In Act I, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's King Lear, 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 3 of King Lear we see from Goneril's conversation with her steward Oswald that she is becoming extremely annoyed with her father, his fool, and his one hundred knights as long-term guests. She objects to the way Lear allows his fool the same license he enjoyed before, i.e., to play tricks on people and make embarrassing jokes about them. She tells 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.

Just as she is telling Oswald she wants him to "come slack of former services"--that is, to make her father and his companions feel less welcome and perhaps encourage him to move elsewhere--the stage directions call for "Horns within," and Oswald says:

He's coming, madam; I hear him.

The reader can imagine Goneril's reaction to the horns announcing the arrival of her father from another hunting excursion accompanied by one hundred hungry, thirsty, mud-covered men on horses and a pack of hounds. They will all come tromping in, carrying bloody birds and animals and tracking mud all over the floors. Her body language at that point would show her exasperation and weariness. It is any housewife's worst nightmare. Goneril did not realize that when Lear gave away his kingdom he was planning on reliving his boyhood free of responsibilities and restraints. She has, in effect, one hundred and one grown-up little boys to look after, and Lear's knights form a personal bodyguard which could prove very dangerous to her own staff.

Goneril is cunning. Instead of asking her father to move out, or at least to get rid of some of his totally unnecessary retinue who are creating chaos through their sheer numbers, she is planning to get her father to make the decision to leave.

The first words Lear speaks in the next scene show his despotic, irresponsible attitude:

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

He comes storming in with a hundred followers and expects dinner on the table immediately. We can certainly understand Goneril's feelings--especially since she does not love her father and probably never loved anybody but herself.

The main theme of Shakespeare's play is the disillusionment of an old man who is being forced to realize that he no longer has any power and that the admiration and respect he formerly enjoyed were only due to his status as king. Act I, Scene 3 represents a turning point which will lead to Lear's precipitous descent into homelessness, heartbreak and madness.

 

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