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?

Oswald — this detested groom

A serviceable villain

Why does Oswald serve Goneril with such devotion? Or rather, who does Oswald really serve? Goneril or Oswald? Perhaps Oswald is power-hungry and seeking fame, even posthumous fame. Under normal primogeniture (ie first-born) succession Oswald would expect Goneril to rule Britain on Lear's death. Oswald would thus see Goneril as a vehicle to achieve his ends whatever they might be. By serving her he could become the most powerful man in Britain. He serves her with utter loyalty, through thick and thin, and becomes her right-hand man. By doing her every bidding, she trusts him without question.

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

Oswald's neat plan to achieve his goal runs into a problem. Lear's division of Britain stops the traditional succession procedure and, therefore, Goneril is the loser, with only a part of Britain. This setback, however, does not stop Goneril's resolve to rule Britain. Oswald can see that she has the strength of purpose and the cunning and deter­mi­nation to achieve that goal and he can see that she represents the best way for him to achieve his goal. Oswald knows what is in Goneril's mind. He writes the letters that put her thoughts, or rather, more often, because of the total freedom she allows him, his own thoughts, to which Goneril tells him to orally add further support of her case. Is it likely she ever bothers to check what Oswald has written in her name?

Re-enter OSWALD
How now, Oswald!
What, have you writ that letter to my sister?
Yes, madam.
Take you some company, and away to horse:
Inform her full of my particular fear;
And thereto add such reasons of your own
As may compact it more.
Get you gone;
And hasten your return.

Because Oswald knows Goneril's desires he could lie, and probably does, even to Goneril herself, to reinforce or speed her plans and to bring Lear firmly under her control.

Did my father strike my gentleman for chiding of his fool?
Yes, madam.

It seems very doubtful that Oswald saw this happen, and for the very good reason that it probably never did! If such an event had taken place and he had witnessed it then surely he would have told Goneril about it instantly, not left it to another. It smacks of skulduggery by Oswald to manipulate Goneril into believing that the innocent Lear and his equally innocent followers are insufferable beyond belief.

Any thoughts that Oswald is, or may have been, Goneril's lover are ridiculous. It would not serve his purpose, which is to acquire power through her. Oswald has no interest in her as a love object. He carries messages to her lover, Edmund, which he would hardly do if he was her rejected lover, nor would Goneril trust him for that task. He cares not a jot for her liaison with Edmund. As a trusted messenger between the lovers, Goneril might think him as blind as Cupid. This suits his purpose. It furthers his trustworthiness and gains the confidence of Goneril's lover as well, so that he will be the trusted chamberlain when she, or they, attain the crown.

..... This trusty servant
Shall pass between us.

Later, he shows his ruth­lessness to advance his ambitions with his attempt to kill Gloster.

A proclaim'd prize! Most happy!
That eyeless head of thine was first framed flesh
To raise my fortunes.

When Oswald realises he is about to die he asks that Goneril's message be delivered. Oswald has served Goneril with such persistence that, even in his death throes, he seeks to find a way to complete his current task. It may look like devoted loyalty to do such a thing at the moment of death, but it is probably nothing more than his ingrained habit.

Slave, thou hast slain me: villain, take my purse:
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters which thou find'st about me
To Edmund earl of Gloster; seek him out
Upon the British party: O, untimely death!
I know thee well: a serviceable villain;
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.

Polonius in "Hamlet" is an interesting comparison. King Claudius rules Denmark, though he achieved it by murder. Polonius, as chamberlain, advises Claudius and Claudius takes his advice to such an extent that Polonius is a power behind the throne. Oswald would seem to be aiming at a similar position with Goneril.