The personal drama of King Lear revolves around the destruction of family relationships. Tragedy emerges from bonds broken between parents and children—and, at a secondary level, from the loss of ties among siblings. Lear, misreading Cordelia's understated, but true, devotion to him renounces his "parental care" (1.1.127) of her. This rejection is twofold. Lear withdraws his "father's heart" (1.1.142); he also strips Cordelia of the financial and political support that formerly made her attractive to her suitors. Driven by greed and ambition, Goneril and Regan fail to show any solidarity with their sister in 1.1. And later, despite their strong professions of love for Lear, they both betray him in order to consolidate their political authority. In addition, although the two "tigers, not daughters" (4.2.49) initially ally with each other, their lustful desire for Edmund ultimately drive Goneril to murder Regan, before committing suicide when Edmund himself is killed, thus ensuring the complete annihilation of the Lear line.
Edmund's conspiracy to mislead Gloucester into disinheriting his legitimate son Edgar provides a foil to the Lear family situation throughout the play. Edmund—who is Gloucester's illegitimate or "natural" son from an affair outside marriage, rather than a legitimate or "legal" one—further highlights the question of where parent-child loyalty stems from: biology or socially acknowledged status. And, indeed, the private or familial sphere is inseparable from the public and political realm in King Lear. Fatherhood, in the play, serves as a model and metaphor for kingly leadership, while the narrative regarding the disintegration of families parallels the disintegration of the British state.
Fathers, Children, and Siblings ThemeTracker
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Quotes in King Lear
To speak and purpose not."
We two alone will sing like birds in the cage."
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone forever."