Why does Lear favor Goneril’s and Regan’s professions of love over Cordelia’s in Act I, Scene 1?
The entire episode suggests that Lear is the sort of many who enjoys being flattered. He is thus impressed by Goneril and Regan's obsequious responses, and stunned when Cordelia will not emulate them. She says that she "loves your majesty/According to my bond;nor more nor less," which is pretty obviously not the sort of answer Lear was soliciting. Lear does not appreciate her honesty, nor does he grasp her essential point, that her sisters, having husbands, are obviously being disingenuous when they say they give him all their love:
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty:
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.
Indeed, Lear makes it very clear that he was not looking for an honest answer, but rather for vain flattery when he rages at Cordelia, saying mockingly, "then let truth be your dower." He is portrayed early in the play as a vain, arrogant man, and his reaction to his daughters' responses is in keeping with this. Indeed, in his incredible self-centeredness, he is unable to recognize that Cordelia's profession of love is in many ways more profound than those of her sisters. She is unable to do justice to herself through speech, and realizes that it is futile to try.