The Price of Power at the Cost of Love

           The constant expulsion of characters throughout King Lear is the result of the mishandling of power as if it were a liquid or asset to be swapped. The term Liquid as defined by as “a substance that flows freely” and “not fixed or stable” and the term Swap defined by the same source as a “substitute one thing for another” is integrated throughout the play. The swapping of love for power only increases the liquidity of power causing its instability to which a consequence is the expulsion of oneself.  

           Several characters aren’t content with their current arrangements in life and prefer the position of others. These positions are that of power and this strive to obtain or retain power often comes at the cost of love. One of the most notable, yet incomplete swaps of power is between Edmund and Edgar. Edmund manipulates the love and trust he has received despite being illegitimate to assume the power entitled to Edgar’s position as Gloucester’s legitimate son: “Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. / Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund/ As to th’ legitimate” (1.2). This regaining of power appears to only happen since the swap of power and identity between Edmund and Edgar was incomplete and thus this power transfer took on the instable and free-flowing form of liquidity. Edmund risked everything to become more powerful than both Edgar and his father and while he assumed this role, Edgar was unable to forget himself thus unable to completely switch out of his power into the role of Poor Tom. Edgar recognizes his position as false first upon hearing of Lear’s expulsion: “My tears begin to take his part so much / they mar my counterfeiting” (3.6). Edgar, although he did not give away his identity right away, was unable to completely be Poor Tom when coming across his wounded father and because he is unable to forget himself he can expose Edmund’s fraud take back his position and power as Edgar.

           As a liquid, power can flow from one person to another and is open in both directions. Lear transfers his power from himself into Regan and Goneril expecting that he still can retain this power through his title. Cordelia is expelled when Lear’s flow of love and affection stops and is split between the two remaining sisters. This is where power begins to show itself in the form of an unfixable and instable liquid. This love, although conditional, is only given to Regan and Goneril in the form of power. These two sisters to retain this power, cut off the love they falsely flowed to their father. Cordelia refuses to trade her love for power by uttering false flattery and says, “I am sure my love’s/ More ponderous than my tongue” (1.1). Although this leads to her expulsion, we don’t see her suffering through this exile throughout the play as we do with characters such as Lear whose conditional love leads to his and Cordelia’s demise.

           Multiple characters were expelled, however, only three characters both expelled another as well as was expelled themselves. Lear expels Cordelia, by cutting off his supply of power to her and this choice to treat power as though it were a liquid result in his later expulsion by Regan and Goneril. Lear gave his two daughters the necessary means to physically force him out. We see both the expeller and the expelled again in Edmund. Edmund had been expelled from society as being an illegitimate and used his expulsion to fuel his desire to swap places with Edgar and expel him from society as well. Lear and Edmund both exchanged love for power and while Lear is humbled from his expulsion, Edmund is initially motivated by his. Edgar is the only character who was expelled but regains his identity and place through the expulsion of Edmund at the end of the play. He never sought to obtain power through the loss of love, unlike Lear and Edmund. 

           Although King Lear involves fictional characters placed in situations that may appear ridiculous from a modern perspective, the interaction of liquidity and swapping are common occurrences today as well. Love is often seen as a weakness, a liquid that can come and go whereas power is an unyielding force. People can often be blind-sighted by the appeal of power that they may not realize it comes with a price. Love is power or can be argued more powerful than power itself and people who trade love to live a life of only the latter rather than amongst those who choose the former are only expelling themselves in the end. 

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