What is significance of the opening scene in Shakespeare's King Lear?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The significance in the opening scene of Shakespeare's King Lear rests with two significant points. The first is that a central theme in the play will be reality versus appearance. In the first scene, Cordelia refuses to charm her father with flowery, empty words of love, but simply speaks the truth. However, her sisters do provide empty words of love and praise. This is what Lear wants to hear, but mistakenly believes the words are true. In doing so, he rejects Cordelia who truly loves him, banishing her from his life, and he accepts his other uncaring, deceitful daughters who will take what they can from him, and will not support him when he needs them most.

In addition, when Cordelia answers her father's question regarding her love with the word "nothing," Lear repeats the word "nothing" again. The idea of "nothing" foreshadows the "chaos" that will control the action of the remainder of the play; Lear will lose everything because rather than hear the truth of those around him and see things as they truly are, he chooses to be blind to what his eyes should see, and deaf to the words from those who care for him.

Ironically, where the King of France admires Cordelia's honesty, Lear in what Kent sees as madness, fails to notice the value of his daughter. By losing her, he loses all.

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