The Endless Shifts of Power

            Though at first they seem unrelated, there are connections to be made between economical terms and the themes presented throughout King Lear by Shakespeare. The first of these is liquid, or liquidity. Investopedia defines liquidity as; the degree to which an asset or security can be quickly bought or sold in the market at a price reflecting its intrinsic value. While this definition focuses on finances, it can easily be applied in a more human sense to the relationships between several characters in King Lear. Similarly, the term swap, or swapping is defined on Investopedia as; a derivative contract through which two parties exchange the cash flows or liabilities from two different financial instruments. This term, too, can be interpreted and applied to the play in more ways than just this. The two terms introduced are interconnected and serve as a reoccurring theme throughout King Lear.

            Before reflecting on how the terms mentioned above are presented throughout the play, I would like to pose a question to be considered. Was Lear justified in his reactions to losing the power he held? The reason I ask this, is because there are likely many opinions on the topic, and the rest of my writing may aid in forming a conclusion.

            Immediately at the beginning of the play, Shakespeare introduces the first actions that are directly correlated with the remaining action of the play. Without hesitation, Lear jumps into action to decide which of his daughters will receive his power. Regan and Goneril express their love for him in exaggerated words that impress Lear. This leaves Cordelia, who to Lear’s disbelief, has no powerful words to speak of her love to him. “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth”, says Cordelia in Act I Scene I. This unexpected response from his beloved daughter is the spark to set him off in the downward spiral that unwinds throughout the remainder of the play. Lear expels Cordelia and writes her off from his list of potential receivers of his power.

The first time a prominent ‘swap’ occurred that was notable enough to become the major outline of my writing, was the overall transfer of power from King Lear to his daughters. This was challenging for Lear, to say the least. It essentially led him to go crazy, as Goneril and Regan fight to obtain the power that Lear struggles to let go of. Within this is even more swapping; the swapping of which daughter he is fond of at that particular time. Lear is so back and forth, deciding which is most deserving of his power, which is ultimately always dependent on which daughter has the most to offer. For example, whichever is allowing him to keep the most knights is the one he feels loves him most. Following these examples is the last example of swapping in King Lear, which is the swap of roles from Lear being the one to expel Cordelia, to being the expelled. This is the most significant, as it directly correlates to the question at hand; when he was expelled and had reactions of essentially ‘losing it’ as he gave up his power, were these rational emotions? Was Lear becoming senile and losing his mind, or is it an expected reaction to act this way when the way one has lived forever is taken from them?

            Liquidity is presented in a similar way throughout the play. While it is shown in a metaphorical way, as expected in literature such as this, it can also be taken literally. There is a great amount of flexibility in who is holding the power at any point of the story. There is never the sensation of permanence, as it feels as though as soon as it is obtained by one character it is slowly slipping through their hold and onto the next. The power holds much value, which helps attach it to the economical definition of liquidity. However, looking at liquidity in a more literal sense, Shakespeare also incorporates storms and rain as a powerful element within the play. Lear’s emotions are intensified through the use of the natural element of water, and this play on the use of ‘liquid’ as a term used consistently through the story helps create a repetitive theme to follow.

            Along with the interaction of ‘swap’ and ‘liquid’, another term to look at is ‘expulsion’. Through the mess of swapping power, liquid emotions and family drama, Lear as well as the majority of the other characters are ultimately expulsed from the play. As all of the characters die in the end, it makes the audience wonder if things would have ended the way they did had Lear not been so inconsistent with his actions and made wiser decisions early on. Lear’s indecisiveness and shifting of emotions caused the expulsion of all those he loved, and tragically ended the play.

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