"History is past politics, and politics present history." John Robert Seeley

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see." Winston Churchill

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." Aristotle


The Love Test

 Setting: King Lear’s Castle

Gloucester and Kent, two noblemen of Lear’s Kingdom are first introduced to us at the beginning of Scene I. Although they are there to introduce the ‘Love Test’ (Lear’s effort to divide his kingdom between his daughters), Gloucester’s illegitimate son, Edmund is also introduced. Gloucester describes Edmund as his “bastard” son, but professes his love for him nonetheless.

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The Love Test:

Lear enters, declaring his intention to retire and leave his kingdom to his daughters, dividing it up between them based on who professes the most love for him. He utters a curious and prophetic irony, stating that by dividing it would prevent future tensions & conflict between his children:

“We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now.”

Goneril & Regan respond

Both of Lear’s older daughters, Goneril & Regan, respond with competitive flattery, professing to love him more than anything else. Much of their professions are exaggerated and clearly superficial, although Lear seems oblivious to this. It is here that we first see the great flaw in Lear’s character: egocentrism & vanity.

Goneril: “Sir, I do love you more than words can wield the matter”

Regan: “And find I am alone felicitate In your dear highness’ love.”


Cordelia’s Silence:

Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to speak and declines to involve herself in a show of competitive and false professions of love for the sake of land and wealth:

“Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less.”

Cordelia explains that she can only love him as much as she should, and no more. She also questions her sisters’ professed love of Lear, asking aloud how they could have husbands if their hearts were so entirely dedicated to their father:

“Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father.”

Lear’s Folly: the banishment of Cordelia & Kent

Lear’s response to Cordelia is to disown and disenfranchise her by dividing her third of his kingdom among Goneril & Regan. Kent, who attempts to intervene to stop Lear doing this, is also banished and given six days to be gone from the Kingdom.

In this scene, we also see two suitors for Cordelia – the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy. When they are told that she no longer has an inheritance, the Duke of Burgundy withdraws his offer of marriage, but the King of France is impressed by Cordelia’s character and wishes to marry her. Lear dismisses his daughter, asking the King of France if he will still marry her, with all her ‘flaws’:

“Therefore beseech you
T’ avert your liking a more worthier way
Than on a wretch whom Nature is ashamed
Almost t’ acknowledge hers.”


The King of France echoes the audience’s feelings when he questions how Cordelia, formerly Lear’s favourite could have become so hated in Lear’s eyes. This underlines the completely irrational nature of Lear’s self-absorbed importance and indeed, vanity. The King of France considers Cordelia all the more attractive for being so honest and refusing to stoop to superficial displays & competitions. He asks her to come to France with him to become the Queen. She agrees. Lear dismisses Cordelia and the King of France with a final, hurtful curse:

“Therefore be gone
Without our grace, our love, our benison.”

Cordelia tells her sisters to care for Lear, even though she knows they do not truly love him.


Origins of the Conspiracy: Filial Ingratitude

Goneril and Regan decide how to proceed once everyone has left. They decide to undermine Lear and strip him of his remaining influence once he moves in with them in turn, as agreed. They realise that his emotional nature is easy to provoke, as witnessed by his reaction to Cordelia.

“You see how full of changes his age is. The observation we have made of it hath not been little.
He always loved our sister most, and with what poor judgment he hath now cast her off appears too grossly.”

They both decide to watch Lear carefully for more outbursts and further, to ensure that his power is limited as much as possible. Both Goneril & Regan now begin their plan to provoke and exile Lear entirely. It is interesting to notice the slightly different personalities between the two sisters, even though their intentions are entirely similar:

Regan: We shall further think on ’t.” (Cautious, but cunning?)

Goneril: “We must do something, and i’ th’ heat.” (Ambitious & impatient?)


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