In metonymy… the literal term for one thing is applied to another with which it has become closely associated because of a recurrent relationship in common experience. Thus “the crown” or the scepter can be used to stand in for a king.
(Abrams’ Glossary of Literary Terms, 98)
In the play King Lear by William Shakespeare, the Fool compares King Lear’s Crown to an egg. Shakespeare’s use of metonymy to replace the crown with an egg implies that Lear’s kingship is fragile and brittle, on the verge of breaking at any moment. We find through the narrative of the play that this is indeed true; King Lear’s kingdom crumbles due to his foolish mistakes. King Lear’s first mistake of laziness and selfishness leads to the banishment of Cordelia and Kent. The revelation of his mistakes leads to madness and eventually his death. The egg-crown metonymy here is effective. Both the egg and the crown represent something precious and delicate, making the two interchangeable.
King Lear is the figurehead of his kingdom with his power and command drawn from his crown. His crown is also a symbol for his kingdom which is essential to his ego and can be supported with the scene where he asks his daughters to tell him how much they love him. “Which of you shall we say doth love us most, /That we our largest bounty may extend /Where nature doth with merit challenge.” (I, i, 53-55) King Lear demands a public display of affection from his daughters because it demonstrates his dominance. The betrayal of Goneril and Regan destroys King Lear’s ability to command, as competition between the two sisters’ shatters his kingdom like an egg. Lear’s relationship to his crown can be compared to a hen and her egg; both mean the world to their owners, and both are fragile. The smallest crack means their demise.
The first crack in the egg occurs early in the play. King Lear, old and tired, decides it’s time to step down from the throne. His desire to have his ego fulfilled complements his greed and laziness. These vices get the better of him; he enjoys the bitter fruit of his wishes the rest of his days. King Lear declares:
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom, and 'tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths while we
Unburdened crawl to death
(I, i, 38-41)
King Lear’s overconfidence in his daughters’ loyalty and his ability to control the kingdom, without sitting at the throne or wearing the crown, is the cause of his downfall. King Lear plans to maintain status as the head of state, while relinquishing the responsibility and authority of the kingdom to his daughters. Lear laments that Kent warned him about splitting his kingdom: “Ah, that good Kent, /He said it would be thus, poor banished man!” (III, iv, 166-167). Soon after Lear hands over his kingdom, Goneril and Regan betray him. They deny Lear access to their homes, and disrespect him. Regan states:...