In what manner has Lear offended Goneril and her household?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Act I, Scene III, Shakespeare shows Goneril in a frustrating situation which any housewife could relate to. Lear, in accordance with his original dispensation, has come to stay with his daughter for six months and has brought with him one hundred knights. They are all having a grand time drinking and eating, making a general mess of things, going out hunting on one hundred and one horses, killing off all the game for many miles around, and bringing back bloody birds and animals to be cleaned and cooked. Goneril tells the steward Oswald:

By day and night he wrongs me; every hour

He flashes into one gross crime or other,

That sets us all at odds: I'll not endure it:

His knights grow riotous, and himself upbraids us

On every trifle. When he returns from hunting,

I will not speak with him; say I am sick:

If you come slack of former services,

You shall do well; the fault of it I'll answer.

At this point the audience hears "Horns within." One can imagine Goneril's body language when she hears her father returning with one hundred knights, many blowing hunting horns, all of them carrying bloody trophies, their horses spattered with mud, probably followed by a dozen muddy hounds.

When Lear enters in the next scene, he shows his troublesome character as a house guest:

Let me not stay a jot for dinner; go get it ready.

When Goneril finally confronts her father she expresses more  grievances:

Not only, sir, this your all-licensed fool,

But other of your insolent retinue

Do hourly carp and quarrel, breaking forth

In rank and not to be endured riots.

She continues to upbraid and threaten him until he shouts:

Darkness and devils!

Saddle my horses; call my train together.

Degenerate bastard! I'll not trouble thee:

Yet have I left a daughter.

Gonereil is probably getting exactly what she wants. She gets in a final dig:

You strike my people, and your disorder'd rabble

Make servants of their betters.

Lear has given up his kingdom but still thinks of himself as the absolute monarch. He finds that he has lost the love and respect he formerly enjoyed along with his kingdom.



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