"Family unions in King Lear are flawed, corrosive and faulty" Consider Shakespeare's presentation of family relationships in 'King Lear.'


-Other Shakespearean plays that deal with flawed family unions:

Romeo and Juliet- Juliets fathers treatment of both her and her mother

-The flawed family ties are outlined very quickly within the play, showing that ,although, King Lear and Gloucester are happy with their family relationship at the start of the play, by the end of the first scene Lear has torn his family apart with, what Rubio has referred to as, his "love test"

-Furthermore in the opening lines of the second scene we learn of Edmond's plot against Edgar that is going to tear Gloucester's family apart; "legitimate Edgar, I must have your land".

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Para 1

Parent-Child Relationship - Father and Child

-Primary plot :Lear betrays youngest daughter and in turn is betrayed by his two eldest daughters. 

-Sub-plot :In almost identical fashion, Gloucester betrays his eldest legitimate son, and is betrayed by his youngest illegitimate son.

-Hatcher argues "the themes of the subplot compliment the main plot".- AO3

-In both cases, the natural relationship between parent and child is destroyed through:a lack of awareness, which Kent points out "Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least", quick judgement, which the Fool points out "thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown when thou gavst away thy golden one", and the abandonment of natural order.

-The structure of 'King Lear' reflects this breakdown, showing how family unions are flawed; the rejection of natural order leaves the stage with the dead bodies of parents and their children.

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Para 1 (part 2)

-Cliff summarised, "tragedy unfolds as two carefully interwoven and parallell stories explore the abandonment of natural order and the unnatural betrayl of parent and child". -AO3

-Jacobean society saw the family as a microcosm of the state. The breakdown of the family can therefore be seen as a reflection of the state under James I. As Knight acknowledged, "King lear was written as an object lesson for James I". -AO4

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Para 2

Parent-Child Relationships - Mother and Child

-The broken relationship between the father and child is emphasized by the absence of a maternal figure in the play. This further demonstrates the breakdown of natural order and how family unions are "flawed" and "faulty". 

-In Jacobean England, the role of a mother was to bear and rear children as well as take care of household matters.- AO4

-Coppelia Kahn notes that "women are pirmarliy responsible for the rearing as well as the bearing of children". -AO3

-The absence of a mother for both Lear's and Gloucester's families is what leads to the breakdown of all family relaitonships.

-As Bond notes "the young girls have had no one to teach them that life has more rivalry for power and legalised violence". -AO3

-The three sisters, nor the two brothers, had anyone to teach them right from wrong.

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Para 2 (Part 2)

-Shakespeare reinforces the patriarchy of the time through the absence of a mother, showing how if women do not conform to their gender roles, then anarchy is inevitable. The women of the play are descirbed using animal imagery, "like vultures", "pelican daughters", "serpent-like", and this suggests unnaturalness.

-Sarah Doncaster notes that "animal imagery shows the unnaturalness of a characters behaviour".-AO3

-However, this reinforcement of patriarchy would not have the same effect on audiences of today due to the closing gender gap. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 clearly supports this idea.- AO4

-Whilst the family unions of the play do appear to be "faulty" due to the absence of the mother, this would not have such a profound effect on today's audience. A Jacobean audience would have been mortified by the idea of a single, male father and strong, indeoendent daughters.- AO4

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Para 3

Role of Women in the Family

-The role of women in King Lear also demonstrates how family unions are "flawed" and "faulty" in the play. 

-Women in positions of authority caused much consternation in 16th Century Britain. In 1558, the year of Elizabeth's accession, John Knox issued a pamphlet arguing that giving any woman any type of authority was the "subversion of good order". Women are uneuqal to men and their authority is frowned upon.- AO4

-This is reflected in the family of Lear. Although, Lear's daughters are his heirs, their inheritance will still be passed to their husbands. Hence why Lear says "her price is fallen" after Cordelia refuses to "heave [her] heart into [her] mouth" in the love test, her suitor will no longer benefit from her inheritance.

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Para 3 (Part 2)

-Furthermore, depite Gonerill and Regan being strong, independent, female characters, they have to weild their influence through their husbands.

-This is illustrated in Act 3 in which Gonerill and Regan order Cornwall to"pluck out his eyes" and "hang him instantly". They do not have the authority to punish Gloucester - their male counterparts, on the other hand, do.

-This reinforces John Knox's idea that for women in 16th Century England to be in positions of authority was "subversion of good order".-AO4

-Kathleen McKluskie notes that "Gonerill and Regan are presented as monsters, demons, anything but human...Women in power can only bring disgrace".-AO3

-The lack of equality in the family stresses the flaws and faults in the family unions of King Lear. 

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Para 4

Despite faults, there is still love

-Whilst it cannot be denied that there are faults and flaws with the family unions in King Lear, love is still evident between characters. Showing that the family unions are not "corrosive".

-No better scene demonstrates this than Act 5 Scene 3 when a howling Lear enters "with Cordelia in his arms" after she has been hung. This proxemic has a profound effect on the audience as shortly before this, Lear admitted "I am a very foolish, very fond old man".

-His realisiation that Cordelia loves him the most has come too late, and as Powell said"the good characters are subjected to the worst injustices".- AO3

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Para 4 (Part 2)

-However this late realisation combined with the injustice of Cordelia being hung shortly after highlights Lear's love even more. The suffering he then goes through by dying from a broken heart shows that family unions, whilst may be flawed and faulty, are indeed not corrosive. 

-Lear fits Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero; he has a fatal flaw or error of judgment (harmatia), suffers from a reversal of fortune (peripeteia) and realises that the reversal of fortune was brought about by his own actions (anagoris) and eventually his suffering is greater than deserved.- AO4

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-To conclude, family unions in King Lear certainly do possess flaws and faults, for example the breakdown of all parent-child relationships in the play and the absence of a mother.

-However, it would be short sighted to conclude that they are "corrosive" as we can see by the end of the play that there is still love between characters, namely Lear and Cordelia.

-This leads one to conclude that whilst family unions are flawed and faulty, they most certainly are not corrosive.

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