The Effect of Immorality on Expulsion

Throughout reading King Lear by William Shakespeare, the concept of expulsion evidently reoccurs. The expulsion of King Lear initiated by his two daughters leads to a corrupt system along with the downfall of inheritance between another father, Gloucester, and his children, Edmund and Edgar. While reading through the play and understanding the reason for expulsion of family members, in what was once a close-knit family, the terms swap and liquidity come to mind. According to Investopedia, a source for financial information, swap is “an exchange of liabilities from two different financial instruments”. In the case of King Lear, swapping of liabilities is persistent between family members. Additionally, Investopedia defines liquidity as “the degree to which an asset can be quickly bought or sold at a price reflecting its intrinsic value”. Lear’s property is a liquid asset to himself that will be given in exchange for the love expressed by his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. There are other forms of intangible swapping of liabilities that lead to expulsion, such as swapping of loyalty and trust. Immoral swaps and liquidity interplay with each other throughout the play leading to banishment and rejection. 

In the beginning of the play, the term ‘swap’ is identified in the first scene. King Lear asks his three daughters to express their love to him. Whichever daughter King Lear feels loves him most will be rewarded with his land. Goneril and Regan express a fraudulent, but convincing love for their father, King Lear, while Cordelia is truthful describing that she shares her love between her husband and father. King Lear gives Cordelia a moment to redeem herself, but she stays true to what she believes and feels. In return, King Lear divides his land between Goneril and Regan, banishing Cordelia from his life. The banishment of Cordelia is the first portrayal of expulsion. King Lear is swapping his land in exchange for love from Goneril and Regan, while exiling Cordelia. However, as the play continues King Lear’s exchanging of land for love from Goneril and Regan does not fall equivalent. The swap turns out in a wretched manner as King Lear realizes he swapped his power to Goneril and Regan in exchange for receiving the experience of the houseless. King Lear exchanges his liability of power to Goneril and Regan in hope to feel a certain acceptance from them but the power dynamic switches leaving King Lear to receive vengeance and greediness from Goneril and Regan. King Lear believed he was doing what was best as he nears the end of his life, however King Lear’s wrongful swap led to his own expulsion. While the daughters were expressing their love to their father, King Lear says, “How? Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.” King Lear’s response to Cordelia’s original blank response is ironic because he is the one that ends up with nothing. King Lear swaps everything he had for nothing, which ends up leading to the expulsion of his dear daughter Cordelia and eventually his own expulsion. 

Immoral swaps continue throughout the play as seen between Edmund, his brother Edgar, and his father Gloucester. Edmund is jealous of Edgar who will receive Gloucester’s land. Edgar will gain the land because he is the eldest son conceived through a healthy love, whereas Edmund is seen as the illegitimate son born out of wedlock. The system of receiving land for being the eldest son is seen as corrupt in the eyes of Edmund. Therefore, Edmund decides to undermine the trust between his brother Edgar and Gloucester in order to swap the inheritance of Gloucester into his own hands. Edmund’s greediness is displayed as he speaks of taking down Edgar by saying, “Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed / And my invention thrive, Edmund the base / Shall top th’legitimate. I grow, I prosper. / Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” Edmund is purposefully exchanging Gloucester’s trust from Edgar to himself by writing fraudulent letters depicting Edgar as unfaithful to his father. Edmund, the illegitimate son who has nothing in the beginning, is willing to swap his nothingness for everything. Edmund’s false swap of trust towards his father leads to the expulsion of Gloucester and Edgar, as well as his own death in the end of the play.

Immoral swaps between characters are clearly demonstrated in the two examples above with King Lear and his daughters, along with Gloucester and his sons. Within these swaps is where liquidity interplays. Liquidity refers to the availability of assets to a market. In the case of King Lear, liquidity can be viewed as the availability of power and land to the offspring. The liquidity of King Lear’s land is high as he gives it up to his daughters. However, as mentioned above, Lear’s exchanging of liquid assets, such as his power and land, cause him to experience problems of the houseless as his daughters betray him. If Lear was open-minded with distributing his assets, then he would’ve never offered a swap of great worth to his greedy daughters, which in turn would’ve kept him from being banished from his own land. Therefore, being safe with liquid assets could have allowed for morally right swaps, potentially leading to less expulsion in the play. 

The expulsion of Gloucester and Edgar occurred because of the immoral swap of false trust fostered by Edmund. Edmund felt compelled to gain his father’s trust along with Gloucester’s liquid assets no matter the extent of fraudulent activity that Edmund had to partake in. Edmund had a thirst for his father’s liquid assets. In order for Edmund to have control of Gloucester’s assets, all he had to do was show that he was more faithful than Edgar. Gloucester is in a similar situation as King Lear, where their children partake in fraudulent activities in order to persuade their fathers to agree to a swap inclusive of their liquid assets in order to exile their fathers. 

Swapping, liquidity, and fraudulent activities clearly leads to the expulsion of characters in King Lear, a play from 1606, but why does this matter to modern day readers? The term ‘expulsion’ can seem intense to some modern-day Americans as the intensity and acts of expulsion that occur in King Lear is not common to America’s 21st century society. However, while the specific examples in King Lear of swapping, liquidity, fraud, and expulsion might not be the same as today’s examples of the terms, the fundamental meaning is still the same. 

The 2008 Housing Crisis is an example of expulsion. The documentary The Old Man and the Storm, which can be watched online at, gives a glimpse into the life of an elderly man, Herbert Gettridge, who returned to his destroyed home in the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The documentary demonstrates the swapping of information between insurance companies, the government, and back to homeowners which seemed like fraudulent information. Homeowners were filling out paperwork in hopes of receiving what the paperwork entailed, like money, reimbursements, manual help, promise to resources, etc. While the documentary only portrays one family’s vision of the housing crisis, the amount of families that were never able to even return to their homes is saddening. Most of the Gettridge family were banished from where their roots were because of the swapping of information and the liquidity of their assets that the government took advantage of. King Lear is a play demonstrating financial crisis among different characters. These crises still occur today and should not be ignored. There is a correlation of serious financial issues between a play from 1606 and the housing crisis in 2008, proving that acts of expulsion will always be prevalent under domineering political power. 

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