Parent/Child Relationships in "Corialanus" and "King Lear"
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"As if man were author of himself/ and knew no other kin"
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child" (Act 1 Scene 4 lines 285-6)
These lines spoken by the eponymous hero of Shakespeare's "King Lear", sum up the main theme of the play. Lear is a king nearing the end of his reign, who decides to split his kingdom between his three daughters. In this play Shakespeare presents us with a patriarchal family. It would appear that Lear raised his daughter alone, just as Volumnia raises her son, Coriolanus alone. In the play "Coriolanus" we are presented with the reversal of Lear's family, by seeing one of the matriarchal dominance. Through comparing these two plays one can see how Shakespeare tackles the problems arising in single parent families.
We delve straight into Lear's relationship with his daughters in Act One. Lear, in order to decide which portion to allocate to which daughter, he asks them to profess their love for him. here we see the first sign of Lear's inability to communicate with his daughters. As a father, Lear should know how much his children love him and when he asks them to declare their love he is asking as a king and not a father. The answers he is seeking are those which would be expected from a subject not a child. Even so, Goneril and Regan are wise to this and answer accordingly:
Goneril: Sir I love you more than words can wield the matter,
Dearer than eyesight space and liberty,
Beyond what can be valued rich or rare,
Act 1 Scene 1 lines 55-7
Regan: Only she comes too short, that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
Act 1 Scene 1 lines 72-4
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...archal families. Shakespeare shows us the problems that arise between parents and children, especially when there is only one parent in the family. Both Lear and Volumnia act in the manner which they believe to be correct and unfortunately both lose their children in the end. Both parents' faults lie in their inability to communicate effectively with their children. Lear should have known that Cordelia was being honest and that her answer was the most worthy. Volumnia should have concentrated less on the fighting side of Coriolanus and honed his social skills. In the end, however, the question remains of culpability; who is to blame? Is it Lear's fault that Goneril and Regan became evil and sadistic? Is Coriolanus' downfall completely due to the way his mother raised him? Or, as Lear states, the parents:
"More sinned against than sinning."
Act 3 Scene 2 line 59