How is love portrayed in three different relationships in King Lear?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the first examples of love as portrayed in Shakespeare's King Lear, is that of Cordelia's sisters for their father, King Lear. The sisters are filled with protestations of their deep and abiding love for their father, though their words are empty—without substance or meaning. They do not love their father at all, but they tell him what he wants to hear. Goneril is Lear's oldest daughter. She clearly understands her father. She has her own agenda and it includes inheriting a portion (one-third) of her father's kingdom when he dies. If she can do so... simply telling him that she loves him profoundly, she will gladly do it. To do so costs her nothing.

Regan is Lear's middle daughter. She, like Goneril, knows what must be done to win her father's blessing.

She outdoes even Goneril in her praise of Lear.

It is easy to see through her words to the person behind them, and find her insincerity, but again, Lear hears what he wants to hear.

Another kind of love we see is the love that the earl of Kent has for King Lear. Kent is an honest man and devoted to his King. His honesty, however, does not bode well for Kent when he stands up for Cordelia. At this, King Lear banishes Kent. However, Kent is still loyal to Lear. He disguises himself as...

Caius, a rough character of lower social station...and devotes himself to helping Lear...protecting him until the end.

The last portrayal of love in the play is the true love of a daughter for her father. Cordelia is a a caring and loyal daughter who truly loves her father, but she will not offer him empty praise simply to outdo her sisters: concern for her father motivates her rather than a desire to inherit a portion of his kingdom. Rather childishly, this is exactly what Lear wants; Kent tries to reason with him, as does Cordelia. Her dedication to her father can be seen not in empty words as served up by her sisters, but through her actions. However, King Lear isn't at his best by demanding the daughters prove themselves to show their worthiness to inherit. When Cordelia does not meet her father's expectations, he disinherits and banishes her.

When Lear's two older daughters ultimately drive Lear out into a storm, it is Cordelia who sees to his needs, even providing doctors to care for him. In the end Lear realizes how foolish he has been, but also childishly enjoys the time he and his daughter spend in prison together before she is executed. He is haunted with the thought that he might have been able to save her, and dies still grieving over her death.

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