Authority in King Lear

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Kayla Jacklin
Dr. Treschow
English 153
25 March 2013
Power Corrupts a Happily Ever After
The theme of authority is prominent in William Shakespeare’s play King Lear. The play has many situations that allow readers to observe the negative effects that ones authority can have, and the negative effects that the lust for power will bring. Having authority is an important responsibility that is often misused. Even in today’s society there are world leaders either taking the wrong irrational action or taking no action at all, which results in consequences for themselves and their people. In Shakespeare’s play we are presented with the idea that having a great deal of authority can make one seem “blind” by making poor thoughtless decisions. These characters, and the readers of the play, will learn something from those mistakes through observing the outcomes the characters are faced with. Also in our society, there is corruption from a strong desire for power. Throughout history many dictators and tyrants have caused disruption for the people from their personal greed. In Shakespeare’s play, the characters who have a strong want for power will causes corruption which can teach the readers the downfalls of authoritative behavior. When a person of high power ends up in a situation they are not pleased with, they often act irrationally. Most times they act too quickly without proper analysis of the situation, leading to poor decisions. An example of this occurs in the play when King Lear decides to split up his kingdom equally among his three daughters. He asks his daughters to express their love for him, which he will use to decide who gets which land. The most love and admiration will get the best land. When Lear finds out Cordelia, the daughter he loves most, has the least love to express he acts unreasonably. Lear is furious, and he banishes Cordelia from the kingdom, refusing to give her the power he initially intended too. He degrades her in front of her possible suitors, making her undesirable to the Duke of Burgundy. This scene portrays how Lear is blind to his daughter’s intentions from his self centered personality. Authority often makes one self centered because they are constantly worshipped by other people and they do not hear things they disapprove of often. Cordelia does not love her father the least, she is attempting to use honesty to show how her two sisters were exaggerating and lying about their love for Lear. Lear sees this as pure betrayal because he is used to being bowed down to at any expense. Cordelia doesn’t express the great love he is expecting, so he is stunned. This causes him to act irrationally without thinking anything through or trying to understand the situation. Here I disclaim all my paternal care,

Propinquity, and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee from this for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved
As thou my sometime daughter. – (Shakespeare 1.1.110-117)
Lear tells Cordelia how he has disowned her from the royal family and then tells her that he cares for her as much as he cares for savages that eat their own children. This extreme reaction from Lear illustrates how power has corrupted his thinking. Lear provides another example of acting irrationally, but with Kent this time. Kent argues with Lear about his decision to banish Cordelia. Kent believes Lear is making the wrong decision, and being the nobleman he is, he must attempt to change it. Since Kent is a noble man he will stand up for what is right, even if that means doubting his majesty’s decisions. “See better, Lear, and let me still remain/ The true blank of thine eye” (Shakespeare 1.1.156-157). Kent tells Lear to see better because Lear is misunderstanding Cordelia’s intentions. But because Lear is being so arrogant, he refuses to understand Kent and banishes him also....
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