Throughout history, men have been depicted in literature in various ways: as warriors, heroes, rulers, fathers, brothers, sons and lovers. Shakespeare's King Lear gives a glimpse of a man's psyche in the course of the relationships he has with the women of the play. King Lear brings out the worst of Goneril and Regan, invoking within them deceit, greed and manipulation, portraying women as foul and loathsome creatures who give rise to suffering and discord. While Cordelia embodies a positive female image, King Lear is illogical in his actions toward her due to her sexuality and his opinion of how a female should honor her father.
There are a number of possibilities for this apparent irrationality in King Lear's actions and reactions toward Cordelia. First it could be Lear's insecurity over what used to be familiar, and what now seems an estranged daughter. He is upset at the revelation that someone with whom he has placed the greatest confidence and trust for his old age has the potential to give him less than what he had projected in his mind. The erosion of this trust and security causes the weathering of his love and generosity towards the daughter who has disappointed him:
"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 forever." (1.1.114-117)
These words express the illogicality that is used by King Lear towards his daughter, as he claims that he has lost his trust in Cordelia for the sole reason that she is honest with him in explaining her love for him:
"Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I
Return those duties back as right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you." (1.1.96-98)
In addition, there are other masculine characteristics that play into his anger toward and mistreatment of Cordelia.
A central and very representative aspect of such masculine angst in the play is found in the beginning through King Lear's outrageous decision to strip Cordelia of her dowry, dignity and filial relations. This can be viewed as the height of contrariness in the entirety of the play. One must note the criterion which the King uses to judge his daughters' love and concern for him. Each daughter tries to appeal to the King; however, there are material incentives behind their kind words. "Nothing will come of nothing," as the emptiness of words will yield unfulfilled promises (1.1.90). The fact that he gets "nothing" out of Cordelia is not her fault, as it is her honest reaction to the King's request for a grandiose speech.
"Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less." (1.1.91-93).
His anxiety is then triggered by the honesty of his beloved daughter, which is another discrepancy in the reaction of King Lear to Cordelia's words: "How, how, Cordelia? Mend your speech a little / Lest you may mar your fortunes" (1.1.94-95)....