Filial ingratitude in King Lear!
Filial ingratitude is a dominant theme in King Lear. It is a universal theme in the sense that it is common to find many sons and daughters who show much ingratitude and cruelty towards their parents. In the play, there are two fathers (Lear and Gloucester) who suffer because of favoring certain kids to others. Their tragedy is caused by those whom they have already favored and preferred. The play gives us incidents which connect one father (King Lear) with his two ungrateful daughters (Goneril and Regan) on one hand, and another father (the Earl of Gloucester) with his son (Edmund). Those two lines of relationships display the issue of ingratitude on a very deep and comprehensive level.
What made this play a tragedy was the evil children's "filial ingratitude," for the "blindness" of Lear and the Earl was so great that only through suffering from the "monster ingratitude" of Goneril, Regan, and Edmund did they learn to distinguish the good children from the evil ones. It was "filial ingratitude" which opened Lear's eyes to the "painful truth": he had disinherited his good daughter and had given power to his evil daughters.
Lear expresses his great shock addressing ingratitude as an enemy that has occupied the heart of his daughter. He says:
"Ingratitude, though marble-hearted fiend,
More hidcous when thou showe'st thee in a child
Than the sea-monster!"
The traditional values that make the parent-child relationship natural and wholesome are distorted and destroyed in this play. The order and harmony that usually characterize a stable family are disrupted by the evil designs of the greedy Edmund, Goneril, and Regan. Lear and Gloucester are both trusting fathers. They foolishly believe the words of their evil children and banish the offspring that truly love them. As a result of their lack of judgement, both fathers are made poor by their unthankful children. The filial greed and ingratitude shown by Edmund, Regan, and Goneril bring immense suffering to all. The play begins by an unusual incident. King Lear wants to divide his kingdom among his three daughters because he has become too old to rule. Therefore, he asks each one to express her love to him. The first two daughters (Goneril and Regan) choose very passionate and poetic terms to flatter their father which reflect how hypocritic they are. Goneril says:
"Sir. I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour."
The most horrible moment occurs when it is Cordelia's turn to speak. Lear is shocked when Cordelia has not said what he expects from her as his most beloved and dearest child. She says that she loves him as any dutiful daughter should love her father:
"…I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less…
You have begot me, bred me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit
Obey you, love you, and most honor you."
She is very realistic in her expression which indirectly expose the exaggeration and hypocrisy displayed by her sisters. But her father is too emotional and rash to get her point; he misunderstands her considering her ungrateful and cruel, and consequenly, punishes her. The first sign of ingratitude is displayed immediately after the two sisters receive their share in the same session. Goneril and Regan have a private conversation in which they reveal their real identities. They begin to conspire against their father whom they regard as very rash and emotional. They plan to treat him in the way that they think he deserves. Goneril comments on her father state saying:
"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."
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