Regarded as one of the greatest tragedies ever written, Shakespeare’s King Lear explores numerous human dilemmas. Much of the adversity described within the play can be found when interactions between family members arise. More often than not, the patriarchal member of the house is at odds with his children. In turn, the relationship between parent and child is broken. This rift causes two factions to be formed: one consisting primarily of the older generation, and the other consisting of the younger generation. The two parties have disparate values and morals in regards to most, if not all situations.
This generational gap is one of the main contributors to feelings of angst between the groups. However, there are certain individuals within the play that respect the views of those from a different generation. These characters are not prevalent nor are they vying for power. Power being the indicator as to which generation wins out. One of the major contributors to the rift between young and old is miscommunication and early childhood neglect (Free Coursework). It is known that children learn how to communicate by observing their parents. If the parents are effective communicators, it is most likely that their children will be as well.
The same goes for if the parents communicate negatively (Long I). One of the effects of negative communication between parent and child is behavioral problems. Children who feel as though they cannot communicate properly tend to lash out (Wymbs). These facts could point to what caused the retaliation against Lear and Gloucester. Perhaps it could be due to the fact that there were no mother figures represented in the story. During this period in history the duties of the parents were divided the father offered economical support, where as the mother coddled and cared for her children.
It is safe to assume that even though the mother was absent, Lear and Gloucester did not adopt the motherly duties. The two men were very important and probably were too busy to physically interact with their children. Not to mention both men probably wouldn’t be too fond of performing “ womanly duties” due to the fact that they are both hyper-masculine characters. This lack of physical contact can be extremely detrimental to an infant. The effects range from unstable hormonal levels to difficulty recognizing one’s own self (Harmon).
This could very well be the case when it comes to the children in King Lear. The play expresses some of the neglect and miscommunication between the parents and children. For example, Lear decided that the best way to divvy up his land and power was to grant the daughter that loves him the most the majority of his authority and property. He proclaims, “ Tell me, my daughters, which of you shall we say doth love us most? ” (1. 1. 49-51). Lear was so enjoying the flattery that Goneril and Regan were showing him that he completely misunderstood Cordelia.
She refused to give superfluous compliments, and instead stated: “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less. ” (1. 1. 91-93). This made him furious and he immediately disowned her, even though she was the daughter that loved him the most. This miscommunication would later prove crucial in both Lear’s and Cordelia’s future. Gloucester faced a similar experience with his sons: Edmund and Edgar. Edmund, a bastard, had a chip on his shoulder and was looking to exact revenge on his father.
In a plan to destroy his father, Edmund told Gloucester that Edgar was after his land and titles. Gloucester immediately banished Edgar without a second thought. This naivete caused Gloucester to trust the wrong son, which would ultimately lead to his demise. Communication is imperative when it comes to a healthy relationship between parent and child. All respect for their parents was discarded once Regan, Goneril, and Edmund attained power. To demonstrate the absence of admiration they had for their fathers, the three blatantly disrespected them.
Goneril instructs her servants to show contempt towards her father, the King. Oswald, one of Goneril’s servants, refers to Lear as “ My lady’s father”, instead of the King. (1. 4. 68. ). Regan and her husband take another brazen attack on Lear’s dignity. While staying at Gloucester’s castle, Regan and Cornwall, her husband, lock Lear’s personal servant up in the stocks. This is a direct insult to not only Lear, but to Gloucester as well. The couple is definitively showing that the King has no authority over them and that they hold more power in Gloucester’s castle than he does.
However, the ultimate disgrace for Gloucester comes when his son, Edmund betrays him. Edmund, no longer in need of his father’s trust, sells out Gloucester to Regan and Cordelia. In return Edmund is heavily rewarded and becomes the new Earl of Gloucester. At this point, for both Gloucester and Lear, all parent-child ties are severed. When it comes to one’s personality, two main factors are birth order and DNA. According to Dr. Kevin Leman the youngest child is often coddled more and given the most attention. This can lead to resentment and jealousy from the other siblings.
The siblings often lash out at the youngest child, either verbally or physically. This could explain why Cordelia chooses to side with Lear, even though he has wronged her, instead of joining her sisters. In Edgar’s case, the reason he doesn’t feel the same way as Edmund is because they are only half-brothers. They don’t share one- hundred percent of the same DNA because each brother had a different mother. Today, it is considered an indisputable fact, that personality traits are heritable (Roberts, Jackson).
Therefore, the anger and resentment that fuels Edmund, might’ve come from his mother. Knowing this, it is no surprise that goals of Cordelia and Edgar are dissimilar from their sibling’s aspirations. These hopes consist of earning back their father’s love, even though they were treated unjustly. These two children demonstrate how not all relationships between young and old are hostile. Cordelia comes back with an army to try and save her father even though he denounced and banished her. Edgar also takes it upon himself to aid his now blinded father, despite his banishment.
The son poses as a beggar and leads Gloucester to a city where he will be safe from Edmund. A bounty has been put on Gloucester’s head, and Oswald comes to collect it. This leads to a fight between Edgar and Oswald, resulting in Oswald’s death. Edgar was willing to risk his life in order to save his father who unjustly banished him. Cordelia and Edgar are used to demonstrate the idea that not all youth are after the authority and wealth that their elders hold. The struggle between young and old has been occurring since the beginning of time and will continue through the end of it.
The reasoning behind both sides can be justified. The older generation needing to hear their children’s expressions of love in order to justify their parenting. And the younger generation’s need to break free from traditional implications and adhere to their own ideas of how society should be ( Hern II). When truly dissecting the rationale behind both group’s actions, it is impossible to determine who is right and who is wrong. The once young and defiant will slowly become the old and stubborn and the cycle will continue