Relationships are an important aspect in people’s lives, and there are various types of them. Some relationships are built on long standing mutual trust while others could only exist due to circumstance. While they are part of the foundation of social interactions, relationships also can be fickle. In William Shakespeare’s play, King Lear, we see how relationships can quickly change based on the actions of an individual and how such actions cause major consequences for other people. There are two major cases in the play in which relationships quickly change and the social standing of characters become swapped. The first major case is when King Lear divides his kingdom into several parts, and the second is when Edmond abuses the trust of his father and brother in order to gain more power.
The first example we have of this occurs near the very beginning of the play. In Act I, scene I, we have King Lear and his three daughters. King Lear decides that he has become too old to rule as king, and as such, gives away his land to the younger generation. However, the method he decides on for splitting up his kingdom is perhaps not the same as other kings; instead of choosing based on social status or even competency, King Lear decides that, out of his three daughters, she who can compliment him the best will receive the most. An important distinction to make is how each character reacts to this decision. The older daughters, Goneril and Reagan, secure their inheritance by showering their father in compliments and saying that they love nothing more than their father. The youngest daughter, Cordelia, goes in the opposite direction. She states that, while she loves her father for raising her and taking care of her, she cannot love him more than a child can love their father. Another important note to make here is that Cordelia does not actively choose to be different from her two sisters, instead we see she acts differently because she is unable to form the words in the same way her sisters can. We can see this from the multitude of asides from Cordelia during this scene such as, “What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.” In this way, Cordelia is no different from her sisters, she wishes to make her father happy, however she completely lacks the ability to do so. And yet, for this small flaw, she pays a heavy price and becomes disowned by her father. Although she ends up marrying the prince of France, Cordelia is still banished from her home and left with no inheritance. This example is noteworthy because of King Lear’s decision to forsake Cordelia, it shows how a person can virtually do no wrong and still be punished.
Following this same theme, we have the Gloucester family. Edmond was born out of the passion of his mother and a random stranger who most certainly was not her husband. Despite this, Gloucester Senior decides he would raise the child as his own. Unfortunately for him, this child would ultimately lead to both he and his true son’s misfortune. We receive some information about how Edmond is treated prior to events within the play, which comes from his monologue in Act I, scene ii, where Edmond proclaims that he does not follow the laws of man, but rather the laws of nature. He also denounces his title of bastard by stating, “who in the lusty stealth of nature take more composition and fierce quality than doth within a dull, stale, tired bed…” Essentially, Edmond believes he possess advantages over his legitimate brother, Edgar, such as, being stronger, smarter, and conceived through passion. It is through these feelings that Edmond begins to organize his plan in which he ultimately betrays his family by turning them against each other. Edmond’s ultimate goal is to climb the social ranks and become recognized by royalty as someone with considerable wealth and power. He ultimately achieves this goal by becoming the general of Goneril and Reagan’s military forces. The choices made by Edmond effectively destroyed his family. Gloucester Senior was overly trusting of his adopted son and immediately believed that it was Edgar, not Edmond, who is seeking the family fortune. This started a chain of events where Gloucester Senior loses both his eyes and Edgar is forced to take both the appearance and mannerisms of a crazy peasant. Much like with Cordelia, these two members of the Gloucester family had their lives ruined through little fault of their own.