Do you have any ideas on the hypothesis that King Lear could be called a 'manual on how not to parent'? 

2 Answers | Add Yours

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

King Lear has three daughters. In such a situation it is inevitable that the three girls will compete for their father's affection and attention from their earliest years. Lear has obviously gotten into the habit of encouraging his daughters to compete with each other, and the only way little girls have of competing is by being attentive and affectionate. By the time they are fully grown, he has conditioned them to exaggerate their displays of love, and they have conditioned him to expect such exaggerated displays. This is especially true of Goneril and Regan. Cordelia would like to see genuine feelings expressed by both the daughters and their father, but insincerity has developed too far. We can see the awful hypocrisy in both Lear and his two oldest daughters when he asks:

Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. 

They don't know what true love means, and neither does he. They don't love their father, and they probably don't love their husbands either. It is not entirely the daughters' faults that they are so hypocritical. They have been trained to be that way since they were little girls. This sort of thing probably happens in many families when the father has several little girls competing for his affection.

We can see the competitiveness between Goneril and Regan when it is Regan's turn to bamboozle her father.

Sir, I am made
Of the self-same mettle that my sister is,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short:

No doubt as the younger of the two girls, Regan has learned the art of one-upmanship. She is tricky. Cordelia, on the other hand, has been at a disadvantage all her life because she is obviously considerably younger than her sisters and hasn't learned dissimulation. Goneril and Regan both seem to despise her because she is too honest.

Sources:
akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that the hypothesis about King Lear representing a "manual on how not to parent" is a valid one.  King Lear represents some of the worst examples in parenting.  While Shakespeare has depicted some rather challenged notions of parenting such as in Othello and Romeo and Juliet, as a father, King Lear is a really bad example of how to be a father.  In the opening of the drama, King Lear demonstrates one of the worst elements of being a father when he speaks with his children :

Which of you shall we say doth love us most? 
That we our largest bounty may extend 
Where nature doth with merit challenge.

I think that simply asking children how much they love their parents might be a difficult challenge in parenting.  The propensity to lie is too great.  Linking this declaration to "our largest bounty" is disadvantageous.  King Lear represents the example of how not to parent because he fails to set limits. He puts himself in a position of vulnerability with his children, empowering them too much at his own cost.  He does not teach any restorative lesson to them.  What he has actually taught them is that lying and deceptive practices in order to get what one wants are acceptable, a lesson that Regan and Goneril learn quite well.  In addition, Lear fails at parenting with his challenge in punishing Cordelia.  By not treating his children with a sense of proportionality and equitability, Lear demonstrates parental weaknesses that set the tragedy and his own pathetic condition in motion.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,912 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question