When looking at the terms ‘liquid’ and ‘swap’ within the context of King Lear, it can be defined as the free flowing nature of trust and the exchange of one thing for another. There is both trust being very liquid and swapped from one person to another. Expulsion, the act of forcing someone out, plays a major role with almost all characters in the play. Fathers, in particular, are very quick to expel their own children on a dime and the realization of their mistake is discovered too late.
It becomes clear that King Lear’s conditional love towards those closest to him are as fluid as water. As readers witness King Lear’s decline into madness, he exchanges the intangible such as love for the tangible such as his assets. Goneril and Reagan’s profession of love is liquid in that it is smooth and flows directly to Lear’s head. Corderlia, on the other hand, refuses to engage in the swapping of words for property. It may be clear to others such as Kent that Cordelia is acting morally, but Lear is figuratively blinded by fake niceties. Not surprisingly, Kent is also expelled and stripped of his partnership with Lear. Goneril and Reagan’s false declaration of love is rewarded by fifty percent of the kingdom. Despite Cordelia’s sincerity, her inability to express the flattery that Lear so craves causes her to be expelled from Lear’s life and access to his property. Lear quickly jumps from one daughter to another hoping for an ounce of love they once declared upon him, but receiving nothing. Initially, Goneril and Reagan both play into the idea of expelling their father by dumping him onto each other before standing together to expel him for the last time. Notably, the scene where Lear is screaming at the sky as he bathes in the storm is the precise moment in which it dawns on him that he has swapped everything for nothing. The daughters that he placed all his liquid trust in, gave him nothing but pain in return. The raging storm not only symbolizes the division between the kingdom, but also the harsh treatment of his daughters who have both expelled him.
There is also a unique place for swapping illegitimate for legitimate. Lear blindly falls for Goneril and Reagan’s manipulation and in turn, casts Cordelia aside. Although all daughters are legitimate in the natural sense, it is the illegitimate intentions of the other two daughters that are trusted. Lear fails to see that the child he saw as villain is actually the most loyal, while the daughters he gives everything to are the ones actively plotting against him. Similarity, Gloucester’s falls for the same trickery. Edmund, who was a societal outcast because of his illegitimate status, goes to great lengths to expel the legitimate son. Edmund’s intentions are unambiguous from the start and his status matches up to his intentions. His plot to become the next heir plays out well into the play as he is able to band Gloucester and Edgar against each other. It is only when Gloucester is physically blinded and expelled from the castle, it is finally revealed that he placed his trust in the wrong son. Gloucester says, “I have no way and therefore want no eyes. I stumbled when I saw” (4.1.19). Here Gloucester’s trust flows into Edgar, the son that he mistakenly expels. He states that he was more blind with his sight than without it because he was unable to see through the deceit. Both Lear and Gloucester are expelled from their ranking in society and the homes of the ones they once trusted. It is the swapping of one child for another that leads to faulty expulsion.
The concept of expelling family is never-ending in King Lear. Both King Lear and Gloucester engage in expelling others and are soon expelled themselves. It is only when it is done to them that they realize their mistakes. Once again, the idea of liquidity or flowing trust comes back as King Lear reunites with Cordelia and begs for her forgiveness. A similar ending is found with Gloucester when he places all his trust into Poor Tom because he has lost both his sons. The ending of the play leaves me wondering how deceit and trickery would play out if both King Lear and Gloucester were not so quick to expel their own children.