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King Lear Essays Betrayal

Discuss with reference to the text. 


This essay is a good example of why a purely chronological structure is dangerous. People fall into retelling the story even if they know their stuff. 

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After studying King Lear in depth (whenever a student emphasises that they studied something in depth, you immediately suspect that they're bluffing...  It's like coming to a party and saying, look everyone, I look beautiful! If it's true, it will speak for itself.), I agree it is a world that is defined by deception and betrayals of trust. The main plot of the play and the mirroring sub-plot are both defined by ungrateful children betraying their father’s wishes. I feel the deception aspect of this play is clear to the audience, but on a deeper level both fathers, Lear and Gloucester betray the trust of their loyal and honest children, Cordelia and Edgar. It’s a play that watches Lear go insane and lose his mind and Gloucester goes through similar suffering and. It's evident that all this heartache and suffering is down to the trickery of their children and betrayal of trust of their truly loyal children. 

In Act1 Scene1, deception and betrayal of the truth is evident, as Goneril and Regan falsely profess their undying love for Lear. “I love you more than worlds can wield the matter, dearer than eye-sight, space and liberty” (Act 1, Scene 1 - referencing the Act and Scene is unnecessary, it is especially unnecessary to do it twice.) They tell Lear what he wants to hear, and as the play progresses it’s obvious that is was all fake. (So is it obvious from the start or as the play progresses?) Although Lear is acting irrationally, by suggesting such a test, I still feel he trusts his daughters to tell him the truth, so that he can retire peacefully and happily “tis our fast intent to shake all cares and business from our age, conferring them on younger strengthens, while we unburthened crawl towards death” (Act1, Scene1). The daughters ungratefully break Lear's trust. Lear’s foolishness is seen here as he listens to Goneril and Regan’s exaggerated flattery and it signifies the beginning of the daughter’s evil deception. 

Following on from this Lear is a culprit of betraying honesty. Lear's youngest daughter, Cordelia, is a truly loving, honesty and heavenly young woman. I feel from the start you can see Cordelia’s goodness and that she is incapable of deceit, but Lear's huge ego doesn’t recognise this. (She does have a fatal flaw, however. Can anyone name it? Clue: Lear has it too.) Cordelia is unable to profess her love, “Unhappy that I am I cannot heave my heart into my mouth, I love your majesty according to my bond, no more no less” (Act1, Scene1). Cordelia is completely honest in what she says, but Lear takes little attention of the truth and disowns her, “Here I disclaim all paternal care, propinquity and property of blood” (Act1, Scene1). Cordelia isn’t acting in a deceptive manner, yet Lear betrays her trust, just as he does to his loyal servant Kent, when he tries to point out his flaws. Kent is banished, and Cordelia is disowned, and I feel this betrayal of true honesty is a defining moment in this play. (The author is commenting on the significance of all of these events, but it's still too close to a summary. The essay would be far better if it had crystallised insights. The problem is that there is no real structure. It's just a chronological reeling in deception and betrayal. Something more formed would be better. Reason 1 why there is deception and betrayal, Reason 2... etc OR Deception is explored through instances 1, 2, 3 and betrayal through  instances 5, 6...)

Moreover, the defining and most memorable section of the play is Lear losing his mind and entering insanity, and this all happens because of the deceptiveness of his daughters. (This suggests Lear absolutely innocent. He wasn't.) Goneril describes her father as an “idle old man” (Act 1, Scene 3), and shortly after he split his fortune with her, she began betraying him. She arranged to halve the amount of Lear's knights and took all his power away is a sly manner. I acknowledge that if it wasn’t for this cruel and unfair behaviour from Goneril, Lear wouldn’t have reached such a level of insanity, “o let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! Keep me in temper, I would not be mad” (Act 1, Scene 5). Regan similarly adds to Lear's mental suffering. She shows no respect to him by locking up his servant in the stocks. I personally feel that Goneril and Regan’s unnatural and inhumane treatment of deceiving Lear leads to the defining moment of the play. 

The same effect of deception and betrayal of trust occurs in the subplot. Edmund is an utterly evil character, he deceives Gloucester, Edgar, Goneril and Regan and many others. I feel all his evil comes from him being a bastard child and the urge to get revenge, “why brand they us with base” (Act 1, Scene 2). Edmund first cruelly deceives his father and brother. He illustrates a plan to turn both against each other so that he gains all the power, “let me if not by birth have lands by wit” (Act 1, Scene 2). He succeeds in deceiving Gloucester and makes him believe that Edgar is the evil son “that he which finds him shall deserve our thanks, bringing the murderous coward to the stake, he who conceals him death” (Act 2, Scene 1). Similar to Lear, Gloucester wrongfully believes the deceptive child and betrays Edgar's honesty, he never once asks for Edgar's side of the story. (This and the paragraphs that follow are a frank summary, with quotation.)

Following on from this Edmunds deception continued. He betrayed his own father by informing Cornwall and Regan that Gloucester was gone to help Lear. He craves power and does whatever it takes to get it “I will preserve in my course of loyalty, though the conflict be sore between that and my blood” (Act 3, Scene 5). He is the sole cause of Gloucester’s eyes being gouged out. He not only deceives his father but also Goneril and Regan. He makes both believe that he is in love with them, while betraying the other. “To both these sisters, I have sworn my love” (Act 1, Scene 1). His betrayal and deceit can be clearly seen in this play and he is the main character in this world that epitomises deception and betrayal. 

However, a contrast is seen when we look at Edgar's story. Edgar was betrayed by his father, he was forced into taking on a role of a deceptive nature, which was to adopt a disguise as a bedlam beggar. (Now this paragraph is a bit more like it: the author actually developed an argument.)  He had to leave his old life behind because of Edmund's actions, “Edgar I nothing am” (Act 2, Scene 3). Deception ruined Edgar's life, he could no longer be who he wanted to be. Edgar is too at fault for deceiving characters, but this sort of deception is different. Edgar deceives his father, but the difference between this deception and Edmunds betrayal is that Edgar was acting out of love and kindness. He tricks Gloucester into believing that he jumped from a high cliff and survived the fall. however this deceit is to try and mend Gloucester’s mental suffering, “Why I do trifle thus with his despair, is done to cure it” (Act 4, Scene 6). Although it was betrayal and trickery out of kindness and love, I can’t help but feel it’s another example of deceit and once again the play is built of betrayal of honesty and deceit, even good and loyal characters act deceitful. 

In conclusion, I feel this play is utterly defined by deception and betrayal of trust. There are numerous examples of deception. I personally feel, and many others may agree, that if this theme of deception wasn’t as prevalent, then King Lear wouldn’t be as memorable or as enjoyable. It adds utter excitement and allows for memorable scenes (the storm scene) and memorable moments (Gloucester’s eyes being gouged out) to occur. Finally, after reading these points, I think you will agree with me that this world of King Lear is ultimately defined by deception and betrayal of trust and truly loyal and honest characters suffer because of this.

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Loyalty and Betrayal in King Lear

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Loyalty and Betrayal in King Lear The theme of loyalty and betrayal in King Lear is quite ironic; when usually one who is cast out returns to seek revenge, in Shakespeare’s masterpiece, those who are cast out remain fiercely loyal; whereas those who are treated well are those who turn their back on their fathers. In both the plot involving Lear and the subplot involving Edmund, this phenomenon is observed. In Act One, Scene One, Shakespeare juxtaposes Gonerill and Regan’s “large speeches … and words of love” with Cordelia’s response of “Nothing. Lear, in casting Cordelia out, fails in his filial duty and thereby betrays his youngest daughter. This is mirrored between Edgar and Gloucester, with Gloucester proclaiming death upon his son without first considering the treachery at hand from Edgar, with this action also failing in his role as a father. Gloucester proclaims “…treachery, and all ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our graves. ” This foreshadows the future betrayal that will take place between Lear and his family.

Gloucester also states that “Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide, son against father, and father against child”, ironically, Gloucester does not realize that the son he should be referring to is Edmund. However, Lear and Gloucester’s actions may be excused, due to senility as well as their good intentions, yet both Edmund and Lear’s daughters act completely in selfish desire. For example, in Act Two, Scene Three, Regan’s line “what need one? ” strips Lear of all his former power, as well as representing the ultimate betrayal by Lear’s daughters.

In the hovel, Lear realizes his mistake, commenting “Hast thou given all to thy two daughters? And art thou come to this? ” In contrast to the parallels between Lear’s daughters and Edmund, Kent and Edgar represent, respectively, the loyal sides of the conflict. The contrast between the silky words of the traitors, “…love you more than words can wield,” and the plain-speaking of Kent, “What are you doing, old man? ” fails to allow Lear to realize the emptiness of his daughter’s words. Throughout the play, the loyal Kent and Edgar are mistreated, and both are forced to enter disguise.

However, while one cannot say their loyalty is rewarded, “the wheel is come full circle,” according to Edmund, thus ending Kent and Edgar’s role at the bottom of the wheel of fortune. Loyalty, as well as its antithesis betrayal, make up much of the plot of King Lear. Shakespeare uses this overarching theme to demonstrate that the loyal are rewarded and the treacherous, while they may enjoy temporary successes, once again finish at the “bottom of the wheel. ” The tragic nature of the conclusion of the play demonstrates that perhaps honest actions, uninfluenced by rash temper produce the best results.

Author: Brandon Johnson

in King Lear

Loyalty and Betrayal in King Lear

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