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The Absent Wife and Mother as the Source for the Downfall of a Family and Kingdom in Shakespeare’s King Lear

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  1. Introduction
  2. Declarations of love in order to attain the rightful portions of the kingdom
  3. King Lear's rejection of Cordelia
  4. The absence of a nurturing wife
  5. The negative use of the word 'mother'
  6. Balancing masculine and feminine traits.
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

In King Lear, Shakespeare incorporates a theme that is prevalent in many of his other works, that of family structure, specifically, absent wives and mothers. The nonexistence of King Lear's wife and his daughters' mother also implies the absence of a Queen and a female political figure to balance the king's authority. While it may seem that male rule is self-sufficient, it can be argued that King Lear's reason is overshadowed by his power, causing him to hastily hand down his kingdom to Goneril and Regan. Had there been another position at the throne with whom to discuss this matter, perhaps King Lear would have used more sound judgment in determining the transference of power. Without a female figure of authority at the throne, he views his daughters as surrogate wives, relying on them to the point that he gives up protection, the one thing that he needs the most to remain sane and maintain the kingdom's order.

Keywords: Coppelia Kahn

[...] The use of in this context indicates that Lear believes that the mother can be blamed for the unfavorable way in which Regan and Goneril behave. Lear calls on Nature to punish his daughters: Nature, hear, dear goddess, hear! . Dry up in her the organs of increase, / And from her derogate body never spring / A babe to honor ( 293-5). As Myra Glazer Schotz explains, ?dear goddess' of Lear's fantasy is not less cruel, blinding, or derogate than Regan and Goneril prove themselves to be; Lear's view of nature is an extension of his abhorrence toward the whole of the female (46-7). [...]


[...] With the wife of Lear and the mother of his three daughters nonexistent in the play, Lear views his daughters as surrogate wives, expecting them to continue to treat him as the foremost male figure in their lives, even after they are married. In doing this, though, he gives up protection, for he is not aware of his vulnerability and as a result, Goneril and Regan take advantage of him. When Lear seeks out Goneril to care for him, she utters, ?Idle old man / That still would manage those authorities / That he hath given away. [...]


[...] But, Cordelia's breath is only an illusion, symbolic of the lack of possibility for female rule and a protector of Lear's kingship, leaving the kingdom in the hands of Albany, Edgar, and Kent. The tragedy, then, lies in Lear's lack of self-knowledge and the projection of a violent sense of femininity onto his daughters, factors that are rooted in the absent wife and mother. The female figure, though symbolic in this time period of sexuality, indulgence, and disease, is a necessary balance of the masculine father and king, just as the body natural and body politic must exist as a unified being. [...]

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