Rejection in Shakespeare's King Lear

Rejection in Shakespeare's King Lear

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Rejection in King Lear

      An important idea present in William Shakespeare's "King Lear" is

rejection and the role this rejection plays in the experiences of the involved

characters.  The important ideas to be considered here are the causes and

effects associated with the act of rejection. The most important situations to

be considered in the story of "King Lear" are those that  develop between the

two fathers, Lear and Gloucester, and their children, Goneril and Regan,

Cordelia, Edmund, and Edgar.  Each case falls on a different plane, but it is

important to consider the similarities between the positions of Lear and


      The rejection of Lear by his two daughters, Goneril and Regan, can be

seen as a type of revenge.  Throughout their lives they had always been far

behind Cordelia in the king's eyes.  As a result of this second-hand treatment,

Goneril and Regan carried with them an immense amount of hatred and when Lear

divided his kingdom between them, they both openly rejected his presence in

their lives. " Some other time for that. - Beloved Regan, she hath tied sharp-

tooth'd unkindness, like a vulture here, - I can speak scarce to thee ; thou'lt

not believe with how depraved quality - O Regan ( King Lear II.iii )!

Goneril's response further clarifies this rejection.  " Good sir, no more ;

these are unsightly tricks : return you to my sister ( King Lear II.iii ).

Lear's reaction is pure rage. He understands that he had not given them too

much of his time, but he had given them their percentage of the kingdom only

because they had made a pledge to him that they would care for him in his

elder years.  The bond broken in this situation is a very weak one. The only

thing that held it together was this flimsy pledge that the daughters had no

intention of honoring.  But no matter the conditions, he was their father and

his well-being was a sort of payment for their very existence.


      Cordelia's rejection of Lear breaks a much stronger bond.  Lear loses his

entire life purpose when Cordelia turns Lear away.


           Good my lord, you have begot me, bred me, lov'd me : I

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           return those duties back as are right fit, obey you, love

           you, and most honour you.  Why have my sisters husbands

           if they say they love you all?  Haply, when I shall wed,

           that Lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry half

           my love with him,  half my caret duty : Sure I shall never

           marry like my sisters to love my father all ( King Lear I.i )


When Cordelia gave Lear this response, he was all alone.  The one person he

expected to be there for him in his old age and take care of him as he had done

her was no longer an option.  Lear was forced to fall back on his other

daughters, who were unreliable in any sense.  When Cordelia is unable to pledge

her complete love to Lear he banishes her to France.  In the end she is the

only family by his side.  She was the only one honest with Lear and she pays

for her honesty.  In the end the relationship is restored.  She is by his side

until the time of her death.  For the first time Lear realizes that he had been

asking too much from her and at his own expense for she had more than enough

love in her heart for him all along.


      The two cases involving Gloucester fall on a similar plane.  The first to

be examined is Edmund's rejection of his father.  The motive behind this case

is nothing but pure evil.  Edmund has everything a man could ever want, but for

some reason he does not feel like he belongs.  From the beginning he is working

against his brother's name, which in fact was a very pure one.  " Here stood he

in the dark, his sword out, mumbling of wicked charms, conjuring the moon (

King Lear II.i ).  He has full possession of his father's love, but he feels a

need to assure it by making his brother out to be a much more evil person than

he ever was.  But Edmund's evil goes beyond Edgar.  Edmund betrays his father

to the Duke of Cornwall, making him appear guilty of treason.  As a result of

this accusation, Gloucester has his eyes gouged out.  Edmund no longer

respected Gloucester as his father.  He saw him as an obstacle on his way to

the top.


      It is at this point that Gloucester realizes his love for his other son,

Edgar, who he had rejected from birth.


           O you mighty Gods! This world I do renounce and in your

           sights shake patiently my great affliction off : If I could

           bear it longer and not fall to quarrel with your great

           opposeless wills, my shuff and loathed part of nature

           should burn itself out.  If Edgar live, O Bless him! - Now,

           fellow, fare thee well ( King Lear ).


Edgar never did accept the fact that his father did not love him and makes every

effort to become a part of his life.  When Edmund made Gloucester believe that

Edgar had made an attempt on his life, it looked like Edgar would be forced far

from the land.  But Edgar disguised himself as a madman and stayed as a guest

in part of Gloucester's castle.  It is this position that helped him gain his

father's heart.  After Edmund betrayed Gloucester, he was left without anyone

and wished to die.  He asked Edgar to accompany him to a nearby cliff, which he

intended to jump off.  Edgar took him elsewhere to prevent this.  Edgar was

there for his father when he needed him most.  He secured Gloucester's safety.

" Far off, methinks, I hear the beaten drum : Come father, I'll bestow you

with a friend ( King Lear ).  Edgar far surpassed the allegations Edmund

built up around him and at Gloucester's death, received his father's blessing.


      Rejection plays a big role in the motives and actions of the characters

in "King Lear."  Everyone deals with rejection in their own way and

Shakespeare made this very clear through a wide variety of examples.  Some

accept rejection, some don't.  Some look for revenge, while others try to set

things right.  It is the mentality, the strengths, and the personalities of the

characters that produces their reactions.  That is what Shakespeare wanted to

convey to his audience.


Works Cited and Consulted

Bradley, A.C. "King Lear." 20Lh Century Interpretations of King Lear. Ed. Jane Adelman. New Jersev; Prentice-Hall, 1978.

Colie, Rosalie. Some Faces of King Lear. Ed. R. Colie & F.T. Flahiff. UniversitV of Toronto Press, 1994.

Curry, Walter. Shakespeare s Philosophical Patterns. London: Mass Peter   Smith, 1968.  

Hunter, Robert G. Criticism on Shakespeare s Tragedies.. University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Matthews, Richard. "Edmund's Redemption in King Lear". Shakespeare Quarterly. Winter, 19q5. pps. 25-29.

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Canada Inc. Toronto. 1990.

Snyder, Susan. "King Lear and the Prodigal Son." Shakespeare Quarterly. Autumn 1966. pps. 361-369.
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