What Is the Role of Female Characters in The King Lear?
Shakespeare in his works repeatedly refers to the image of a woman who in his works is devoid of any extraordinary idealizations, she is not the sainted, and the image of her even assumes a certain negative connotation. The female characters in The King Lear (Shakespeare, 1999) are divided into very contrasting groups representing goodness and evil. In the tragedy at once three female characters appear: Cordelia, Goneril and Regan.
Goneril and Regan are portrayed as insidious and sordid predators seeking to achieve power in any ways. The impression is that the two evil sisters have enough intelligence to achieve their goals, but their hearts are empty, at the very beginning of the play they are showed as the archetypal villains. These characters have no affection or shame, even a sufficient amount of blood in their vessels did not force to cover their cheeks with blush during all their sinister deeds. These two characters are so similar of temperament and behavior that they are very difficult to distinguish; they have always worked together in a joint burst of anger, until the moment when one of them shows the greatest degree of selfishness and craftiness.
Cordelia, in her turn, is one of the most accomplished positive female characters of world literature. Being the favorite daughter of King Lear, she seems to play a secondary role appearing only at the beginning and at the end of the play, but all always bear in mind her as the symbol of the highest virtues and goodness. At the beginning of the play Cordelia stated, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty /According to my bond; nor more nor less” (Shakespeare, 1974, p. 90-92). With these words she wanted to say that she would not declare her love to the father in order to get more wealth. In contrast, Goneril declared, “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter; / Dearer than eye sight, space, and liberty; / Beyond wat 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” (Shakespeare, 1974, p. 54-59).
Therefore, it is a diametric opposite of female images: the personification of goodness and sincerity, on the one hand, and insidious greed, on the other. Cordelia showing her true feelings for the father finds herself exiled because of the crystal-clear truth and bottomless purity of soul full of sincere love for the father. Although, Lear can not immediately comprehend the priority of Cordelia, but deceit, gluttony, lust for power and excessive insatiability of two other daughters make him to consider the root cause of Cordelia’s behavior and try to comprehend sincere simpleness.
Shakespeare, W., & Orgel, S. (1999). King Lear. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.
Shakespeare, W., & In Evans, G. B. (1974). The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.