"As if man were author of himself/ and knew no other kin"
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child" (Act 1 Scene 4 lines 285-6)
These lines spoken by the eponymous hero of Shakespeare's "King Lear", sum up the main theme of the play. Lear is a king nearing the end of his reign, who decides to split his kingdom between his three daughters. In this play Shakespeare presents us with a patriarchal family. It would appear that Lear raised his daughter alone, just as Volumnia raises her son, Coriolanus alone. In the play "Coriolanus" we are presented with the reversal of Lear's family, by seeing one of the matriarchal dominance. Through comparing these two plays one can see how Shakespeare tackles the problems arising in single parent families.
We delve straight into Lear's relationship with his daughters in Act One. Lear, in order to decide which portion to allocate to which daughter, he asks them to profess their love for him. here we see the first sign of Lear's inability to communicate with his daughters. As a father, Lear should know how much his children love him and when he asks them to declare their love he is asking as a king and not a father. The answers he is seeking are those which would be expected from a subject not a child. Even so, Goneril and Regan are wise to this and answer accordingly:
Goneril: 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,
Act 1 Scene 1 lines 55-7
Regan: Only she comes too short, that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
Act 1 Scene 1 lines 72-4
Cordelia stands alone in these declarations. She misunderstands that which is being asked of her. She truly believes her love for her father is already known and therefore needs not to be spoken:
."........ I am sure my love's
more ponderous than my tongue."
Act 1 Scene 1 lines 78-9
It is obvious that Cordelia's love for her father outstrips that of her sisters but she can't express it in the way Lear wants her too:
"Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more no less."
Act 1 Scene 1 lines 91-3
Lear mistakes her simple yet honest proclamations for a lack of feelings. In his anger he disowns and banishes her. Before the first scene has concluded we are made aware of Lear's failings as a father. He believes the vacuous platitudes of Goneril and Regan and yet can't understand that what his youngest says means more than them. He knows it's true but becomes angry at her refusal to praise him with flattery:
"So let it be! Thy truth then be thy dower!"
Act 1 Scene 1 line 108
It can be argued that Cordelia's withdrawal from the flattery game is her way of alerting Lear to his poor judgement. Her...