What kinds of love are portrayed in King Lear? How do each of these types of love affect one another? What similarities and differences do you notice between the loves in King Lear and the other readings we have discussed? Support your answers with specific examples from the text.

There are a number of different types of love on display in Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear. At the heart of the story is the relationship between Lear and his three daughters. His love towards them is that of a father, but he is a fickle father who asks primarily for loyalty from them. It is a conditional love. This, of course, contrasts with the love of Cordelia and Edgar, whose love is selfless.

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"Nothing will come from nothing."


King Lear
, along with Hamlet, is often regarded as Shakespeare's greatest tragedy and, perhaps, his most profound. It is certainly his darkest play. In some ways, love is at the heart of the story. When the play opens, Lear is an aging king set on dividing his kingdom. He asks his three daughters for declarations of love; two are happy to oblige, but Cordelia sees the game for what it is. As such, she is sent away. The irony becomes apparent when Goneril and Regan take control of his kingdom and strip Lear of his men and rights. The use filial love to get what they want. It's unclear if Lear initially really wants love or respect as his hold on power is slipping. Lear's love, then, feels contingent; Cordelia's is an unconditional, almost Christlike love.

In the antagonists of King Lear, we see a corruption of love and a perversion of relationships that would seem to be inviolate. It fits with Augustine and some of the Greeks's conception of evil as a lack of or a warped version of good. Goneril and Regan not only show no love for their father and sister, but also for their own husbands. In fact, it seems they only love themselves, yet whether one could call a ruthless, intense lust for power love is debatable.

Much of the play is about sight and recognition and how characters fail to truly discern who loves them and who is exploiting them until it is too late. Cordelia's devotion to her father is paralleled through Edgar's devotion to his father, the Earl of Gloucester, who suffers one of the cruelest fates in all Shakespeare. Edgar has to disguise himself in order to survive and work for the restoration of justice, while his bastard brother, who despises both Edgar and Gloucester, acts as the "true" brother.

Edgar and Cordelia, and perhaps the Fool, represent a more authentic, more honest, and more profound vision of love. Shakespeare still asks the question, is this love enough in the face of implacable evil and a godless universe?

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