Lear's dilemma - future of Britain & Cordelia

Tripartition of Britain - Lear's grand plan

Kent & Gloster - Lear's attitude to Cornwall

Act 1 Scene 1 - Enter KING LEAR

The flattery game - Goneril & Regan

Sharing the kingdom - a third more opulent

Lear and flattery - did he love it or hate it?

Duke of Burgundy - the dowerless suitor

King of France - in choler parted

Edmund - sectary astronomical

Duke of Albany - worthy prince

Queen Goneril - King Lear's successor?

Oswald - this detested groom

Goneril - under the influence

Regan - is she worse than Goneril?

Goneril/Edmund/Regan - unequilateral triangle

Division 'twixt Albany and Cornwall - rumour

Lear's sanity - recovery

The final tableau - Lear endures his going hence

The last word - Albany or Edgar?

Queen Goneril — thou art a fiend

If King Lear had not divided Britain and abdicated Goneril would have become queen on his death because she was first in line of succession. After Lear's retirement she initially appeared to be the only one with the strength of purpose to rule Britain. This is not to say she would have been a good ruler but on the contrary would have been a tyrant. She was ruthless and cunning and killed or intended to kill anyone who stood in her way. Goneril appears to be a dominant ruler but she acts on impulse. She is a poor judge of character although in the case of Edmund it can be understood as stemming from infatuation. She trust her steward, Oswald, and believes his lies. She is impatiently dismissive of Albany and thinks him weak and indolent. Once he discovers what has been going on she discovers that she has misjudged him.

  • Goneril sees herself as an absolute monarch.
    Say, if I do, the laws are mine, not thine:
    Who can arraign me for't.
  • Has a persuasive controlling influence over Regan.
  • Has a contempt for her father that no-one else, other than Regan, has.
  • Does not want Lear's followers in her palace — baseless worry about conflict.
  • Suggests the blinding of Gloster.
  • Urges that Britain's defences be brought to a war footing.
    ............. Back, Edmund, to my brother;
    Hasten his musters and conduct his powers:
    I must change arms at home, and give the distaff
    Into my husband's hands.
  • Accuses Albany of being cowardly and impassive in not preparing forces against the French.
    ............. Where's thy drum?
    France spreads his banners in our noiseless land;
    With plumed helm thy slayer begins threats;
    Whiles thou, a moral fool, sit'st still, and criest
    'Alack, why does he so?'

    Goneril may appear to have decisive military abilities because of her urgings for action but actually shows her impatience and over-reaction. Albany, who has a military background, is firmly in control and ignores her urging for haste. He is quite circumspect in bringing the army to readiness. He wisely consults th' ancient of war to bring his wing of the army to readiness and then assumes command of the British combined forces. By this stage, Albany has learned of Goneril's behavior toward Lear and he confronts and threatens her. Albany proves to be no coward and although Goneril makes sarcastic remarks it is evident that she has misjudged his strength of character and the real power shifts from her to him. All she can do is plan his murder.

  • Oswald tells Regan that Goneril is a better soldier than Albany, but he is no authority on military expertise.
  • Writes to Edmund urging him to kill Albany. He never receives that letter. Presumably, though, she must have already told him that she wanted Albany dead because he says Let her who would be rid of him devise his speedy taking off.
  • Poisons Regan.
  • Gives orders for Cordelia to be killed.
  • Her plans for herself and Edmund are thwarted when he is killed and so she kills herself.

Who would not agree with this assessment of Goneril?

...... thou art a fiend,
A woman's shape doth shield thee.