What are the main themes in King Lear by William Shakespeare?  

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

King Lear by William Shakespeare is focused on themes of love, family, and aging. King Lear expresses one of the major themes, that of the duty of love between parent and child and its betrayal by the child's ingratitude when he states:

 "Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous, when thou show'st thee in a child,
Than the sea-monster." -

 King Lear, 1.4.283

One major thematic concern is how one distinguishes the true love of Cordelia for her father from the false love and flattery displayed by the other two sisters. The adultery sub-plot echoes the sister's ingratitude as it also emphasizes improper relationships and inconstancy. The issue of children's duty to parents leads to the marriage theme in another way in asking the proper degree for affections to shift from the birth family to the new family, and how conflicting obligations and priorities are handled