal.
Her ambition to get what she wants is evident in the words that she speaks. She
claims herself to be "an enemy to all other joys" but she is really the enemy to
The next person King Lear calls to speak is his soft-spoken daughter,
Cordelia. Lear does not have much respect for her because she does not flatter
him and put him on the pedestal that he feels that he should be put on. This is
exactly what his other daughters do and he feels very strongly that Cordelia
should do the same. Because of all the flattery that was given him by his other
two daughters, he gives them most of his possessions. The first thing that
Cordelia says when the King asks her to speak is "nothing." The king is enraged
by this remark and says that, "Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
(I.i.89) When Cordelia speaks again she says that she does love him but
according to their bond, no more no less. The king is also angry by this remark
and tells her to "mend" her speech a little. The king really means that he
wants to be flattered more and that she is not doing so by saying what she does.
In the speech that Cordelia gives beginning on line 95, she says:
" Good my Lord,
You have begot me, bred me, lov'd me:I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you."
This speech professes that she loves him for all that he has done for her
including raising her and the bond that they have to each other. It is the bond
that keeps them together. Throughout the entire play, the bond is the only
thing that helps Lear in the end. Cordelia takes him in and does whatever she
can to ease his pain. She does not do this out of sympathy but because of the
bond that they have as father and daughter. In line 106, Cordelia says, "So
young, my Lord, and true." (I.i.106) She is saying that the love that she has
for the king is true and sincere. She is the only one out of all of her sisters
that speaks the truth and shows that she really is sincere. Because of her
sincerity and her wish not to flatter him like the rest of his daughters, Lear
proceeds to ridicule her and then takes away her dowry. This is what she meant
when she utters the words "nothing." She has nothing to say that will flatter
the king because she is true and sincere. She is not like her sisters who would
do anything to get what they want. After he does this, he continues to badger
and ridicule her for her lack of affection and love for him. he does this to
anyone who does not put him on the pedestal that he feels that he rightfully
deserves to be on.
Cordelia is finally courted by the King of France even though she is "rich
for being poor." She is the only true person in the play, and in the end pays
for this by dying. This shows that you cannot always be truthful and get what
you rightfully deserve. Cordelia deserved her dowry but does not get it because
she is not the type of person that the king wants her to be. The ones that
prevail in the first act of the play are those that are dishonest and false.
This helps set the stage for the rest of the play.
The next deceitful person in the play is Edmund. He is the bastard-son of
Gloucester and wants everything that Edgar has. In the beginning of Act 2 he
draws his sword on Edgar and tells him to pretend like he is protecting himself
because he hears Gloucester coming. Edmund says:
"I hear my father coming; pardon me;
In cunning I must draw my sword upon you;
Draw; seem to defend yourself; now quit you well.
Yield; come before my father. Light, ho! here!
Fly, brother. Torches! torches! So, farewell."
Edmund tells Gloucester that he was attacked by Edgar and that he even drew
blood from Edmund. The motive behind this is also greed and envy. Edmund is
envious of the fact that he will not inherit any title from Gloucester because
he is a bastard and not the biological and rightful son that Edgar is. Edmund
goes on to say:
"With his prepared sword he charges home
My unprovided body, lanch'd mine arm:
And when he saw my best alarum'd spirits
Bold in the quarrel's right, roused to th'
Or whether gasted by the noise I made,
Full suddenly he fled."
He incriminates Edgar for attacking him and gets Gloucester to sympathize with
him and send out a warrant for Edmund and the death to anyone who helps to hide
him. Edmund is just as bad as Goneril and Regan by what he does and does not
win in the end. Gloucester is so taken with the events that have just occurred
that he plans to give all of the land that he has to Edmund now because Edgar is
no longer considered to be his son. Edmund has the same plan as Regan and
Goneril had and has done a good job so far as playing the victim instead of the
Throughout all of King Lear, the children plan to overthrow and get rid of
their parents. Their motive for doing this is sheer greed and lack of feeling.
In the end, Lear is saved from his insanity because Cordelia, the one that Lear
liked most, comes back to take care of him. She was the one thing that really
filled Lear because of her honesty and he did not realize this until she was
gone and none of his other daughters would take him in. They just left him to
rot. The real tragedy is that poor Cordelia is hung in the end and suffers the
greatest lost. She is killed for being true and sincere. A similar thing
happens with Edgar. He comes back disguised as a madman in order to prevent his
father from harm and warns him of the evil plans that Edmund has in store for
I think that King Lear was a great play and showed the reader that although
you are a false person you can fool people who are blind and think that you are
incapable of doing harm. This was certainly the case with Goneril and Regan.
They showered Lear with such great words of flattery that he reagarded them as
his true daughters and left them everything because he really felt that they
deserved it. He did not leave Cordelia anything because she did not flatter him
like the others and therefore felt that she did not love him at all. In truth,
she loved him more than her other sisters because she really did feel the "bond"
that they had as father and daughter.