King Lear Motifs Essay Research Paper King

King Lear: Motifs Essay, Research Paper

King Lear: Motifs

Shakespeare uses many motifs to expand on the themes of the story. His most-used

motif revolves around filial responsibility. Each of the two plots contains

characters who betray their fathers. Goneril and Regan flatter their father,

King Lear, and then betray him. The drastic change that occurred in their

attidtude towards their father is clearly evident through Goneril’s speech


“Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter; Dearer than eye-sight,

space, and liberty; Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare; No less than life,

with grace, health, beauty, honour; 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.” (Act I, Sc i, Ln 57-63) and after she had been

allotted one half of the kingdom: “‘Tis his own blame; hath put himself from

rest, And must needs taste his folly.” (Act II, Sc ii, Ln


They both were interested only in getting Lear’s land, and used any means

necessary to get it. Edmund, in the other plot of the play, deceives his father

in order to gain his favor. Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester’s bastard son, tells

his father that Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son, is plotting to ruin

Gloucester. This causes the Earl to banish Edgar and give his title and land to


The ironic misuse of power used by the Earl of Gloucester shows up in both plots.

Gloucester punishes Edgar and later finds that Edmund was the one taking

advantage of him. Similarly, Regan and Goneril gain Lear’s favor, while Cordelia

is left ‘dowerless’ and banished from the kingdom. In the end, though, Cordelia

saves Lear from the betrayal of Goneril and Regan.

Shakespeare develops these major motifs with supporting motifs. He describes how

revenge can affect families and create problems for the characters. He also uses

the senility associated with old age to justify the irrational actions of both

Gloucester and Lear. Gloucester, deceived by Edmund, becomes paranoid of Edgar.

Lear is portrayed as senile form the beginning when he splits his kingdom

between his daughters. He becomes so engrossed by Goneril’s and Regan’s flattery

that when Cordelia refused to cater to his wishes, he banishes her in a fit of


Using the various motifs, Shakespeare makes many thematic statements about

filial responsibility. Without scrutiny, many children will become overtaken by

greed and attempt to get their parents’ wealth by any means. Some children will

remain good at heart, but it is difficult to predict which children will honor

their parents. This is shown in both plots of the story, with King Lear and

Gloucester trusting, and being deceived by, the “bad seeds.” Lear learns of his

troubles after both Goneril and Regan throw him out, but Gloucester understands

the betrayal of Edmund much later.

The other major theme in King Lear deals with appearances. Shakespeare states,

as he does in many of his plays, that appearances can be deceiving. Many people

put up false fronts in order to get what they want, including Regan’s and

Goneril’s flattery. Once again, one must be careful not to fall victim to

others’ false actions. Shakespeare emphasizes the need to think about actions

that may have serious consequences, and not to rush into anything. Irrational

behavior and gullibility cause many of the problems and conflicts in King Lear.


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