Liam Claffey 4th February 2005
I am a man more sinned against than sinning
King Lear was written by William Shakespeare and is about the tragic story of a royal family in the dark ages, which is falling apart before our very own eyes. The king of England, King Lear is a glory seeking man finding it through vanity. His mentality deteriorates from a highly respected King to an insane madman.
Lear fails to cope with the fact that his wealth, power and respect is taken from underneath him by his own family and he tries to identify what and who he is anymore. Lear believes that it is not down to his own by his doing but by other people including two of his three daughters, Regan and Gonerill. They play Lear off against one another trying to out do each other in doing evil, demoralising things to their own father.
The title of this essay occurs in the play when he is the depth of his madness. He is kicked out in the middle of the countryside during Act 3 Scene 2 where he is in the in the middle of a raging storm; he ends up in a in a dilapidated hovel.
The play begins with King Lear having a contest between his three daughters to see which one of them love him the most and giving them bigger shares of the Kingdom. Lear however has already divided his kingdom and this contest is just a pathetic way of showing how much he is loved. His three daughters Regan, Gonerill and Cordellia must say in words how much they love their father. This is where Lear commits his first sin in the play; he is making the three sisters compete against each other for his love and for land. This is because Lear wants to show how much he is admired, loved and cared about by his children to the court.
The children go in age order from oldest to youngest starting with Gonerill telling her love:
“Sir I love you more than word can wield matter,
Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty
Beyond what can be valued rich or are
No less than life, with grace, health beauty and honour;”
Following Gonerill is the second eldest daughter Regan proclaiming:
“Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness love.”
The two sisters proclaim their love for land and wealth, this is not true love they just seek the respect of their father and want to impress him. Gonerill says that word can wield the matter meaning that she can’t speak her love for him but goes on with a exaggerated speech about her love. This is the first sin against Lear as the two women are trying to steal their father’s wealth trying to get a large piece of his kingdom.
Then the youngest Cordellia stands to speak her love for her father but instead of a large over the top speech she says:
“I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more, nor less.”
Lear is flabbergasted by his youngest child’s remarks he is so shocked that he asks her two, three times to rephrase her answer but she can’t. She won’t lie to her father’s face like her sisters she always tells the truth and her true feelings.
Lear is so enraged and furious about Cordellia’s comments he announces to everyone that she is no longer his daughter and gives her inheritance to her sisters.
“Revenue, execution of the rest,
Beloved sons, be yours; which to confirm,
This coronet part between you.”
Then as a final display of lack of sensitivity towards his youngest and once dearest child he wishes she had never been born.
“Hadst not been born than not t’have pleased me better.”
Kent, Lear’s most trusted adviser and friend cannot see this happen to Cordellia and protects her. He argues with Lear about his rash actions too.
“Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least
Nor are those empty - hearted whose low sounds
Reverb no hollowness.”
“When my majesty falls to folly. Reserve thy state,
And in thy best consideration check
This hideous rashness. Answer my life, my judgement:
Thy youngest daughter does not thee least,”
Lear still upset about Cordellia and her speech unleashes his wrath on Kent too. He banishes him from the Kingdom giving him 5 days to get out and if seen after that, be killed on sight.
“Five days we do allot thee for provision
To shield thee from disasters of the world,
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our Kingdom;”
This is a preview of the whole essay
Kent bids a farewell to Lear and the rest of the kingdom and as he is leaving he praises and thanks Cordellia for her honesty but asks and pleads to Regan and Gonerill to tell their true words of love to be Lear. We find out here that Kent knows more about Lear’s three daughters than Lear. Kent says to Cordellia:
‘The gods to their dear shelter take thee,
That justly think’st and hast most rightly said.’
Kent says to Regan and Gonerill:
‘And your large speeches may your
That good effects may spring from words of love
Thus Kent, O princes bids you all adieu
He’ll shape his old course in a country new’
Lear's second big sin is the banishment of Kent from the Kingdom and this fatal sin potentially causes the deaths of hundreds of people further on in the play as France goes to war with England. Kent was right to stand up to Lear and Lear was right to argue back but had no right in banishing him from the Kingdom but this shows to the audience that he is an angry, bad tempered man.
After all Kent has suffered from Lear, he comes back later in the play disguised as Caius. He doesn’t come back to get revenge on Lear but to protect and serve him once again showing what a true friend and servant he is.
Now Kent has left Lear’s sight he focuses all his attention on Cordellia. Undermining her even more he offers her to the Duke of Burgundy. He offers her to him but without her dowry of a third of the Kingdom. Burgundy refuses her unless she is given with her dowry. Lear stands his ground and refuses to give him her dowry as well. Then Lear doesn’t won’t to offend the King of France by offering her to him. Lear says she is:
“a wretch whom nature is ashamed.”
France is shocked by Lear’s sudden, rash change of view towards his daughter. France accepts Cordellia saying she doesn’t need a dowry, as she is a dowry herself.
‘Thy dowerless daughter, King, thrown to my chance,
Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France.
Not all dukes of waterish Burgundy
Can buy this unprized precious maid of mine.’
Lear vows to never see his daughter again and disowns her telling her never to return to the isles of Britain.
‘France let her be thine; for we
Have no such daughter, nor shall we ever see
That face of hers again. Therefore be gone,
Without our grace, our love, our benison.’
Lear then commits his final sin of the scene telling the court that he does not love the Cordellia anymore. Lear not only commits a personal sin against her by disowning her but also a political sin in creating a natural enemy in France.
When Lear leaves the court his other two daughters Regan and Gonerill are shown to be conspiring against their father. This is an early indication of their plans for their father later on in the play. They form an alliance together to take control of their father and take his wealth and power from him.
“Pray you, let us sit together. If our father carry
Authority with such high disposition as he bears, this last surrender
Of his will but offend us.”
Act 1 scene 3 is a short scene comprising of only 1 page. Gonerill is annoyed and angry about the unruly behaviour of Lear and his knights. So Gonerill instructs her lead servant Oswald to be disrespectful and show little respect and courtesy to Lear she also orders Oswald to tell the others servants to do the same.
‘If you come slack of former services,
You shall do well; the fault of it I’ll answer’
‘Put on what weary negligence you please,
You and your fellows: I’d have it come to question.’
This shows Gonerill’s total disregard of the King. He hasn’t done anything wrong or sinful towards her in this part of the play to receive this harsh treatment. Lear and his Knights see this lack of respect in Act 1 scene 4 when they return from hunting to Gonerill and her husband, Albany’s castle.
‘There’s a great abatement
of kindness appears as well in the general dependants as
In the duke himself also, and your daughter’.
Then we see Oswald showing disrespect and treating the king like a normal peasant.
Lear: ’You, your sirrah where’s my daughter’
Oswald: ‘So please you-‘
Then when Lear finally finds Oswald again he asks him Oswald who is Lear is.
‘My lady’s father.’
Lear is shocked and he strikes Oswald for his rudeness and then Kent who has worked his way back to Lear’s side as an adviser and servant disguised as Caius trips and pushes Oswald outside for a fight. In this act Lear isn’t treated like a King by anyone honestly, showing that many people realise that the old man is losing his power and wealth by giving away his land and not actually being a King anymore.
Gonerill finally comes out of hiding from her father. She decides to speak to her father and moans about Lear’s knights saying she wishes they would behave more wisely and stop with their loutish behaviour. Lear, instead of exploding like recent occasions when someone challenges his authority and actions he calmly talks to her.
But Gonerill, still angry with Lear and his knights, continues with her about them.
‘Men so disordered so deboshed and bold,
That this our court, infected with their manner,
Shows like a riotous inn; epicurism and lust
Makes it more like a tavern or a brothel
Than a graced palace.’
Lear returns to his ‘normal’ state of mind and is furious with her speech. He announces he cannot stay with Gonerill a ‘degenerate bastard’ he will go and stay with Regan. Lear then wishes Gonerill will be infertile for ever, be disabled and if she does have children let them grow up to be as evil as her.
‘Into her womb convey sterility,
Dry up in her organs of increase,
And from her derogate body never spring
A baby to honour her.’
‘If she must teem, create her a child of spleen.’
Lear is now angry with himself and he expresses anguish at his treatment of Cordellia.
Then Lear leaves to another part of a castle but when he returns he is confronted with the shock that Gonerill has dismissed 50 of Lear’s knights in a fortnight.
“What fifty followers at a clap.”
Lear is so shocked by Gonerill and her actions he is brought to tears Albany tries to calm down but it’s no use Lear leaves with his knights and the fool for Regan’s castle. Gonerill fears there is danger posed by them so she sends Oswald as a messenger to Regan to warn her.
Finally at the end of the scene we see that Gonerill is in cahoots with her sister Regan and hints that Albany, her husband has a gentle nature and she thinks this is a weakness as a ruler.
‘What he hath uttered I have writ my sister’
Now, even though the audience has still got some hatred towards Lear for banishing Kent and disowning Cordellia, their feelings start to turn as Lear in Act 1 Scene 4 has had more sins committed against him. Gonerill and her servants have no right in treating Lear in such a cruel manner and he realises he has done wrong in disowning Cordellia. This treatment of Lear is just a small taster of what is to come from both sisters later on in the play along with other key characters.
In Act 2 Scene 2. Kent sees Oswald at Regan’s castle, confronts and attacks him. Cornwall, Regan’s husband, puts Kent in the stocks for his actions towards Oswald. This is a direct attack on Lear by Cornwall. To make matters worse for Kent, Regan increases Kent’s time in the stocks. Cornwall declares that Kent shall be stocked till noon but Regan has other ideas…
‘Till noon? Till night, my lord and all night too.’
The Earl of Gloucester then enters the scene, he is one of Lear’s personal and closest friends and tells Regan and Cornwall it is a direct attack against the king and they must get Kent out of the stocks.
Act 2 Scene 4 is a crucial and critical scene in the battle between good and evil. Lear is wondering curiously at the beginning of the scene where Kent his messenger is and why his daughter and son-in-law aren’t at home to greet him. Then Kent surprisingly lists a lot of sins committed against Lear; telling Lear Regan put him in the stocks, his recent clash with Oswald, and that he knows Oswald was bringing a letter to Regan from Gonerill.
Lear is at this stage of the play suffers a feeling known as Hysterias passio which back in the times of William Shakespeare was felt by women especially who are pregnant. It makes them very upset and emotional.
Lear asks where his daughter and husband are but is told they refuse to speak to him.
“Deny to speak with me? They are sick, they are weary,
They have travelled all the night? Mere fetches”
“I’d speak to The Duke of Cornwall and his wife.”
Lear at this point doesn’t address his daughter as Regan but as Cornwall’s wife showing he doesn’t really love her as much and doesn’t look at her as his daughter anymore.
Finally Regan and Gonerill appear, Regan tells her father to return to her sister, but Lear won’t, he proclaims:
She hath abated me of half my train.”
Regan tries to persuade him to go back saying a man of his age needs advice but he refuses and stands his ground because of Gonerill’s rudeness and total lack of respect.
Then Lear can’t believe his eyes after telling Regan of all Gonerill’s terrible attributes, Gonerill arrives and Regan joins hands showing a physical manifestation of the sister’s alliance. Lear now realises that the pair of them are in cahoots with each together and unleashes sarcastic and evil wishes on the pair of them.
“Strike her young bones,
You taking airs, with lameness!
Gonerill and Regan both say it is best for Lear to return to Gonerill’s castle and to reduce his number of followers by half again. But Lear says he would rather sleep outside, be a slave to France or a slave to Oswald than to agree to these terms. Gonerill reacts in a negative way.
‘At your choice, sir.’
Regan demands that if he stays with her he can only have 25 followers. Lear now attaches financial matters to emotional ones saying that Gonerill loves him more because she lets him have 50 knights whereas Regan only lets him have 25. This is another example of Lear’s way with love. His measured love at the beginning of the play with words now with the number of knights he can have! This is a big sin from him.
Lear decides to go back to Gonerill’s castle but makes a direct analogy between love and material possessions.
‘Thou art twice her love’
At this point the two sisters play off their father against each other in a reverse auction of his knights from 100 to 50, 25-10, 10-5 and finally from 5 to 1.
Gonerill: ‘What need you five and twenty? Ten? or five?
To follow in a house where twice so many
Have a command to tend you?’
Regan: ‘What need one?’
Lear has given them everything when he wants some knights to follow and guard him they won’t let him even have one. Lear believes he is going mad.
“On ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad.”
This is a true prediction of what is going to happen to him later on in the play. Lear is going mad and exits Gloucester castle in the middle of a raging storm along with the fool and Kent.
Regan Gonerill and Cornwall agree to shut the doors behind Lear justifying their actions by saying his knights are a danger to them.
In Act 3 Scene 2 Lear is in the depths of his madness and is exposed to the raging storm with its fearful elements yelling about his daughters. In this scene Lear summarises his sins and sins committed to him. Then in scene 4 of the act Lear realises the effects that his daughters Regan and Gonerill have had on him. Lear’s feels as if he has given his daughters everything and we now know that the seek Lear’s death and they have gone beyond hatred.
In the final scene of the act, Scene 7, Gloucester is found by Regan and Cornwall re-entering the castle after helping Lear in the raging storm the night before. The pair of them take control of the Earl and tie him to a chair. They begin to interrogate him about Lear and he confesses that he has sent Lear to the safety of Dover. Then Cornwall does the unthinkable after Regan has been plucking the old man’s beard, Cornwall plucks out one of Gloucester eyes, the old man screams for help.
‘He that will think to live till he be old,
Give me some help! – O cruel1 O you gods!’
Regan wants the Earl to suffer more and urges her husband on to pluck the other eye out and make the old man suffer more.
‘One side will mock another: th’other, too.
An unnamed servant of the Earl’s tries to stop the cruelty and challenges Cornwall to a duel. When the pair are fighting Regan cowardly stabs the servant in the back. Cornwall, not satisfied
with plucking out one eye, climbs onto the old man and yanks out his other eye.
To make matters worse for Gloucester Regan orders he be thrown out his own castle accusing him of treason and informs him of his sons treachery. Edmond, his bastard son, plans to kill Gloucester and take the position of earl even though Gloucester has a legitimate son, Edgar. Regan does not realise that Cornwall is seriously injured as a cause of the fight with the servant and Regan continually taunts Gloucester.
‘Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell
His way to Dover.’
In Act 4 we see Gonerill in scene two plotting against her husband, Albany calling him a coward and then kissing Edmond.
‘It is the cowish terror of his spirit
That dares not undertake’
‘This kiss, if it durst speak,
Would stretch thy spirits into the air.
The audience now realises that Cornwall is dead from the fatal fight with the servant. Gonerill and Albany hear of the news that Regan and her husband had plucked out Gloucester’s eyes. Gonerill suddenly fears Regan as a rival who could wreck her plans with Edmond. Amazingly Albany vows to avenge the blinding of Gloucester.
In Act 4 Scene 3 we see a juxtaposition to the previous evil scenes. At this point Cordellia is clad in armour holding a sword in one hand ready for battle against her own country, fighting for the French who have just landed in Dover. The audience sees that Cordellia’s love for her father stands stark against the hatred for Lear felt by her other two sisters.
In the next act Regan, even though her husband has just pasted away is already making plans for her and Edmond and criticises her sister to her head servant Oswald. She urges the servant to give her a letter from Gonerill that he holds.
In Scene 5 the audience feel a huge amount of sympathy towards King Lear because his is mad and speaks provincially about his situation.
“They told me I was everything; ‘tis a lie, I am nor ague - proof.”
Lear and Cordellia are reunited in Act 4 Scene 6 as Lear is brought in frail and ill to the French camp at Dover. Cordellia knows the pain and anguish that her two sisters have caused her father. Shakespeare brilliantly subverts the recognises chivalric. Cordellia leans over her father dressed in armour from head to toe and kisses him. Lear awakens believing he is dead, in hell and Cordellia is an angel.
‘Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald it like molten lead.’
He believes he is in hell for what he has done to Cordellia. He is still bewildered and confused and does not know where he is.
‘Pray do not mock me:
I am very foolish, fond, old man,
Forescore and upward,
Not an hour more nor less; and to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
The scene ends with Lear admitting his culpability and stating he will drink poison for what he has done and in a traumatic state begging on his knees to Cordellia for forgiveness.
Then the final scene Act 5 scene 3, opens as England have won the battle against France and Lear and Cordellia enters captured. Lear in a pathetic state is crying out:
‘No, no, no, no!’
The audience feels pathos for Lear. Edmond one of the leaders of the English, army sends the pair to jail together. Lear couldn’t be happier and has no problem with spending the rest of his life in prison, as he would be able to spend the remaining years of his life with Cordellia.
This however is not Edmond’s full plan, he tells a captain to kill Lear and Cordellia giving him a death warrant.
‘Go follow them to prison.
One step I have advanced tee; if thou dost
As this instructs thee, thou dost make thy way
To noble fortunes.’
Then Regan leaves, feeling unwell, unaware that her sister Gonerill has poisoned her. Edgar appears and has a long arduous battle with his brother Edmond and Edmond is mortally wounded.
Albany reveals at this point Gonerill’s deceit, treason and adultery with Edmond. She runs off leaving Edmond to die.
Bleeding to death on the ground he is touched by guilt and confesses to everyone about the death warrant he gave to the captain.
The unthinkable happens as Lear enters the stage carrying Cordellia killed by the captain, we at this point learn that Regan and Gonerill are also dead. Lear tries to revive Cordellia a number of times pathetically.
‘This feather stirs, she lives: if it be so’
Do you see this? Look on her! Look, her lips.
Look there, look there.
Then in the hope of her being alive Lear dies with Cordellia and the play comes to an end.
Lear in the first act of the play committed many sins to people especially to Cordellia and Kent. The two people that he honestly loved and cared about the most. He shouldn’t of given his Kingdom to his daughters and remained as King of the country. Either one or the other..
In conclusion Regan and Gonerill’s sins against Lear easily outweigh the sins committed by Lear and I agree with the title and believed it is correct.