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Feminist Interpretation Of King Lear In Act 1 Scene 1

1102 words - 4 pages

The tragedy of King Lear is a timeless play that revolves around the downfall of a great man due to a flaw in his character. The audience follows the tragic hero’s catastrophic demise and is manipulated into feeling sorry for them because their journey to self knowledge is a slow and painful one that they cannot recover from. However, in a feminist reading of this play, our attention is diverted away from the suffering of the Lear and Gloucester to makes us consider women as the victims of the patriarchal society. Furthermore, a feminist reading challenges and criticizes the roles of women depicted in the play. An example of a feminist reading is “The Patriarchal Bard” by Kathleen McLuskie.McLuskie’s argument presents a traditional and conservative male view of the world of the play, and criticizes it as a patriarchal morality play in which the female characters are portrayed as evil and as troublemakers. In her view of the play, she suggests how the play shows a “connection between sexual insubordination and anarchy” and “is given an explicit misogynist emphasis” However, in view of the social and historic context of the play, Shakespeare simply reflected how society at that time viewed and treated women according to the positions and roles that women were meant to fulfill.Act1 Scene 1 is an important scene in which male dominance and female subordination is portrayed, depicting the gender-based status of men and women prevalent at the time. Kent and Gloucester’s dialogue at the start of the play immediately introduces man’s perception of a woman’s role as mother, wife, male property, and for ‘sport’. Gloucester’s explanation of Edmund’s illegitimacy and of Edmund’s mother is harsh and irresponsible. “I have so often blushed to acknowledge him” Edmund’s mother is seen as little value and respect, and is seen only as a sexual object used for his pleasures. “There was good sport at his making and the whoreson must be acknowledged.” These words highlight the disrespectful attitude men had towards women which may have provoked feminists like McLuskie to say that the play is sexist and misogynist.Shakespeare then switches our attention from the sub plot to the main plot, where, King Lear enters to a fanfare of trumpets, followed by his daughters and their husbands. Lear is immediately seen from a feminist POV, as a patriarch with ultimate power and authority. When King Lear addresses his royal court and proceeds to divide his kingdom into three parts, making way for his abdication, he addresses only the males, Cornwall and Albany and Cordelia’s suitors with respect and title. However when he addresses his daughters, it is in regards to a trivial game or “love test” that pits sisters against sisters to feed his pride and ego.Lear’s intent of dividing his kingdom to “shake all cares and business from our age” and depend...

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