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Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents the characters of Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in "King Lear".

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Introduction

Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents the characters of Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in "King Lear". I will be concentrating on the presentation of Goneril and Regan, because Cordelia is more a symbol of purity, innocence and righteousness than a regular character. In Act I scene I Shakespeare present the sisters to the audience through King Lear. First King Lear calls upon Goneril to give him a declaration of her undying love for him. It is then established for the audience that Goneril is the eldest of his daughters for he says, "Goneril, our eldest-born speak first". The fact that she is the oldest might give the audience a false idea of responsibility and honour. The idea is false, because later in the play Goneril has no honour or responsibility. Also presented here is the idea that the younger sisters look up to her for guidance. Goneril gives him an utterly devotional declaration of her undying love for him, thus establishing the idea of honour and love. Then Regan is called forward to give her declaration of undying love for her father. She gives the same devotional declaration of undying love, but she out does her sister saying, " I find she names my very deed of love; only she comes too short." ...read more.

Middle

She appears to completely in control and mistress of her household. She commands her servants "Prepare for dinner" and she knows what she will be doing about her dilemma "I'll write to my sister" In Act I scene IV the audience is once again shown that Goneril and Regan are not to be trusted through the fool. The fool berates the old king "since though madest thy daughters thy mothers: for when thou gavest them the rod" This also gives the audience the feeling that Goneril and Regan are in control and that they treat their father like a little child. Goneril speaks to her father with viciousness and scorn. "You strike my people and your disorder'd rabble" This shows that she is vicious and gets what she wants through deceitful ways. King Lear compares Goneril and Cordelia in his speech and sees that Goneril is more evil than Cordelia. "How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show." King Lear curses Goneril with barrenness, but this does not bother Goneril at all "never afflict yourself to know the cause." Any normal woman would be stricken with terror to be cursed with barrenness because their one goal in life was to give birth to a healthy male heir. ...read more.

Conclusion

Goneril is also presented as the dominating character in her household, she "change arms at home, and gives the distaff into my husband's hands." She is the one who gives the orders and goes into battle. Cordelia is presented by Shakespeare as the good and forgiving daughter. She still cares for her father even though he rejected and disowned her. She is gentle and kind and still respectful. Where her sisters call him an "idle old man" she still calls him "royal lord" and "majesty". She still recognises his authority as her father. She also knows of her sister's wrongdoing and wants to rectify it, "let this kiss repair those violent harms that my two sisters have in thy reverence made." In the end Shakespeare, through the reactions of King Lear, presents to the audience which daughter King Lear has always loved. When Cordelia died he was devastated and his last words before he died was of Cordelia, "look at her". The way the three sisters die, just shows the audience their characters. Cordelia went proudly to her death "for thee oppressed king, am I cast down", but Regan is killed by a jealous sister and Goneril the strong and domineering takes the cowardly way, by taking her own life. "and after slew herself" ...read more.

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