This play is about a dysfunctional family headed by an old king who prefers flattery to truth and so is blinded from seeing the loyal people in his life, daughter Cordelia and nobleman Kent. He rashly disinherits Cordelia and divides the kingdom between his other daughters, Regan and Goneril, both consumed with greed and ambition which breeds jealousy, rage, cruelty, violence and sheer evil. They remind me of the horrible, cold, unfeeling Lady Macbeth.
In a parallel story line, the Earl of Gloucester also turns against the loyal child, Edgar, in favor of the manipulative bastard, Edmund whose conniving and theatrics remind me of Iago in Othello. Both fathers suffer tremendously from trusting the wrong child(ten). The mutilation of Gloucester is one of the most gory, intense scenes I have read thus far. And similar to Hamlet, dead bodies litter the stage by the end of the play.
One reviewer on Goodreads made some comparisons between King Lear and The Oedipus Trilogy (Oedipus the King, Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus) by Sophocles. I agree. It is so gratifying to see connections between great works of literature.
- Edgar leading blind Gloucester - Antigone leading blind Oedipus
- Siblings fight for overall rule of the kingdom with disastrous consequences
- Dutiful daughter - Cordelia and Antigone
My favorite quotes:
Cordelia is being asked by King Lear to speak her love for him, as her sister's flattering tongues have done. She feels that true love and honor is shown by actions and so says: "I cannot heave my heart into my mouth" (1.1.90-91).
A most intense verbal thrashing given by a disguised Kent to Oswald, Goneril's steward who gives aid in her conspiracies:
Oswald: What dost thou know me for?
Kent: A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound-filth, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service; and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel birth; one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition (2.2.12-21). Wow, Kent, what do you really think?
In my reading, I make note of sentences that sing. A disguised Edgar is giving his father a made-up description of himself: Wine I loved deeply, dice dearly, and in woman outparamoured the Turk. False of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand - hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey (3.4.83-86).