Aninda ShafayetCharacter Development ―Goneril and Regan‖ The two eldest daughters of Lear, Goneril and Regan, are portrayed as villains fromthe start of the novel. From the flattering of love to Lear for the part of his kingdom, to thepoisoning of Regan and the suicide of Goneril, the developments in villainy of both thesisters increase with every scene. This increase in villainy is the result of their lust for powerthroughout the novel. Goneril, the oldest daughter, develops drastically as the story progresses. She isruthless, amoral and jealous. “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;/Dearer thaneye-sight, space, and liberty;/Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;/No less than life, with grace,health, beauty, honour;” (1.1.60-64)If we look at Act 1, Scene 1, when Lear was dividing his land,she praises him an extra bit, however not true, for a little extra of his land. As readers, wecan pick up on the fact that she is not true of her saying, and is overzealous for power andland. However at the end of the scene, after Cordelia and France leave, she and her sisterplan of how to get Lear out of their homes. In Act 1, Scene 3, Goneril tells her steward, Oswald, “Put on what weary negligence youplease/you and your fellows; Ill have it come to question:/If he dislike it, let him to our sister”(1.3.13-15). We read here that, Goneril doesn’t want to bother with Lear in her castle, so she tellsOswald to ignore Lear and his knights and to let him leave if his service does not please Lear.As Lear enters the castle, his knights start to cause a scene before Oswald enters and tellsthem to quiet down. As they start harassing Goneril’s servants, she tells Lear to eitherdismiss all his knights or to leave. Here, the readers are given to think that she is evil and justwants to get rid of Lear; however her argument can be justified. Think of Lears knights asout of control party boys – breaking her furniture and harassing Gonerils female servants.When Lear loses his composure and prays to the gods that she wont be able to have childrenfor criticizing his entourage and telling him to leave, it looks like hes the one beingunreasonable, not Goneril. However, any sympathy that the audience can muster for themevaporates quickly, first when they turn their father out into the storm at the end of Act 2.
Aninda ShafayetREGANThis house is little: the old man and his peopleCannot be well bestowd.GONERILTis his own blame; hath put himself from rest,And must needs taste his folly.REGANFor his particular, Ill receive him gladly,But not one follower.GONERILSo am I purposed.(2.4.330-335) Regan, on the other hand, is slightly less evil as the readers find out near the end ofthe novel. She is very similar in characteristics as Goneril except slightly more passive andshe gets other men to do her dirty work for her. We see this is Act 3, Scene 7, when Reganbegs for Cornwall, her husband, to gouge out Gloucester’s eyes. However, she does kill theservant that tries to defend Gloucester herself. Near the end of the novel, Regan is poisonedout of jealousy by Goneril in order to win Edmund for herself. Here, the readers find outtruly who the more evil sister is as Goneril kills herself instead of facing the consequencesthat she would have been punished for as Edgar rises to power. Goneril and Regan are, in a sense, personifications of evil in King Lear—they have noconscience, only hunger for power. It is this lustfor power that drives them to crush allopposition and make themselves mistresses of England. However, this lust ultimatelyunravels their binding. Their desire for more power and their sexual attraction and desire toEdmund eventually turns them against each other. It is as if Shakespeare suggests to thereaders that the lust for power and villainy eventually turns on itself.
Aninda ShafayetKey Passage:GonerilSister, it is not a little I have to say of whatmost nearly appertains to us both. I think ourfather will hence to-night.ReganThats most certain, and with you; next month with us.GonerilYou see how full of changes his age is; theobservation we have made of it hath not beenlittle: he always loved our sister most; andwith what poor judgment he hath now cast her offappears too grossly.ReganTis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath everbut slenderly known himself.GonerilThe best and soundest of his time hath been butrash; then must we look to receive from his age,not alone the imperfections of long-engraffedcondition, but therewithal the unruly waywardnessthat infirm and choleric years bring with them.ReganSuch unconstant starts are we like to have fromhim as this of Kents banishment.GonerilThere is further compliment of leave takingbetween France and him. Pray you, lets hittogether: if our father carry authority withsuch dispositions as he bears, this lastsurrender of his will but offend us.ReganWe shall further think ont.GonerilWe must do something, and i the heat.(1.1.329-355)
Aninda ShafayetKey Passage Analysis: In the final part of Act 1, Scene 1, as Cordelia leaves with France, the two older sisters,Goneril and Regan are let alone in the room after Lear has finished dividing the land betweenthem. In this excerpt, Goneril and Regan are planning what they are going to do when Learcomes to live with each of them for one month, and plan to act soon, as shown by the words“i’th’ heat”, meaning ―with heat‖ or quickly. In the parts before, Lear had declared that he willkeep 100 knights with him and live with Goneril for one month and then Regan for onemonth. This excerpt foreshadows the future incidents that follows suit later on in the novel.Even after Lear had given them each half of the kingdom to divide amongst themselves, theyare still greedy for power. All Lear asked for is that he lives with both of them for a montheach with 100 knights by his side. However, Regan and Goneril think this is too much toask.“The unruly waywardness that in firm and choleric years bring with them”(1.1.344-345) containhyperbaton, which indicates the flaw and the haste in the judgment of Lear. Also, while theytalk, they justify that letting Lear keep any form of authority with him (i.e. his 100 knights)would not be beneficial, but rather harmful for them, as he would still have a little power leftwith him. When Goneril says, “this last surrender of his will but offend us”, we learn that theysisters plan to strip Lear of all his powers so that in the future, Lear wouldn’t be a threat totheir power. Later, in Act 2, Scene 4, Goneril and Regan ask Lear to banish all 50 of his knightsthat are left, as Goneril has already banished the other 50 before Lear came to stay withRegan. “Hear me, my lord:/What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five, /to follow in a house wheretwice so many/Have a command to tend you? /What need one?”(2.4.300-304).As the sisters getgreedier, they seek to destroy the little power that he has left. The declining numbers here,from twenty-five to one, are metaphorically representing Lear’s dwindling power and hisdignity and pride, as he is brought down to the status of a beggar, with no home and money. Goneril and Regan’s lust for more power leads them to commit more and morehorrendous acts against Lear and anyone else who comes in between them and their wealththroughout the novel. This excerpt relates a lot to our theme of power and villainy, as with
Aninda Shafayetthe power given to them by Lear himself, they slowly destroy Lear’s power and dignitythroughout the novel. It also demonstrates Lear’s fall throughout the novel as he loses hispower and dignity little by little with each scene. It makes the readers wonder, if Lear hadnot been foolish and not given his kingdom to the sisters or if he had given it all to Cordelia,would the final outcome and the sisters be different?