King Lear Loyalty Essay Research Paper
King Lear: Loyalty Essay, Research Paper
“Goodness” in King Lear: A Lesson in Loyalty
Shakespear’s good characters, in the play King Lear, are considered good because they are loyal even when they are disguised from or unrecognizable by those to whom they owe loyalty. In addition, their loyalty does not waver even when they are banished or mistreated by those to whom they are loyal. Cordelia, Edgar and Kent are all characters that exemplify this goodness and unwavering loyalty.
Let us first consider King Lear and his relationship with his daughter Cordelia. When King Lear asks Cordelia to profess her love for him she merely answers that she loves him according to her bond, no more. Enraged, the king banishes her without an inheritance or dowry. Cordelia tries to explain that she will not speak of her love for him in order to get fortunes since this would be deceitful. However, Lear refuses to understand and Cordelia leaves imploring her sisters to care for him.
What makes Cordelia a good character here is not only that she refuses to flatter her father in order to deceive him out of his wealth, but also because she accepts her father’s punishment and leaves willingly even though she knows it is not a just punishment. Additionally, she expresses no animosity toward Lear, instead she asks her sisters to care for him. This unwavering loyalty is also exhibited later in the play when Cordelia finds Lear and she realizes he is mad. She cares for him and gives him medicinal herbs until he is well again. Even when Lear begs for her forgiveness she insists that she has no cause to be offended.
Perhaps the most pure form of loyalty is when it is displayed even when the beneficiary is unaware. When loyalty is expressed in this discrete manner the bestower cannot expect to be repaid for his allegiance. Cordelia displays such discrete loyalty when left alone with her sisters after she is disowned and she expresses the hope that they will love Lear. Even though Cordelia knows Lear does not hear her good wishes for Lear, she nonetheless expresses them. This fact is proof that she displays this pure form of discrete loyalty.
Edgar is the next character who displays loyalty to his father even after he has been outlawed and was forced to hide and disguise himself. Gloucester favors Edgar’s evil half-brother Edmund, who deceives him into believing that it is Edgar who is disloyal. However, after Gloucester’s eyes are plucked out he realizes his mistake when he is told that it is Edmund who has betrayed him. When the blind Gloucester is led to the disguised Edgar, his son agrees to lead him to the cliffs of Dover. In order to prevent his father’s attempted suicide, Edgar stages a scene where he leads his father to believe that he has fallen off the cliffs but has been miraculously saved. Edgar once again defends his father’s life when he prevents Oswald from assassinating him. Through these events Edgar exemplifies loyalty by leading his blind father to safety, even though he had been wrongfully mistreated.
Edgar is not considered a good character merely because he was loyal to his father after he was mistreated by him. He is considered a good character because he was loyal to his father even when he was disguised. Edgar meets his blind father and does not reveal his true identity to him at first. The fact that he was loyal to his father even when he could not be recognized is important because it shows that he expected no reward for his actions.
The Earl of Kent was the next character in the play to display unwavering loyalty. Unduly mistreated by Lear for attempting to advise him of his dreadful mistake, Kent was banished from the King’s presence. Yet, even while banished, Kent searched for a way to remain serviceable and loyal to his King. While disguised as a servant, he expresses his desire to serve Lear and ultimately is chosen to join the royal staff. His loyalty was not wavered by Lear’s unjust treatment.
Kent’s motivations were surely pure in that he desired only to protect his king, and not to be rewarded for his loyalty. Even when Lear could not recognize him in disguise, Kent remained a steadfastly loyal servant and friend. He wanted to be close to the King in order to protect him. He demonstrated that he did not desire a reward for his loyal actions since he remained in disguise and did not reveal his true identity to the King.
King Lear is a play about loyalty. “Goodness” is portrayed by the characters as selflessness. Each “good” character displays loyalty through selfless actions. Cordelia selflessly does not attempt to rob Lear of his wealth by flattering him. Even though she risks banishment, she selflessly refuses to indulge her father’s foolish wishes. Edgar, too, is selfless in his actions by leading his father to safety even when he knows Gloucester does not recognize him and will not appreciate that he was, in fact, the truly loyal son. Finally, Kent, Lear’s Selfless servant, risks his life to protect his king even after he has been mistreated.