The importance of Mother in King Lear
“O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!”
~Lear, from King Lear, 2.2
This line goes when Lear arrives at Gloucester’s house to look for his second daughter, Regan after he is expelled by Cornwall, his first daughter. In depth of his heart, Lear still holds the hope that Regan will be kind to her according to what she has said in the love test. He later finds that his messenger who carries the letter to Regan is in the stock, which he thinks is a humiliation to himself as he says “this shame”. Though Kent, the messenger, arrives at Regan’s place a little bit earlier than Cornwall’s post, Regan reads the letter from the latter first. To this point, Lear isn’t able to hold up all the feelings, depression, anger, loss, anymore and thus he speaks the sentence above. He goes on: “Hysterica [?]passio, down, thou climbing sorrow:
Thy element’s below! …”
The words “Hysterica passio” is the Latin term for hysteria, which is usually taken as a female affliction thought to arise from the womb. The last word “below” also indicates this is from the lower part of human body. We can see that Lear uses these three words: mother, Hysterica, and below, which are very feminine when he is near breakdown.
Why does Lear take such feminine words? What does it mean or symbolize? In this play, there is no queen who is not only the mother of all the citizens in the country but also the mother of princesses. The three princesses, Cornwall, Regan, and Cordelia, were raised up not on their mother but on their father. In other words, Lear is not only their father but their mother. To maintain the image of the father figure and king which is strong and thought as the only source of love, power, and authority, Lear has to suppress his emotions, his more feminine aspect as traditional Chinese father or male images, real men do not easily cry (男兒有淚不輕彈). Men are not allowed to demand for love or show his feelings....
Cited: Kahn, Coppèlia. "The Absent Mother in King Lear". Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe. Eds. Margaret Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy Vickers. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986. p. 33-49
Bate, Jonathan, and Eric Rasmussen, eds. William Shakespeare Complete Works. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2007. Print.
 King Lear 2.2, 229-223
[i] King Lear 4.6, 61-63
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