How are gender roles and stereotypes reversed in King Lear?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The presentation of gender roles and the way in which they are reversed is symbolised in the way that Lear relinquishes his power and gives it to his two daughters, Goneril and Regan. This of course can be said to relate to a larger theme, which is the way in which Lear's kingdom descends into chaos through his bequeathment. When Lear gives away his authority and power to his two ambitious and unworthy daughters, Goneril and Regan, he surrenders not only himself but also his kingdom of Britain to the forces of chaos and instability. As the play progresses we are shown the way in which Goneril and Regan assert their power and flex their muscles, savouring their authority and position, and as a result Britain is plunged into ever greater depths of chaos and cruelty. The wrongness of this is of course symbolised in the storm that blows through Act III of the play. The stable heirarchy of the kingship that we are presented with at the beginning of the play devolves into chaos through the relinquishing of power to Goneril and Regan and the prestige and status that they are thus given. Such a reversal of gender roles is shown to be profoundly negative for all concerned.

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