King Lear Analysis Act 1, Sc 2

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KING OF FRANCE

Bid farewell to your sisters.

CORDELIA

The jewels of our father, with wash'd eyes Cordelia leaves you: I know you what you are; And like a sister am most loath to call Your faults as they are named. Use well our father: To your professed bosoms I commit him But yet, alas, stood I within his grace, I would prefer him to a better place. So, farewell to you both.

REGAN

Prescribe not us our duties.

GONERIL

Let your study Be to content your lord, who hath received you At fortune's alms. You have obedience scanted, And well are worth the want that you have wanted.

CORDELIA

Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides: Who cover faults, at last shame them derides. Well may you prosper!

KING OF FRANCE

Come, my fair Cordelia.

Exeunt KING OF FRANCE and CORDELIA
GONERIL

Sister, it is not a little I have to say of what most nearly appertains to us both. I think our father will hence to-night.

REGAN

That's most certain, and with you; next month with us.

GONERIL

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.

REGAN

'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.

GONERIL

The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash; then must we look to receive from his age, not alone the imperfections of long-engraffed condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them.

REGAN

Such unconstant starts are we like to have from him as this of Kent's banishment.

GONERIL

There is further compliment of leavetaking between France and him. Pray you, let's hit together: if our father carry authority with

such dispositions as he bears, this last surrender of his will but offend us.

REGAN

We shall further think on't.

GONERIL

We must do something, and i' the heat.

This scene occurs towards the end of Act 1, scene 1 in the King’s court after Cordelia has refused to take part in her father’s ‘love-test’ and has been banished to France without her share of the kingdom. The audience is already on-edge, and will be feeling tension and perhaps dismay at events. Cordelia says goodbye to her sisters and expresses her concerns at how they will treat her father, then Regan and Goneril mock Lears’ actions and determine to work together to do something. The dramatic effect of this is climactic, and the audience is feeling apprehensive about the implications of Lear’s foolishness in banishing Kent and Cordelia. The final part of the scene where Goneril and Regan plot against their own flesh-and-blood is unexpected, and rather chilling.

Shakespeare achieves the effect of anxiety and concern by building the drama as events progress. By the time we reach this part of the scene a mood of uncertainty has already been established. Cordelia stands for sincerity and truth and is strong in her goodbye; she refers to her siblings as the “jewels” of her “father”. This is an anaphoric reference back to Regan’s speech, where she likens herself to a metal, a prized commodity and something valuable. Cordelia is mocking her sisters’ materialism and throwing it is also foregrounding to the fact that Cordelia is leaving with “wash’d eyes”. This could be working on two levels; she could be literally crying, and could be seeing her sisters in a new light. Here she also picks up on a repetition of the leitmotif of ‘eyes’, which one of the themes of the play; that some of the subjects are so blind they cannot “see” the error of their ways.

Shakespeare ensures that the audience is firmly on Cordelia’s side in this part of the scene. In the next utterance the use of the colon breaks up the rhythm of the sentence for dramatic effect followed by “I know you what you are;” The use of the semi colon at the end...
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