Women’s low social status is evident in the play, and irony is employed to exhibit the disparagement the society feels towards women’s gender roles. Goneril insulted her husband’s reluctance to direct his military forces and gain more power for himself by saying that he has “milky gentleness” (1.4.364), and that she should “give the distaff/into [her] husband’s hands” (4.2.20-21). “Milky gentleness” connotes motherly nurturing quality, and a distaff is used for spinning, which is a job normally done by females at the time. Goneril’s usage of these insults creates an ironic effect as she, being a woman, is using her gender roles to belittle her own husband. Her using female gender roles as an insult also reveals how feminine qualities and gender roles are deemed as insignificant by the society of the time.
It is also apparent that Lear is becoming more feminine after he loses authority over his daughters. Lear feels that his manhood is being “shak[en]” (1.4.313), and this intense rage is causing him to experience the “mother” (2.4.62) and have “women’s weapons, water drops,/Stain[ing his] man’s cheeks” (2.4.319-320). Crying and hysteria are thought to be feminine, which is consistent with how Lear feels emasculated by his daughters’ defiance. Lear’s feminization and his loss of power provides a parallel to women having ...
... middle of paper ...
...a commodity is dehumanizing, and demonstrates that, even when the angelic Cordelia resists male authority, she is still subject to the same degradation as all women in the play. This emphasizes that the women are placed in a subordinate position in society compared to men, may also be due to the men’s fear of rejection.
The fear of rejection by women and suspicion for mothers exhibited by the men in the play induce them to place women in an inferior position in society, and have their sexuality scandalized. However, when Cordelia dies, the last bit of femininity is obliterated in the play. The Lear’s grief and death demonstrate that despite their ruthless condemnation of the maternal, the masculine cannot exist without the feminine, and that without the maternal, the hope for the future would be grim, as the “young shall never see so much nor live so long.” (5.3.395)
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