In the early stages of Kent and Gloucester are thinking to who the King will believe as the best ruler of the kingdom’s wealth, when Kent is impressed by Gloucester’s son, never mind that Edmund is a son who’s mother Gloucester represent as being of little worth. King Lear appears with his daughters and sons in law. He orders Gloucester to attend to France and Burgundy and then addresses the assembly at large as to his intentions going forward. As age is catching up to him, the King will retire, and soon die, giving his wealth and power to his daughters and sons in law.
All that remains is the the King’s authority and wealth which will depend on the respective daughters testimonies of love and the daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia offer their father their testimonies of love. Satisfied with Goneril’s and Regan’s, Lear offers them each a bit of land. Lear finds Cordelia’s testimony lacking and urges her to do better. Cordelia refuses to flatter, however, and the upshot is that Cordelia is disowned and her part of land divided up and taken possession of by Goneril and Regan. As Lear orders an time to go fetch France and Burgundy, the Earl of Kent objects to Lear’s decisions. The King demands Kent to be quiet but Kent persists, showing Lear to exile Kent for life.
Irony is defined as “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.” There is a lot of irony found in the story ‘King Lear. This includes of the first part, but the dramatic irony is finally realised at the end of the story. The king is willing to give his kingdom away to whoever loves him, but no body loves him enough for this to occur.
There are plenty of irony in the text of king Lear including:
“The King say;”
“A bitter fool.”
“The fool says;”
“Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet fool?”
These show how the expression of the King’s particular meaning is by using language that normally signifies the opposite, therefore basically sarcasm.
Q’s and A’s:
- At the end of scene 1, Goneril and Regan discuss their father’s behavior. What does this dialogue add to our knowledge of the two sisters, their father and the relationships in the family?
- How does Edmund set his trap for Gloucester and Edgar? Is there anything in particular that ensures it is successful?
- How does Goneril believe Lear is behaving now he has abdicated his power? What does she intend to do about it (scene 3)?
- Explain the situation in scene 4. What is making Goneril so angry with her father? Do you think that Lear is the victim in this scene? Why/why not?
- What is the fool trying to tell Lear in scene 5?
Language Devices- Shakespeare uses a range of language devices in this opening act. We have already covered dramatic irony. Now think about metaphor. Some of the traits of the characters are developed through this device. Find 3 examples of metaphor in the first act and explain what they reveal about the character they are directed at.
- “The vines of France and milk of Burgundy Strive to be interest” – This is explaining how the vines of France try to strive. We know that vines is a type of plant and therefore cannot strive to be interest of France and milk of Burgundy. This shows how shakespeare used his language differently to how language is expressed now days.
- “Canst tell how am oyster makes his shell?… nor I neither…Why to put’s head in not to give it away to his daughters and leave his horns without a case” – this is explaining how his horns is the precious part of his power. As if the horn gave him power, but he gives himself power, but it’s showing how the horn (king Lear) can give his daughter the horn to have power.
- “we make guilty of our disasters of the sun, the moon, and the stars” – This is explaining how a human is guilty for disaster of the sun, moon and stars, where humans cannot control what’s out of the earth range. Therefore it’s a metahpor because they are describing something out of there range, which is what shakespeare was trying to produce in his language.
For the characters below, find a quote in the play that best summarizes their personality and agenda so far. Explain why you have chosen the quote you have.
King Lear: “Tell me, my daughters— [Since now we will divest us both of rule, Interest of territory, cares of state—] Which of you shall we say doth love us most, That we our largest bounty may extend Where nature doth with merit challenge. Goneril, Our eldest born, speak first. “
Here, King Lear demands to know which one of his daughters loves him “most” before he announces the division of his kingdom. When Lear asks “which of you shall we say doth love us the most?” he’s operating under the assumption that 1) love is quantifiable and 2) that language is capable of expressing his daughters’ love. Yeah, both of these assumptions are dead wrong. Check out “Language and Communication” for more on this.
Cordelia: “I love your Majesty According to my bond; nor more nor less.”
Cordelia, as we know, refuses to play King Lear’s game of “who loves daddy the most.” Here, she says that she loves her father “according to [her] bond,” which means that she loves him just as much a daughter should love her father, “no more nor less.”
Goneril: “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare, No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor; As much as child e’er loved, or father found; A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable. Beyond all manner of so much I love you”
Goneril sure does lay it on thick, doesn’t she? Even though she says her love for her father leaves her breathless and “unable” to speak, she still manages to find a bunch of empty, meaningless words to flatter him with.
Regan: “I am made of the self-same metal that my sister, And prize me at her worth. In my true heart I find she names my very deed of love; Only she comes too short, that I profess 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.”
Here, Regan claims Goneril’s profession of love for Lear falls “too short.” Hmm. We seem to be detecting a pattern here. Both Goneril and Regan seem pretty determined to measuretheir so-called love for Lear, as if love is something quantifiable. We wonder how Cordelia will respond to all this.
Kent: “I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall”
The opening lines of Shakespeare’s plays often provide clues about the play’s most important pressing issues or themes. In King Lear, the play opens as Kent and Gloucester discuss which son-in-law King Lear likes best. Shakespeare might as well hold up a sign that says “This play is going to be all about the dynamics of parent-child relationships!”
Glouster: “Sir, this young fellow’s mother could [conceive], whereupon she grew round-wombed, and had indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?”
This is an awfully strange way to open the play, don’t you think? Just a few lines into King Lear, Gloucester begins to crack dirty jokes about the mother of his illegitimate child, Edmund. When he asks Kent if he “smell[s] a fault,” he’s referring to his son, who is standing right there.
Edmund: “Th’ hast spoken right. ‘Tis true. The wheel is come full circle; I am here.”
After the wicked Edmund is mortally wounded by his brother, he says “the wheel has come full circle” (once again, he’s at the bottom of fortune’s wheel). In other words, he suggests he got exactly what was coming to him. Is he right?
Edgar: “My name is Edgar, and thy father’s son. The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices Make instruments to plague us. The dark and vicious place where thee he got Cost him his eyes.”
After Edgar mortally wounds his wicked brother, Edmund, he says “the gods are just” because they punish humans for their wrong doings. This seems to suggest that Edmund deserved what he got (a stab to the guts).
The Fool: “e’er since thou mad’st thy daughters thy mothers. For when thou gav’st them the rod and put’st down thine own breeches”
Lear’s Fool (Lear’s personal comedian) seems pretty smart when he points out that Lear’s daughters became more like his “mother” when Lear gave up his power and his kingdom to them. The Fool notes that Lear might as well have pulled down his “breeches” (pants) and given his daughters a “rod” to spank him with.