King Lear: Destruction of Families from the Inside
King Lear is a play written by William Shakespeare, dating back to Elizabethan times. This play follows the stories of two royal families and the dysfunction within it. The parents and children from the families all possess qualities and attributes that prove them to be inhumane. As much as we do not see it, children exhibit some of our greatest traits and show remarkable a resemblance to ourselves, but in many cases, they portray the negative traits too. Both of them show to be responsible for destroying the structures of their families and ruining what was once whole. However, who is more responsible for these breakdowns? It is clear when reading the play that the children are more at fault than the parents. Firstly, one must consider the greed portrayed by the parents and children. Secondly, one must consider the pain caused by parents and children. By appropriating these two criteria, children clearly are more at fault for the family breakdowns in the play.
To begin, focusing specifically on the children, the greed portrayed has a negative impact on the structure of the family. “Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund As to the legitimate.—Fine word, “legitimate” legitimate. I grow, I prosper. Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” (1.2.16-22). This quote proves Edgar’s true goal is to rise, willing to go against defying all odds, specifically the unspoken law of respect. This led to Edmund’s family to fall apart because of his greed for power, he was the main factor of his own innocent brother running away leading up to problems later in the play and betraying his own father. Betrayal is also shown in a sense of greed for love seen when Goneril and Regan both desire Edmund unknowing that they both admire the bastard. Regan because of her separation seeks Edmunds love, Goneril notices this and poisons her sister in jealousy, Regan responds “My sickness grows upon me.” (5.3.114), after she had been knowingly poisoned. This leads to Goneril’s death by suicide because of the unthinkable actions she had committed “Your lady, sir, your lady. And her sister By her is poisoned. She confesses it. ” (5.3.239-240). This particular quote depicts how jealousy over one another and betrayal are shown in the children as well as how they instantly turn against each other, thinking about themselves.
On the contrary, by turning the tables and looking at the greed portrayed by the parents, It can be seen that they also immensely at fault for the family breakdowns. Greed is very evident in the parents especially King Lear. The once ruler and the 100 knights that he didn’t treat well alongside his growingly odd requests as well as generally making a mess, lead a confrontation between Lear and Goneril who had asked her father to reduce the number of knights accompanying him. This response surprised Lear and sparked a fight between the two saying “Darkness and devils! Saddle my horses. Call my train together. — Degenerate bastard, I’ll not trouble thee. Yet have I left a daughter.” (1.4.240-243) Lear is clearly angry and very greedy at something he doesn’t even require as he lives in a castle with more than enough people to take care of him but his greed overtakes him as he still wants to be acknowledged as the King, taking offence when he is not recognized as such. “My lady’s father”. “My lady’s father? My lord’s knave, your whoreson dog! You slave, you cur!” Eventually, after an altercation with Oswald, Lear goes onto living in Regan’s castle, having the same issues reoccur until the point in which he just gave up. These quotes are evident to the play as they show how Lear is incapable of taking the hard truth that he no longer rules the kingdom and has no power in respect to his daughters. Lear’s greed for power shows to be an exponential factor in the breakdown of his family, as he drove his daughters away and drove himself into an unstable mental state.
It is clearly evident that both the children and parents both showed acts of greed in the play, the responsibility of it all is seen to be labelled as the children’s overall fault. This is due to the destruction each has caused by their solely independent intentions. For example, Edmund who had one goal which was to rise to the top and push anyone out of his way no matter the cost or who they may be, even family which ended up becoming very destructive. Although Edmund was not the only one with bad intentions, as stated before, both Goneril and Regan had followed in Edmunds tracks willing to kill anyone, even each other to achieve their own personal goals, for their own personal, greedy selves. The children in the play fend for themselves and don’t consider what it may cost them to achieve such gains like the loss of their family and their own humanity. Building off the children’s intentions to hurt each other to get what they want, it is evident that this was clearly not the case with the parents as they had no reason to cause tension within the family or harm anyone. Lear, for example, gave away his kingdom in what he believed was an act of kindness that really did not end up going as he hoped it would. Although some may not agree with his actions, his intentions were pure as he simply wanted to retire and pass on his role to people whom he believed he trusted and did not intend on banishing anyone or ever reverting his decision. The children did not think ahead much either but also caused immense destruction in everyone’s lives causing murders, torture and the breakup of their family. The idea of who caused the most physical and mental pain between the two should really be considered as well. The children cause physical pain to the parents in many specifically Edmund when he turned his own father into Cornwall for assisting Lear which led to unimaginable consequences to his father, losing his eyes while Edmund bared to watch. “All dark and comfortless. Where’s my son Edmund? Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature to quit this horrid act” (3.7.89-91). His actions also caused his father emotional pain which broke the family structure even more alongside the physiological pain they all caused Lear which led him to become a whole different person and do things that will change his and the peoples live around him completely and permanently.
In conclusion, it is evident that for the majority of the play the children are more at fault than their parents for the breakdown in family structures, taking into deep consideration both the physical and mental pain they caused. While the children may have learned some of their flaws and traits from their parents, they are seen to have acted on it more and are truly the ones at fault. Their negative actions and inhumane attributes are ultimately responsible for destroying the structures of their families and ruining what was once whole.
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