King Lear And Gratitude

King_LearThe great Italian Shakespearean Salvini writes that, “Lear is a study of ingratitude.” Cordelia is counted ungrateful by Lear at the start and is disowned. When the King of France takes up Cordelia as his wife, his speech is that of utmost gratitude, “Fairest Corelia, that art most rich being poor…Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away.” Isn’t it interesting that the character with the most gratitude has the highest fundamental understanding of what is actually going on, and I’ll tell you what I mean: The king of France poignantly points out:

“Love is not love when it is mingled with regards that stands aloof from the entire point.”

The puffed up words that were spoken by Gonerill and Regan to their father was not love because it was mingled with their selfish motives or (“regards that stood aloof from the entire point”). King Lear is partly to blame for Gonerill and Regan’s flattery as he prefaces their love protestations with, “That we our largest bounty may extend where nature doth with merit challenge.” This was what King Lear failed to realize: that he adulterated the love challenge when he asked, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most.” He wanted to hear culminated praises of love which as Salvini writes, “When filial affection was assumed to be akin to that due the Creator,” perhaps Lear had good hope to assume their high and lofty words would commingle with their hearts, but Cordelia sees that this isn’t so from the outset. She refuses to participate like her craftily cunning sisters. She states that she loves her father as a child should but expurgates much sense of her sincerity, stating bluntly, “I love your majesty according to my bond no more nor less.” This frustration of hers can also be explained by France’s quote (“Love is not love…”) because her frustration is borne of her sisters’ flattery and stands aloof from the point that she truely and devotedly loves her father. Cordelia can see that Lear’s old age makes his decision making not of the best, but she doesn’t want to take the part of rebuking her father as she wants to”obey, love and most honor” him, but her passions get the best of her. When Kent compounds her error by rebuking King Lear with unmitigated rage, King Lear is dumbfounded, but as the story gets closer and closer to the end, it becomes clearer and clearer that giving his home and all his power to Gonerill and Regan was an insurmountable mistake. He curses Gonerill in 1.4.

Goneril_and_Regan_from_King_Lear If she must teem
Create her child of spleen, that it may live
And be a thwart, disnatured torment to her.
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!


Lear finds out that his two eldest daughters have the same gratitude for him that he had for Cordelia: nothing!


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