Comment on theme of fathers and daughters in King Lear.

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King Lear is a play in which an old, wealthy, powerful man realizes he is losing a grip on all that constituted his identity. The opening scene has Lear giving away his property, knowing he is nearing the end of his life. He doesn't have a specific condition or date when he'll die, but he simply feels his demise is not far off.

Lear has vast properties, is highly connected to the powers that be, and has lived a long life. He has three daughters, two older ones (in their forties, it seems) named Goneril and Regan. And, another, somewhat younger (perhaps in her twenties) called Cordelia. The king dotes on the youngest, but leaves practical matters to the two older ones. He dotes on Cordelia, yet relies on the older daughters for management.

Goneril is the oldest. Lear has decided to abdicate his throne and hand his lands to his daughters prior to his death. Had he not, Goneril would have inherited the whole estate as the law stood. This is commentary on what Lear thinks of his children, that he loves them enough to consider their individual needs.

In Act 1, Scene 1, Goneril says to Cordelia, "What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent." It is clear she believe Cordelia's role is to be sweet, a disposition that seems to come naturally to her.

Also from the outset, when Lear asks his daughters to profess their love for him, it's obvious Goneril and Regan are using exaggerated praise, with little sincerity. Cordelia is simply more likable; however, Goneril has reason to be resentful as she would have inherited everything it if weren't for Lear's somewhat madcap plan to divide everything.

Some would say Lear's non-traditional division of lands was a selfish move, perhaps a desire to gain allegiance from all three daughters or a last-ditch effort to show his power. In any case, both Goneril and Regan become caught up in plotting and scheming throughout the rest of the play. By the end, the characters have turned against one another.

Lear is trying to protect his daughters. In his relationship to them, he idealizes them - unable to clearly see the rifts, unable to keep from favoring one (the youngest, fairest, and sweetest), and unable to truly understand their relationships to each other. He is doting, but distant. He is caring, but blind. He tries to exercise power to show himself a father, protector and leader but he is unable to master the forces he's unleashed.

Ultimately, the commentary is about a father's desire to protect his inability to do so in the real world. His actions begin a series of events that bring downfall to all of them. Goneril poisons Regan, her main rival, over jealousy—then kills herself. Cordelia, who was arrested earlier as the sisters and their husbands attempted to undermine her special role, dies in prison. Lear kills himself out of grief.

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The relationships between Lear and his three daughters are the most significant relationships in the play.

Though the character of the fool presents an important source of commentary and is highly relevant to the development of the themes of the play, it is the father-daughter relationships that A) drive the plot of the play and B) symbolize and structure the central themes of the play. 

The importance of Lear's relationships with his daughters in terms of the plot is straight-forward. Lear divides his kingdom between two of his daughters and disowns the third daughter. This action leads directly to Lear's predicament; his angst; his crisis. 

Thematically, these relationships demonstrate the nature of Lear's unnatural actions.

Lear's downfall is the result of a tragic flaw in his character: his majestic sense of himself is not bounded by the norms of the natural order.

Lear casts off the love of one daughter because she refuses to act unnaturally in proving her affections for her father and splitting her loyalty between husband and father. 

Lear has chosen an awkward and arguably inappropriate moment to ask his only unwed daughter to declare him the sole object of her love.

Despite acting in accordance with a real wisdom (which Lear does not recognize), Cordelia is cast out. This act proves Lear's hubris as he insists that the natural order of family be overthrown in favor of his desire. Cordelia remains loyal through it all. This is a natural loyalty that is given a chance to be fully articulated by Lear's choice to disown Cordelia. 

Lear's other daughters follow his own example of corruption. The power of his position as king has perverted his sense of his role in nature. The same type of power corrupts Goneril:

Goneril's increasingly cruel treatment of Lear is proof of the adage that "power corrupts."

Where it is natural for daughters to love their fathers, and fathers to love their daughters, the politics of power serves to corrupt this natural set of dynamics. This is an important aspect of the play and it is examined through the example of Lear's relationships to Regan and Goneril. 

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