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Representation of Women in 'King Lear'

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Introduction

Representation of Women in 'King Lear' 'King Lear' can be looked at in many ways - as an Aristotelian tragedy, a family drama, a patriarchal play, a psychological drama, as well as a feminist interpretation. The principal idea which surrounds the play is that tyranny and rejection between parents and children can lead to extreme cruelty, suffering and madness. One could also read 'King Lear' as a play about the perpetuation of patriarchal power and sexual inequality. The women in 'King Lear' are also a major focus of the play, as in my essay, which brings attention to the three central female characters of the play - being King Lear's daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. The elder sisters of the three, Goneril and Regan, seemingly have very parallel natures, in that they are selfish, heartless and cold - some may consider Regan to be more 'evil' than Goneril. The youngest daughter, Cordelia, takes the role with totally opposing qualities, making her gentle, pure, and kind. Looking at alternatives to Shakespeare's plays, 'Lear's Daughters', written by Elaine Feinstein and Women's Theatre Group, was specifically envisioned as a feminist rewriting of Shakespeare. It questions the mainstream casting of Shakespeare as the 'fit-father' of the literary-dramatic canon. The focus is not on Lear, but his daughters, the women who are affected by the events of the play. ...read more.

Middle

A misogynistic representation of women can be seen in 'King Lear'. The female characters in the play are either demonic or saintly. Goneril and Regan are portrayed despicable and demonic women, while Cordelia is a virtuous, angelic daughter. Goneril (wife to The Duke of Albany) is Lear's selfish and ruthless eldest daughter. When Lear asks her to profess her love for him before he gives her part of his kingdom, she professes great love for him: "Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;" (Act I, Scene I, Line 50). Yet, once Lear has given her half his kingdom, she shirks her obligations to host her father by intentionally making life miserable at her castle, so that King Lear has no choice but to disown her. The famous expression of the pain of thankless children originates from King Lear's comments of Goneril, when he exclaims: "...How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child..." (Act I, Scene IV, Lines 243-244). Here Lear is making reference to his daughters' ingratitude, and has realised how blind he had been to have been fooled by his daughter's fake words of love for him, although at this point Lear is unaware that both sisters had plotted against him. ...read more.

Conclusion

I personally agree with this, as Goneril and Regan's contemporaneous desire for Edmund eventually leads to their deaths. This also links with Lear's emotions - in this case 'pride' not 'desire' - blinding him from seeing which daughter truly loved him - which again leads to his death. Cordelia's enduring love is not a virtue that redeems nature, but a response that restores patriarchal authority. It is the resistance to emotional power of the play that compels the audience to sympathise with Lear, and might urge them to exchange the pleasure of identification for the pleasure of critical insight and understanding. Cordelia's aim is to interrogate, rather than accept, the views of gender and sexuality that inform King Lear. In the 21st century, 'King Lear' has been re-evaluated, where it was once seen as unrelated to life, it is now regarded as a relevant, popular and effectible play. The movement away from a strictly Christian interpretation is towards a version which celebrates the play's complexity and its courage in attempting to reflect the mysteries and ambiguities of both life and humanity. Shakespeare shows the different sides to women and breaks the stereotypical image of women of the era by presenting them as controversial characters. In the eyes of a Jacobean audience, where women were meant to be seen and not heard, the representation of women through Goneril and Regan - who control their husbands and try to control their father - would have been shocking. ...read more.

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