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?

Goneril — under the influence

Drunk with power

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely

On her ascent to supreme power Goneril behaves dictatorially. She is motivated by self; self-interest, self-indulgence and a self-will that ultimately leads to self-slaughter. Despite an aloof, aristocratic bearing she is a murder­er plain and simple. Goneril instigates action in others such as persuading Regan to be antipathetic toward Lear, for Gloster's eyes to be plucked out, and in urging Edmund to murder Albany. But she is capable of personal acts of evil such as poisoning Regan, and ordering the death of Cordelia and planning Albany's murder. Her actions have little legality regardless of how that term might be distorted. Exposure of her adulterous liaison is as nothing to this foul fiend who would frame the law to suit herself.

the laws are mine, not thine:
Who can arraign me for't.

Goneril shares her thoughts of Lear with Regan, who echoes her opinion. They accuse Lear of abnormal or senile behavior and forecast that it will get worse. Not one other person ever says anything to support the contentions of Goneril and Regan.


This section still under construction

Two character readings (G's and R's) can be extracted from the Goneril/Regan meeting.
It can be used as an example (and a warning) of how each woman thinks,
and as a consequence, as to how and why she reacts so in future events.

It is easier to deal with Regan first
It might well be said that Regan is so under the thrall of Goneril that she rarely thinks for herself but only as Goneril tells her.

Now to deal with Goneril
Even every-day mistakes and trivial slips that no rational person treats seriously because we all make them in normal life, are in Lear's case leapt upon as evidence of Lear's mind and onset of senility. Put comments here about Goneril's fault-finding attitude to Lear. Goneril has a determination to find fault.

Jumps a shadows. Fears where there is nothing to fear. Takes action against nonexistent faults that she surmises might exist a some time.

She is impatient, impetuous and precipitate.

Put comments here about Goneril's fault-finding attitude to Albany.

To summarise the two attitudes when together
What we find from those who know Goneril and Regan, or get to know them, is that it is they whose minds are distorted.


How much is Goneril influenced by Oswald?

Goneril trusts Oswald but is she being manipulated by him? Oswald may be playing the game to suit himself. He knows Goneril's mind, and he might be 'helping' to speed her plans by lying about Lear.

Did my father strike my gentleman for chiding of his fool?
Yes, madam.
By day and night he wrongs me; every hour
He flashes into one gross crime or other,
That sets us all at odds: I'll not endure it:
If you come slack of former services,
You shall do well; the fault of it I'll answer.
He's coming, madam; I hear him.
Horns within

Almost simultaneously, this conversation takes place.

My lord, I know not what the matter is; but, to my judgment,
your highness is not entertained with that ceremonious
affection as you were wont; there's a great abatement of
kindness appears as well in the general dependants as in
the duke himself also and your daughter.
Ha! sayest thou so?
I beseech you, pardon me, my lord, if I be mistaken for my
duty cannot be silent when I think your highness wronged.
Thou but rememberest me of mine own conception: I have
perceived a most faint neglect of late; which I have rather
blamed as mine own jealous curiosity than as a very pretence
and purpose of unkindness: I will look further into 't.
But where's my fool? I have not seen him this two days.
Since my young lady's going into France, sir, the fool hath
much pined away.
No more of that; I have noted it well.

Let us examine the two sides of the alleged striking. To focus on the salient points here are very abbreviated versions of the previous two conversations:

Did my father strike my gentleman for chiding of his fool?
Yes, madam.
But where's my fool? I have not seen him this two days.

Firstly Goneril's side:
Goneril did not see the alleged striking but has heard about it days later. But why didn't she hear about it from Oswald at the time? He is supposed to know her mind, so why didn't he tell her about it when it happened? It is beyond belief that he would think it of no consequence considering the importance that she places on it. Why doesn't Goneril ask Oswald to explain why he failed to tell her of this extremely important event that she finds so damning of Lear?

And when did the alleged striking take place? We will see shortly that it would have had to occur at least two days ago, that is, assuming it actually happened! Oswald and Goneril would have talked together on several occasions over the last few days, so why didn't he tell her about it two days ago, or yesterday, or earlier today? Yet she has to come to him about it. Was he ever going to tell her? It seems that Oswald has found no recent complaints against Lear or his knights or he would surely have told her of the striking at the same time, it being by far the most important black mark to bring against Lear. It seems that nothing has actually happened. Goneril's 'By day and night he wrongs me' appears to be groundless and her 'every hour he flashes into one gross crime or other' seems ridiculous but shows her irrational train of thought and her determination to degrade her father.

Note that it is while Goneril and Oswald are talking together that Lear returns from a day's hunting. One of the first things Lear says is that he has not seen his Fool for two days which places the alleged striking at least two days back from the present. Note also that this is said within moments of Oswald telling Goneril that the striking event did occur, or rather, confirming what someone else has told her. The striking episode smacks of fabrication aimed at putting Lear and his knights in a bad light.

Now Lear's side:
When we examine Lear's side of the story, we find that he has not seem his Fool for two days. The alleged striking, therefore, would have had to occur at least two days back. Now consider the Knight's words about 'a great abatement of kindness' and Lear's response. Both express sensitivity to a changed attitude toward them by Goneril's household. If Lear had really struck Goneril's gentleman and if his knights had really been riotous consider what Lear might have said in response to his Knight's remark. Surely it would have gone something like this: "I am amazed that you draw my attention to a great abatement of kindness. Isn't it to be expected? What, with you fellows kicking up a shindig day and night, and not forgetting that a few days ago I struck Goneril's clotpoll and nearly kicked him to death." In fact, Lear says nothing like this, but only says that he will make inquiries into the cause of neglect is proof enough that Lear did not strike Goneril's servant, nor that his knights are riotous.

Now consider how the 'great abatement of kindness in the general dependents' may have come about. From the Knight's and Lear's remarks, it would seem to have started a few days ago. But who gave the orders a few days ago for this change in attitude? The orders did not come from Goneril! It is only just NOW that she orders Oswald to neglect Lear by not providing 'former services.'

If you come slack of former services,
You shall do well; the fault of it I'll answer.
Put on what weary negligence you please,
You and your fellows; I'll have it come to question:
If he dislike it, let him to our sister,
....... Remember what I tell you.
Well, madam.
And let his knights have colder looks among you;
What grows of it, no matter; advise your fellows so:
I would breed from hence occasions, and I shall,
That I may speak: I'll write straight to my sister,
To hold my very course.

There seems little doubt that Oswald has been running his own anti-Lear campaign, without any instruction from Goneril. Such a campaign would not be as overtly hostile as that now ordered by Goneril. Oswald, with his lackeys as accomplices, may have invented the 'striking' story to get Goneril's reaction. Goneril is so obsessed with degrading Lear that she does not think rationally. Goneril's 'By day and night he wrongs me', therefore, is not only groundless, but utterly ridiculous. Oswald is lying, plain and simple, but in doing so is able to influence Goneril by telling her what he knows she wants to hear. It has the desired effect because only a little later she makes these outbursts.

GONERIL [to Lear]
You strike my people;
other of your insolent retinue
. . . . . Here do you keep a hundred knights and squires;
Men so disorder'd, so debosh'd and bold,
. . . . . your disorder'd rabble
My train are men of choice and rarest parts,
That all particulars of duty know,

We come to the issue of the riotous knights. But are they riotous? Where is the least evidence of riotous or insolent behavior? There is none! We can only take note of what people say, and by comparing pro and con, form a reasoned opinion. According to Goneril they are riotous but Lear says they are not. Why is Goneril to be believed in preference to Lear, when we know how she reacts to hearsay and in this case has, more than likely, been lied to by Oswald and his underlings? Goneril responds with precipitate action.

Even when no danger exists, she fears what she imagines. She even admits that she does! Lear's followers are men of choice and rarest parts, only a few are soldiers, the rest being gentlemen and squires. Goneril refuses to listen to Albany who, though a soldier himself, has noticed nothing untoward.

a hundred knights!
'Tis politic and safe to let him keep
At point a hundred knights
Well, you may fear too far.
Safer than trust too far:
Let me still take away the harms I fear,
Not fear still to be taken:

Oswald serves Goneril with utter loyalty through thick and thin, and becomes her right-hand man. By doing her every bidding, she trusts him without question. Why does Oswald serve Goneril with such devotion? Whose interest does he really serve? Goneril's or Oswald's?

..... I know you are of her bosom.
I, madam?
I speak in understanding; you are; I know't:


Goneril influences Regan

Describe the power of G. over R. Mention R. echoes G. when she gives her flattery speech. Note also in the following interchange against Lear how Regan echoes Goneril.

(a) You see how full of changes his age is;
(a) 'Tis the infirmity of his age:

(b) the observation we have made of it hath not been little:.....
(b) yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.

(c) must we look to receive from his age,
.... the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them.
(c) Such unconstant starts are we like to have from him .....

Note that they offer neither medical nor psychological proof but merely express bigotted opinions typical of those with which the young sometimes discredit the aged. Their prognosis is no more than a guess based on bias.

Regan never questions or doubts or checks what Goneril tells her. Because Goneril's 'let's hit together' gains Regan's compliance against Lear, Goneril is able to manipulate Regan with exaggerations and lies about Lear and his knights. Regan has not seen Lear since the division of the kingdom but Goneril's opinion and influence from that time still persists.

We shall further think on't.
We must do something, and i' the heat.
If he dislike it, let him to our sister,
Whose mind and mine, I know, in that are one,

Goneril orders Oswald to write letters to Regan about her fears and then add his own verbal account. Her fears are groundless but she is determined to belittle Lear. Oswald knows what is in Goneril's mind. He writes the letters that put her thoughts, or rather, more often, his own thoughts, to which Goneril tells him to orally add further support of her case. Because Oswald is allowed to say whatever he likes with Goneril's approval, is she likely to ever bother to check what he writes?

How now, Oswald!
What, have you writ that letter to my sister?
Yes, madam.
Inform her full of my particular fear;
And thereto add such reasons of your own
As may compact it more.