“King Lear” is one of the most complicated of all Shakespeare's plays. It is about political authority as much as it is about family dynamics. It is a ruthless play, filled with human cruelty and awful, nonsensical disasters.
Lear, an autocratic leader, is the king of Britain and has three daughters, Regan, Cordelia and Goneril. Regan and Goneril are cold, heartless and selfish, whereas Cordelia, the youngest is quite the contrary, honest, realistic and straightforward.
Lear is introduced with trumpets and crown. The symbol of his authority is carried before him. This gives the audience the picture of a King who can command respect and has the ability to speak with eminence. His first form of speech is spoken with the royal `we': “Meanwhile, we shall express our darker purpose.” Lear uses a lot of commanding language for example “Give me the map there...'
This language gives the audience the impression that Lear is a King not to be tempered with. He knows how to use his authority to his full advantage and he uses it quite successfully. Lear gives a formal announcement about the division of his kingdom. It is to be shared between his three daughters, and Lear means to give the best portion to the most deserving - the one who can make the greatest show of love, who in his heart he hopes will be Cordelia. He has already apportioned the land between his daughters, so the `love test' is in fact meaningless: but the king enjoys flattery! The `love test' shows us how foolish and egotistic Lear can be at times. Being deceitful as they are, Goneril and Regan readily play their part, giving a fulsome description of their love that quickly wins their father's approval. Cordelia answers her father plainly, with sincerity, intelligence and real love. She answers: “nothing” and “I love your majesty according to my bond; no more no less” but Lear does not understand this. He is disappointed and he feels rejected- so he in turn rejects his daughter. His language is as violent as hers is plain; where Cordelia spoke of the simple, natural relationships of parent and child. He confesses his love for her; he is too emotional to be ware of his actions: “I loved her most, and thought to set my rest on her kind nursery.”
At the beginning of the play Lear speaks with measured dignity and authority, even after he has resigned all power along with his kingdom. He is seen as `an old man full of changes and liable to constant stars', in the eyes of Goneril and Regan. Kent who we see as loyal and honest and very protective of Lear is disguised as a witty persona to encourage Lear to allow him to remain near by. He respects Lear's authority. Lear responds to Kent's language with informality and lightheartedness, even when Kent risked the king' displeasure with the joke about Lear being poor, but Lear responds with good humor. There is the theme of the natural order being overturned when Oswald behaves insolently to Lear, he seems to be enjoying his rebellious role....