Opening Your Eyes to Different Ways of Seeing

As with anything in life, there are always multiple ways of seeing or understanding things. Take our key terms for the class for example. As we quickly discovered, there are multiple definitions for each of them. Liquid can be defined as a free flowing substance of consistency such as water, but if you spoke to someone involved in finances they might tell you that it can also refer to something that is easily convertible into cash. Someone else might tell you that liquid could also be referring to sound and how it is clear, harmonious and free-flowing. Another one of our terms- swap can be defined as the act of exchanging one thing for another or substituting one thing for another. As with the two terms aforementioned, the word expulsion has varying definitions. One of which is the act of depriving someone of membership in an organization, another is the process of forcing someone to leave a place and a third is the process of forcing something out of the body. Just as there are multiple definitions that people can derive for the same word, there are multiple ways that people can see and feel during a shared experience such as simply being a part of a family, which is evident throughout William Shakespeare’s King Lear as the difference in these emotions lead to different forms of expulsion throughout.

A major theme throughout King Lear is how different members see love within a family and whom in the family they can trust. This is seen right from the beginning of the play as the aging King Lear announces that he’ll be retiring and splitting his kingdom up between his three daughters. He makes them engage in a performative love test, having them claim how much they love him and to compensate for this he will swap their words of affection for a piece of his kingdom. As this is all performative, he expects to hear a liquidity or clear consistency of answers among them in that they would each profess their immense amount of love for their father, but he doesn’t receive that from his youngest, Cordelia. Regan and Goneril’s professions of their love sound as though they have been rehearsed as they give him the superfluous compliments which Lear expects to hear, while Cordelia is left questioning herself in asides as to what exactly she should say because she does not see this swap as being necessary to engage in and says, “I love your Majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less” (1.1 101-102), meaning that she loves her father as a child should love their parent. One should not need to add the supernumerary details that her sisters do in expression of their affection for their father. Cordelia is professing that the liquidation of her sister’s words of affections into land is fraudulent as they have husbands whom they should also love.  Lear however does not see Cordelia’s perspective on the situation and instead expels her from the family, taking away her inheritance and dowry, making it seem as though she herself can be liquidated. In an attempt to prevent Lear from expelling Cordelia, Kent tells Lear to “See better, Lear” (1.1 180), but it is too late. As king, Lear has become blinded by the superfluous lifestyle he has lead where things are able to be swapped and liquidated into something tangible including his daughters’ love and with that he has not taken the time to see what truly matters and who truly cares for him in his life without the extra privileges he has access to as king. As she leaves, Cordelia tells her sisters, with tears falling from her eyes,

I know you what you are,

And like a sister am most loath to call

Your faults as they are named. Love well our father.

To your professèd bosoms I commit him.

But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,

I would prefer him to a better place.

So farewell to you both (1.1 312-319).

Cordelia knows Reagan and Goneril do not truly care for their father, but chooses not to directly expel this thought to them as their sister and instead trusts that they will stick to their word in caring for him, even though she would rather have him in her care. This is revealing of Cordelia’s character and who Lear should see as the one who truly loves him.

After the expulsion of Cordelia from the family, Shakespeare then swaps the treatment that Cordelia received from Lear, with Lear from Goneril and Regan as he slowly becomes expelled from his family and kingdom itself. Once they have obtained the land they were given, Goneril warns against Lear coming to stay with her by saying,

Put on what weary negligence you please,

You and your fellows. I’d have it come to question.

If he distaste it, let him to my sister;

Whose mind and mine I know in that are one

(Not to be overruled. Idle old man

That still would manage those authorities

That he hath given away.  (1.3 13-19).

Here, Goneril is clearly liquidating the words she spoke professing her love for her father into the authority she now has given to her by Lear in a swap. Further, she is establishing that if Lear does not like how he is treated at her residence, then he should go seek out Regan, who also would treat Lear in the same way, showing that Goneril and Regan are in a way interchangeable or can easily be swapped for one another without any real difference to the play as they are on the same page in regard to their motives. As I was reading, I at first did not see any real differences in the two sisters as they both seek power/authority and later both seek the love of Edmund. Especially when watching the film version of the play, I easily got confused between Goneral and Regan as the actresses looked similar. The point in which they truly become individual people is over the love of Edmund as Regan would give up all of her power for him, which causes Goneril to become jealous and expels Regan by poisoning her. However, before their deaths, the solidarity of the sisters against their father eventually leads to Lear being expelled out into the storm where he turns mad and turns to other people to comfort him.

As Lear no longer has a family to turn to because of his blindness toward the daughter who truly cared for him and his expulsion by Regan and Goneril, he is forced to make something out of nothing out in the storm and swaps his family for a makeshift one by turning to Edgar disguised as Poor Tom and the Fool as his new family. Like Lear, Edgar was also expelled from his family, in this case due to fraudulent behavior from his brother Edmund, causing their father to be both metaphorically and quite literally blinded as to which of them truly had the best intentions toward their father. As a result Edgar had to swap his identity for that of Poor Tom who becomes the companion that Lear needs out in the storm as he understands what he is feeling, having gone through a similar experience. Although the two do not experience their expulsion from their families in the same exact way, they both become more understanding of how people who hadn’t been as fortunate as they are, experience life. Edgar describes this new found compassion for others by saying, “A most poor man, made tame to Fortune’s blows,/ Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,/ Am pregnant to good pity” (4.6 246-248). Lear expresses a similar sentiment by saying, 

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you

From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en

Too little care of this. Take physic pomp.

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou may’st shake the superflux to them

And show the heavens more just (3.4 34-41).

Here Lear is expressing how he wishes that while he was in power he did something to help those who experience what he is currently experiencing, everyday. He has opened his eyes to a life other than the superfluous one aforementioned and is seeing that one really does not need much except for the basics to survive such as what seemed to be the basic amount of love that Cordelia had professed for him at the beginning of the play.

William Shakespeare’s play King Lear shows that not all people who experience the same thing, such as being a part of a family, experience it in the same way. People often get expelled from their families for not seeing “eye to eye” with one another or having different beliefs/desires than other members of their family.  It is important that we recognize that having these differences are a part of reality and are perfectly valid as no two people will think, feel or see things the same way. It is up to us to at least try and understand where people are coming from and try to see the world from their perspective.

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