A Comparison of "Old Goriot" and "King Lear"

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"How sharper than a serpent's tooth

it is to have a thankless child."

(Act 1 scene 4 lines 282-3)

This quotation may have been taken from "King Lear" but it is also very apt for Balzac's novel "Old Goriot." Both stories tell of misplaced loyalties, thankless children and self-knowledge, which comes too late. Both eponymous characters surrender their fortunes to their daughters, excepting Cordelia in "King Lear", only to find themselves outcasts. Old Goriot starts out as a wealthy retired merchant, but ends the tale a pauper in a pauper's grave. He lived in a boarding house moving progressively down in room size and luxury the longer he is there. Old Goriot becomes the butt of all the jokes at the boarding house after Madame Vauquer fails to seduce him into becoming her next husband. Goriot has only one passion in his life and that is his daughters. They are the world to him and he lives vicariously through their happiness. His daughters are spoilt, selfish human beings, who see their father solely as a bank. They turn to him when they need money and Goriot can refuse them nothing, even if it will leave him destitute. He behaves as if dispensing money and dispensing affection where the same thing. His attempts to `monetize' affection lead only to the ruination of his daughter, to their disastrous marriages and finally to his alarming end. He would have been horrified to have been compared to Vautrin and yet his words to Delphine:

"Money is life itself"

echo those which the criminal tells Rastignac. According to Lucienne Frappier-Mazur:

"Money is the great leveller in this novel."

He goes on to explain how its ubiquitous presence in the story causes everyone to quantify their actions and emotions, and to...

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...pping self.

Both the play "King Lear" and the novel "Old Goriot" are tragedies. Both eponymous heroes, fall from a height due to a flaw. One loved too much, the other had a need to be loved which was too great. They both recognise their faults at the end, even if only for a brief time in the case of Goriot. They were both fools, but in the end they were:

"more sinned against than sinning."

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. "King Lear." W. Arden 8th edition. London, Methuen, 1972.

Harrison, G.B. "Shakespearean Tragedies." London Routledge, 1957.

Kanes, M. "Pere Goriot: Anatomy of a Troubled World." New York, Twayne, 1993.

Balzac. "Old Goriot." Penguin, London, 1951.

"Pere Goriot Notes." Edited by Coles Notes, Coles Publishing, London, 1967.

Rehder, R.M. "William Shakespeare's King Lear." Longman York Press, Harlow, Essex, 1995.

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