King Lear - Family: A Medium For A Betrayal

King Lear - Family: A Medium For A Betrayal

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"Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love." (John LeCarre) In William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Lear, characters are betrayed by the closest people to them. The parents betray their children, mostly unintentionally. The children deceive their parents because of their greed and power hunger. Their parents were eventually forgiven, but the greedy children were not. Parents and their children betray one and other, and are only able to do so because they are family, however, the children betray for greed while the parents betray through the credulity caused by their children's greed.
Two powerful characters in the play, aging King Lear and the gullible Earl of Gloucester, both betrayed their children unintentionally. Firstly, characters are betrayed due to family assumption. Lear banished his youngest daughter Cordelia because he over estimated how much she loved him. When questioned by her father, she responds with, "I love your Majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less." (I,i, 94-95) Lear assumed that since Cordelia was his daughter, she had to love him in a certain way, but he took this new knowledge and banished her without further thought. Secondly, characters were betrayed because of class. Edmund, the first-born son in the Gloucester family, should have been his father's next of kin. He would have been able to take over the position of Earl upon his father's death if he did not hold the title of a legitimate bastard. In his first soliloquy he says, "Why Bastard? Wherefore base? / When my dimensions are as well compact/ my mind as generous, and my shape as true…" (I,ii, 6-8) Edmund believes he is at least equal, if not more, to his father in body and in mind, but the title that his father regrettably gave to him still lingers. Lastly, characters were betrayed because of family trust. Gloucester trusted his son Edmund when he was told that his other son was trying to kill him. Upon reading the forged letter written by Edmund, he responded with, "O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter!…Go, sirrah, seek him." (I,ii,75-77) Gloucester inadvertently betrayed Edgar because he held so much trust in his one son that he was easily persuaded to lose all trust in his other one. These blind characters were unfortunately betrayed there children, but they did it unintentionally and will eventually see there wrong doings.

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Although being betrayed, the children of the powerful characters in the play were not all that innocent. Some were in turn betraying their parents concurrently. This was caused again by family assumptions and family trust, as well as family intimidation. Firstly, characters are betrayed because of the assumptions made about their children. King Lear is betrayed by his two older daughters Goneril and Regan. They both wanted more land, so they embellished their love towards him. Goneril said, "Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter…" (I,i,56) Lear assumed this to be true because they were his children, and children are meant to love their father. Secondly, the older characters are betrayed by their children because of family trust. Edmund deceived Gloucester by stabbing himself while framing his brother. He tells his father, "Here stood he in the dark, his sharp sword out, / Mumbling of wicked charms, conjuring the moon." (II,i,37-38) Edmund betrayed his father by convincing him that his son was out to get him. Lastly, characters were betrayed due to their belief in a label given to them. Goneril and Regan repeatedly reminded Lear that he was old and foolish, which in turn caused him to believe it more. Regan said, " O, sir, you are old!" (II,iv,145) They used this to convince Lear that they were right and he was wrong and slowly restricted his power. Because of their greed for power, riches, and land, the these children intentionally betrayed their parents, causing them to make unwise decisions.
Towards the end of the play, the wise and kind hearted characters are forgiven for their acts of betrayal, but the greedy and foolish are not. The older characters are forgiven by their children. Edgar, upon learning of his father's literal blindness, sees the figurative blindness he once had, and forgives him. Before leading his eyeless father to Dover, he says, "Bless thy sweet eyes, they / bleed." (IV,I, 55-56) Edgar still loves his father, and unknowingly to him, forgives this old blind man. Secondly, the good characters are forgiven by their parents. Cordelia, who at one time was banished since she didn't have enough love for her father, is forgiven by Lear once he is able to see the truth. After Lear's insanity climbs to the highest point, he says to Cordelia, "
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me, for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong:
You have some cause, they have not." (V,iii,72-75)
Lear sees that Cordelia was actually the one who loved him the most, and not just his power. Finally, the greedy characters are not forgiven for their betrayals. Lear at no point forgives his daughters Regan and Goneril for their crimes. In fact, he doesn't even care when they die like he does for Cordelia. When his youngest daughter is killed, he says, "I might have saved her; now she's gone for ever! / Cordelia, Cordelia! Stay a little." (V,iii,270-271) He felt no remorse for his other two daughters, who died just as painfully as Cordelia did. The characters that become wise are eventually forgiven by the ones they once betrayed but the power driven ones are not, mostly due to the lack of growth in the person.
Deception, working both ways, takes place in the parent-child relationships in this tragedy. The closeness of the characters is a strong catalyst that brought on the strong theme of betrayal. Parents are influenced very easily by there children partially because of the initial trust that exists because they are family, but also because they see a bit of themselves in the child.

King Lear Essay, Family: A Medium for a Betrayal
March 16, 2006

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Lear . 2nd ed. Toronto: Harcourt
Shakespeare, 2002.

LeCarre, J. Introduction quotation.
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