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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
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 IV.vi ).
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 IV.vi ). 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.