Ulterior Motives Behind Swaps in King Lear

When considering the age-old nature of Shakespeare’s King Lear, it may be difficult to recognize how modern terms such as “swap”, “liquidity”, and “expulsion” are able to play a key role in the play. After further analyzing and sifting through multiple definitions offered for each of these terms, however, the connection begins to unravel and these concepts intertwine to contribute to the overarching theme of expulsion. According to Dictionary.com, a “swap” means “to exchange, barter, or trade, as one thing for another” or “to replace (one thing) with another”. While this term is typically used within the context of speaking about material objects, the concept of swapping occurs regularly in King Lear within the context of power and treatment. “Liquidity” can be defined as “the ability or ease with which assets can be converted into cash”. This term can be loosely tied to the motive behind the many swaps that take place in King Lear. Overall, the play incorporates the concept of swapping in various aspects; the substantial swapping of power between a royal family, the swapping of treatment between members of a family, and the swapping of independence for dependence, all of which are swaps based upon liquidity and monetary value.

The concept of swapping first begins to come into play when King Lear transfers his power as King over to his two daughters, Regan and Goneril. Rather than dividing his estate and ruling powers equally between his three daughters, he decides to let them take fate into their own hands and compete for his inheritance. When Cordelia is deemed unworthy of power in the King’s eyes, she is expelled from his land and married off to the King of France. King Lear’s ruling power, inheritance, and kingdom is then divided between Regan and Goneril through a contractual swap. Although this swap of power was devised to expose the love that Regan and Goneril share for their father, the two sisters greatly overstated their feelings in order to gain their father’s power. Rather than being motivated by love for their father, Regan and Goneril had an entirely different motive; ruling power and access to their father’s land. These sisters were more concerned about their father’s liquid value than his actual well-being. While partaking in this swap of power, Regan and Goneril clearly took King Lear’s words, “nothing will come of nothing”, to heart (1.1.90). Without embellishing their love for their father and essentially providing him with nothing, they would receive nothing valuable in return. The sisters fully recognized the liquid value of the swap that was at stake, and jumped on the opportunity to gain power and land by placing their own wishes above the well-being of their father. Cordelia’s refusal to take part in the swap of power led to her expulsion from King Lear’s land.

Swapping continues throughout the play and can be seen through Regan and Goneril’s treatment of King Lear. Soon after these two sisters gained royal power and liquid assets from their father, they began to swap their behavior and treatment of Lear before entirely abandoning him. Once Regan and Goneril fulfilled their motive of gaining liquid assets and power, they were no longer obligated to embellish their love for Lear. By letting their true intentions be known, they were swapping their treatment of King Lear in a manner that led to his  overall expulsion in the end. During the process of this swap, King Lear is also swapping his behavior in a way that exposed his disloyalty to Regan and Goneril. Although he is outraged that his own daughters have placed a higher emphasis on power and liquid assets than his own well-being, Lear continues to swap between wanting to stay with whichever of his daughters will allow him to keep more of his men. Lear’s swaps between his daughters demonstrates his outward disloyalty and prioritization of material aspects. Although King Lear’s men and servants cannot be classified as “liquid”, they still exist in the same realm of physical and material value as a liquid asset. Similarly to the first swap that transpired between a father and his two daughters, Lear is prioritizing material value over loyalty and winds up expelled from both Regan and Goneril’s land as a result.  

The final example of swapping that occurs throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear in the form of an overarching swap of independence for dependence. As Lear faces total expulsion from land that he previously had complete rule over, the audience is able to follow his loss of sanity and swap of independence for dependence on others to care for him. As soon as Lear hands his land and liquid assets over to Regan and Goneril, the two sisters no longer have any use for their aging father and are able to become completely independent of him. Conversely, King Lear’s expulsion and lack of liquid assets causes him to completely lose his sanity and become more dependent on his daughters than ever before. While Lear’s newfound dependence and waning sanity can be interpreted as a wave of karma, the swap of independence for dependence undoubtedly contributes to the overarching theme of emphasis on liquidity and swapping. 

Looking at Shakespeare’s King Lear through a modern lense, it is clear how the terms “swap” and “liquidity” interplay to create one theme of expulsion. The characters in the play place a considerable emphasis on power and liquid assets, which leads to many various swaps throughout the plot and results in the expulsion of multiple characters. 

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