Essay #1

In William Shakespeare’s classic work King Lear, there are a multitude of ways you can connect modern day ideas with the concepts Shakespeare incorporates into his stories. Nearly all of his are works littered with analogies and metaphors that could be picked apart and analyzed to death, but the real evidence of his genius is in the fact that you can relate relevant terms in things such as business and finance to a theatre drama. Two of the most prevalent terms that can be traced back into King Lear is “liquid” and “swap”; both of which will be discussed and expanded on in this essay in relation to the engagement of expulsion, a key concept, that Shakespeare expresses in the work.

            The idea of liquidity in the play is abundant throughout most, if not all, of the characters. In terms of finance, it is officially defined as “The availability of liquid assets to a market or company”. However, in a more general sense, it is used to describe something free-flowing, easily manipulated, and for lack of a better word, not solid; in substance, principle, or anything else. In King Lear, we see evidence of liquidity in many of the characters, but one of the easiest to spot is in King Lear himself. When Lear tries to test is daughters to see which one loves him the most, he tries to decide which one would offer him the most in terms of servants by flip flopping his loyalty to whoever offered him the most men to stay with them. This ends up backfiring on him severely, ending with them allowing him no men and expelling him from their respective castles, but it goes to show how easily his favor was manipulated between daughters by who would offer him the best deal. Lear’s identity is also very liquid, because its touched upon time and time again in the play that he doesn’t “know himself” and that his sense of self is ever changing. One quote that stuck out to me concerning this is “Who is it that can tell me who I am?”. Lear is literally asking someone to tell him who he is because he has no semblance of himself or his identity.

Another example is seen in Gloucester, whose gullibility in what Edmund tells him about his brother Edgar is planning is also very liquid. He believes, without question, that his son Edgar is planning to kill him just because Edmund told him so and set him up to make it seem as if he were telling the truth. The fact that he could be so easily swayed means that his belief in things is very liquid and he doesn’t need much to be proven before he can be convinced of something. Expulsion in its general sense in this play can also be very liquid, since characters can be expelled but then redeemed later on in the work fairly easily, such as King Lear’s favor for his daughter Cordelia after he had originally expelled her from his home for not lying to him and saying she loved him the most. His original anger when casting out his daughter was expressed in his statement of, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child!”, which is to say that he feels betrayed by Cordelia’s lack of gratitude after providing her with many things throughout her life.

“Swap” can be defined as “an act of exchanging one thing for another”. One of the most abundant ways we see this throughout King Lear is a swap of power between characters. One of the biggest one is the swap of power between Lear and his daughters. In the beginning, we see that Lear has power by expelling Cordelia out of his castle; however, later on it is his daughters Regan and Goneril that are doing the expelling of their father after he seeks refuge with them but gets too greedy about having more men and servants than he needs. When asked why he needs them, his response is “O, reason not the need!”, meaning that he doesn’t need them, but he wants them; which is what separates humans from beasts. Because of this expulsion, however, it allows Lear to gain perspective about necessity vs want when he is forced to brave the storm and see how it is those who aren’t as fortunate as him are forced to live. One quote that sticks out to me about his self-reflection is “The art of our necessities is strange, That can make vile things precious”. By this he means that when you have an abundance of something without a need for it, you don’t appreciate it. However, when you need something and don’t have it, it can make you appreciate the things you DO have and consider them precious, even if in reality they’re “vile”.

Another prime example of swapping in King Lear is the swap of the positions of Edmund and Edgar. Edmund is the bastard child of Gloucester while Edgar is legitimate, so he’s always been viewed (and felt) like a second-class citizen compared to Edgar. However, when Edmund convinces Gloucester that Edgar is planning to kill him, his trust shifts over to favor Edmund for warning him and to distrust his legitimate son since he thinks he has ill intentions. When Gloucester believes that Edgar is sneaking around and trying to plot against him, the quote “Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides” comes to mind, because though he believes that Edgar is trying to be cunning and that time will reveal his sinister plans, it is really Edmund’s ill intent that is revealed in the end and for which he is killed. Another important thing to consider about the term “swap” is that it usually implies consent of both parties to trade something, however in this context it is achieved through expulsion and is only wanted by one person while the other is left with nothing.

Both “liquidity” and “swapping” have very apparent roles in Shakespeare’s work, and their interaction with the idea of expulsion makes them all the more interesting and effective. In regards to liquidity, expulsion itself in this play is very liquid since it happens to multiple characters but is also reversible for some. For swapping, it’s achieved through expulsion rather than through a consensual exchange of goods like it is normally implied to be. Lear’s famous quote “nothing will come of nothing” is proven untrue, as many things have stemmed from what started as nothing, such as the effects Shakespeare’s work has had on our world to this very day which started as mere ideas in his head. In any case, the concepts in King Lear are relevant to even the furthest stretch of modern-day terms, which is what makes many of Shakespeare’s works such timeless examples of literary genius.

A Deeper Understanding of King Lear

Looking at the terms “liquid(ity)” and “swap(ping)” under the context of King Lear certainly opens a large area of possibility for writing. That said, I knew I needed to begin my answer to the prompt with a close look at the definitions of these terms in various contexts. As per Investopedia and the context of finance, liquidity is a term used to describe assets one owns and their ability to be transformed into the most liquid asset, which is cash. As I apply this concept to King Lear, I will be thinkING (credit Dr. McCoy for that accurate term) about assets such as trust as abused by Edmund, and the stability of shelter for Lear. For swap, Investopedia describes a consensual agreement between two parties that likely benefits both parties in terms of short and long term. While the financial terms are not directly applied to King Lear, the idea of a swap happens many times with the primary difference for King Lear is that none of the swaps are consensual or mutually beneficial. This toxicity is what drives many characters into dangerous and frustrating situations. My attempt to bring these terms together in relation to expulsion includes a discussion on the relation of liquid assets as being used to initiate a swap, while illiquid assets, primarily honest speech, do not have enough time to fully manifest their potential before the demise of many of our characters. Lastly, in humble self-reflection on my tendencies in writing, I realize that I typically push word limits. While there is no set limit or minimum for these writing assignments, I will attempt to be conscious of my rambling potential while maintaining what I believe to be a sufficient exploration of an answer to this prompt.

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Deceitful Exchanges and Tumultuous Storms Depicted in Shakespeare’s King Lear

Shakespeare’s King Lear deals extensively with the theme of expulsion as depicted through characters like Cordelia, Kent, and King Lear himself and connects almost immediately with seemingly unconventional terms like swap and liquid. According to Investopedia, swap refers to an agreement between two or more parties exchange monetary value of an asset for another. As for liquid, the Oxford English Dictionary, defines the term as a material substance in that “condition (familiar as the normal condition of water, oil, alcohol, etc.) in which its particles move freely over each other,” and typically symbolizes renewals and rebirths- which tend to occur after certain expulsions.

Our first encounter with the expulsion of a character occurs as early as the first Act of the play, in which Cordelia’s refusal to flatter Lear with excessive proclamations of love results in her immediate disownment, disinheritance, and exile. This is is conveyed in Lear’s spiteful declaration:  “Cornwall and Albany, With my two daughters’ dowers digest this third; Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her” (Act 1. Scene 1). By redistributing his land and wealth so that Goneril and Regan can consume Cordelia’s share, Lear is essentially swapping Cordelia’s rightful land over to her sisters. Even Lear’s trusted confidant, Kent, is banished from his service simply because he disagrees with Lear’s impulsive decision to punish Cordelia’s honesty and reward Goneril and Regan’s deceitfulness. 

Therefore, as the events unfold later on in the play, it is of no surprise that Goneril and Regan plot against Lear to diminish the remaining power that he holds. Their fight for control is first demonstrated in the dispute between Lear and Goneril about the disorderly conduct of his men and is later exacerbated when Regan gets involved. Together, both sisters seek to condescend and attack Lear from both sides as they argue over the amount of men he should be allowed:  

Goneril: Here, me, my lord. 

What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five,

To follow in a house where twice so many 

Have a command to tend you?

Regan: What need one? (Act 2, Scene 4)

It is clearly evident that by allying together on their efforts to reduce Lear’s authority, Goneril and Regan leave him no choice but to remain dependent on them. Later on in this scene, Lear must face an ultimatum: either live without his men or be cast out from both Goneril and Regan’s estates. Unfortunately for Lear, this swap of power for shelter pushes him closer to the edge of madness. Thus, when faced with this ultimatum, Lear lashes out ruefully against his daughters and goes as far to refer to Goneril and Regan as “unnatural hags” and promises: “I will have such revenge on you both, that all the world shall- I will do such things- what they are yet, I know not but they shall be the terrors of the earth!” (Act 2, Scene 4). After this declaration, Lear hastily exits because he would rather walk the heaths than swap his power for shelter, and as a result, Regan orders that Lear ought to be locked out of her estate.

That being said, while the theme of expulsion is deeply connected to the consequences of swapping land from one rightful person (Cordelia) to two less deserving people (Regan and Goneril), liquidity seems to play an essential role in understanding the ways in which Lear’s toxic tyrannical demeanour is cast out and replaced by a more sympathetic perspective. If we consider the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of liquid alongside the storm that is raging on after Lear has been cast out from Regan’s estate, then we might better understand the symbolic cleansing that Lear undergoes as a dynamic character. According to the 2006 film adaption of King Lear, the storm that Lear is forced to endure is depicted as a rainstorm. Rain often connotes despair and rejection, but has also conveyed emotional cleansing and renewals of both the mind and soul which often appear in various works of literature (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, etc.).

It is interesting to note that Lear’s immediate reaction to the storm is to refer to it as both contentious and pitiless, almost as if it were a manifestation of the injustices that he has suffered at the hands of Goneril and Regan. While the storm is indeed tumultuous, I believe its function is paramount to the change Lear undergoes as a dynamic characters in two ways. The first being that it strips him of his entitlement and forces him to endure the storm as a human being as opposed to a former king. This is clearly evident when Lear refers to himself as a slave to the storm and continues to berate himself as: “A poor, infirm, weak, and despis’d old man.” The storm forces Lear to concede that he is, in fact, not at all powerful nor can he always have or be in control. That being said, Lear’s exposure to the lack of protections that his subjects have endured during his reign forces him to recognise his own shortcomings as a ruler, which is evident in his declaration: 

“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en

Too little care of this! (Act 3, Scene 4)

The monstrous storm brings out a kinder, gentler side of Lear that we have never encountered before and forces him to challenge his perspective both as a member of the ruling class and as a father. In fact, once reunited with Cordelia in Act 5, Lear prefers to avoid confrontation with Regan and instead spend the rest of his days with Cordelia, living jovially and at peace with one another- even if it means living in confinement. Lear’s passivity is certainly uncharacteristic of him, but it’s not at all surprising that this ease of heart occurs once the storm has passed.

Exchanging Something for Nothing in King Lear

“Nothing will come of nothing,” Lear tells his daughter in one of the most famous lines of Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear. The idea Lear expresses is one that can be found in disciplines ranging from commerce to chemistry; the law of conservation of energy, for example, states that the total energy in a system remains constant and is only transferred from one thing onto another. However, does this idea of conservation—of exchanging one thing equally for another—always hold true? Especially in a play that ends so tragically, as Lear clings to the body of his murdered daughter, does one always get back what they give? To understand this question, two financial terms for exchanges become useful. According to Investopedia, swap can defined as “a derivative contract through which two parties exchange the cash flows or liabilities from two different financial instruments.” Similarly, liquidation can be defined as “the process of bringing a business to an end and distributing its assets to claimants.” The presumption of each of these exchanges is that both parties are willing and able to make such an exchange and therefore will receive something of equal value to what they give away. However, when Lear foolishly relinquishes his title and power for retirement or when Gloucester blindly swaps his loyal son for his disloyal son, nothing is left where there once was something. Thus, when we use terms like liquidation or swap as a lens through which we look at King Lear, we begin to notice unfair exchanges; this contributes to the theme of injustice in the play.

Although financial terms may seem inapplicable to King Lear, if one is paying attention, they will see exchanges—or swaps—from the very onset of the play. In both the main plot about Lear and his daughters and the mirroring subplot about Gloucester and his sons, the old men attempt to exchange one thing for something else that they believe to be of equal value. Lear, viewing his political power as a liability due to his old age, attempts to swap it out for retirement. He tells his daughters, “Know that we have divided / In three our kingdom; and ‘tis our fast intent / To shake all the cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths, while we / Unburthened crawl toward death.” He makes another exchange when he disinherits Cordelia: “With my two daughters’ dowers digest the third; / … / I do invest [Goneril and Regan] jointly with my power, / Pre-eminence, and the large effects / That troop with majesty.” The focus on property in these lines—dividing Cordelia’s inheritance and investing it in Goneril and Regan—demonstrates that Lear is swapping one daughter who he believes doesn’t love him for two who do. Finally, like Lear, Gloucester also swaps his children because he mistakenly believes Edgar has staged a plot against his life. “[O]f my land,” he says, “Loyal and natural boy, I’ll work the means / To make thee capable.” Here, he transfers the inheritance of his legitimate son onto his illegitimate one. Each of these events serve as inciting incidents to the rest of the narrative. Thus, we see how swapping initiates much of the conflict.

Paying attention to these exchangeswe begin to notice that many of them are unequal. Lear may gain retirement after trading away his title, but he also loses his power and himself. He realizes this when he berates Goneril for denying him one hundred knights: “Does any here know me? This is not Lear. / Does Lear walk thus? Speak thus? Where are his eyes?” He asks, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” And the Fool, knowing that Lear has lost himself in all he has given away, replies, “Lear’s shadow.” Lear has, unbeknownst to him, swapped his power for powerlessness. Likewise, Lear exchanges the love of Cordelia for the love of Goneril and Regan, yet their love turns to hate and is therefore not equal to what he lost. Similarly, Edmund betrays his father at the first opportunity, demonstrating that Gloucester too has swapped a good son for one unequal to him in character. In losing much and gaining little, something was swapped for nothing.

Thus, we begin to see how “nothing will come of nothing” and other assumptions of equivalent exchange are debunked by the tragedy. Sometimes something can come from nothing; this can be seen by Edmund gaining his brother’s inheritance through trickery or Goneril and Regan gaining power over their father. But more often in the play, something gets turned to nothing. Cordelia and Edgar both lose their inheritances through no fault of their own; Gloucester loses his eyes for blindly trusting Edmund. But the loss that draws the most attention is the loss Lear feels after his expulsion, as he wanders the heath, bemoaning the cruelty of his daughters. Here, we see the idea of liquidation become relevant. Once again, liquidation refers to the exchange of assets for their equal value in cash. However, if we use the literal definition of liquify—to turn something to liquid—Lear’s trek across the heath takes on new significance. The power the old king once has—his title, his knights, his property—is lost in exchange for the pelting rain. When Goneril and Regan bit by bit reduce Lear’s assets and eventually “[s]hut up [their] doors” to him, he becomes like the “[p]oor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, /  That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm.” He wonders, “How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, / Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you / from seasons such as these?” Here, Lear is “naked” and “houseless,” which both imply lack. He lacks what he has unwittingly traded in; now, he must reckon with the storm, his possessions liquified and gone. 

Gloucester who has likewise been cast out of his home, blind and suicidal, muses, “As flies to wanton boys, we are to th’ gods, / they kill us for their sport.” Thus, we see the central theme of Shakespeare’s tragedy: the world is unjust. This theme becomes especially apparent when we look for instances of swaps and liquidation. Characters are not returned what they have given. In a denouncement of Lear’s belief early in the play, nothing came from something. It is worth noting that, through this analysis, one could almost read King Lear as a critique of capitalism. After all, if the swaps and liquidation of this narrative result in the expulsion of old men into a bitter storm, might unequal exchanges do something similar in real life? No one should be able to swap one child for another; no daughters should be able to liquidate their father’s assets until he is left with nothing. However, this play demonstrates that injustice will always exist no matter the circumstances. It is never guaranteed that everyone will get back what they have given. Sometimes, one can turn nothing into something. But other times, everything is lost for nothing.

Identity Intertwined with Liquidity

The concepts of identity and liquidity intertwine between the character’s relationships in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lear conflates his daughter’s love with inheritance in the first act of the play, Edmund’s ambitious nature revolves around material assets. It seems when these characters lose their excess, they also lose a fundamental part of their character.

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Liquidity of Inheritance in Shakespeare’s King Lear

When considering the importance of liquid throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear, the most well-known definition comes to mind due to the significance of Lear being expelled out into the storm. Various other definitions of liquid are meaningful throughout the play, particularly the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of liquid as “not fixed or stable; fluid.” The inheritance of property and land that motivates characters is unstable and can be given or taken away very fluidly. Inheritance is also displayed as equivalent to financial liquidity, which defines as, “how easily assets can be converted into cash.” In the case of King Lear, dower can easily be converted into social standing and power over others. The fluidity of endowments creates situations of swapping, which defines as a “contract in which two parties exchange liabilities.” This definition implies the consent of both parties, but within this play, swaps occur due to malicious schemes and without consent or knowledge of all parties involved. In situations where inheritance is unstable and translating to power, many characters swap positions in authority over one another, leading to the expulsion of some while others climb the social ranks. 

Inheritance of property and title in the 14th and 15th centuries is typically decided by primogeniture but King Lear decides to divide his kingdom between his daughters. This breakdown of custom initiates the ability to for decisions to be made more fluidly. The solidity of inheritance decisions is further broken down when King Lear rashly decides to expel Cordelia, declaring, “Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity, and property of blood” (1.1.125-126). His impulsive decision to strip Cordelia of her dower effectively strips her of any claim to power and her expulsion destabilizes power relationships throughout the kingdom. Endowment takes the form of a liquid as it can be given and taken away very freely. In another form of the word, liquidity also becomes relevant to inheritance because a dower can be converted into power over others. By splitting the inheritance between Goneril and Regan, Lear gives power over himself to the two of them. They are now entitled to strip away his guards and expel him from the kingdom, if they so choose. 

Lear’s choice for retirement also causes a swap of liabilities between himself and his daughters. He no longer has ownership of any property so he must rely on Regan and Goneril for shelter. His two daughters become liable for his care and well-being as he no longer has the financial means to do so himself. This impulsive swap of property and power leads to Lear’s expulsion from the kingdom. If Cordelia had been given a third of the kingdom, Goneril and Regan would not have had as much control over him and he would not have been thrown out into the storm. Once the dower was initiated, Regan and Goneril held the power to dismiss all subjects and knights of Lear’s. He tries to reason with them that he has the right to a certain number of knights, saying, “Made you my guardians, my depositaries, / But kept a reservation to be followed / With such a number” (2.4.288-290). Lear willingly swapped liability and power with his two daughters, having trust in their love for him, just as financial swaps are initiated on trust of payment. However, following this swap, he is left with nothing while Goneril and Regan have complete power over him.

Similar dynamics of fluid inheritance, liquidity, and swapping are paralleled with Gloucester and his two sons. Edmund initiates a swap of trust between Edgar and his father by asserting his brother to be untrustworthy. Once all trust in Edgar is lost, Gloucester tells Edmund, “And of my land, / Loyal and natural boy, I’ll work the means / To make thee capable” (2.1.97-99). As soon as Edmund is given the promise of sole inheritance, he has power over Edgar, swapping their roles. Edgar takes the disguise of a nude lunatic while Edmund begins to rapidly scale the social ranks. This transition happens very quickly with Gloucester being able to fluidly disinherit Edgar. By swapping not only their social standing but their father’s trust, Edmund’s next move is to swap positions with his father. The gain of Gloucester’s trust allows Edmund to gain access to information that ruins his father, which in turn leads to Edmund becoming the Earl of Gloucester. With inheritance becoming more fluid, social ranks are destabilized causing the expulsion of Edgar, Gloucester, and Lear.

If inheritance and social standings were more solid than liquid, swaps of power would not be so rash and the lives of Shakespeare’s characters would not be destroyed to such extreme levels. A precedent is set in Act 1 that establishes fluidity of inheritances, allowing for swaps of position and expulsion to happen very quickly and impulsively. Without consent of both parties in the swap, one party is left at an extreme disadvantage, as seen with Lear, Edgar, and Gloucester. Cordelia’s husband serves as a form of insurance protecting her from roaming the wilderness following her expulsion, but not enough to prevent her demise. Loss of inheritance leaves characters completely powerless to the wrath of others, fulfilling Lear’s statement that, “Nothing comes from nothing” (1.1.99).

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, 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. 

Familial Expulsion

When looking at the terms ‘liquid’ and ‘swap’ within the context of King Lear, it can be defined as the free flowing nature of trust and the exchange of one thing for another. There is both trust being very liquid and swapped from one person to another. Expulsion, the act of forcing someone out, plays a major role with almost all characters in the play. Fathers, in particular, are very quick to expel their own children on a dime and the realization of their mistake is discovered too late. 

 It becomes clear that King Lear’s conditional love towards those closest to him are as fluid as water. As readers witness King Lear’s decline into madness, he exchanges the intangible such as love for the tangible such as his assets. Goneril and Reagan’s profession of love is liquid in that it is smooth and flows directly to Lear’s head. Corderlia, on the other hand, refuses to engage in the swapping of words for property. It may be clear to others such as Kent that Cordelia is acting morally, but Lear is figuratively blinded by fake niceties. Not surprisingly, Kent is also expelled and stripped of his partnership with Lear. Goneril and Reagan’s false declaration of love is rewarded by fifty percent of the kingdom. Despite Cordelia’s sincerity, her inability to express the flattery that Lear so craves causes her to be expelled from Lear’s life and access to his property. Lear quickly jumps from one daughter to another hoping for an ounce of love they once declared upon him, but receiving nothing. Initially, Goneril and Reagan both play into the idea of expelling their father by dumping him onto each other before standing together to expel him for the last time. Notably, the scene where Lear is screaming at the sky as he bathes in the storm is the precise moment in which it dawns on him that he has swapped everything for nothing. The daughters that he placed all his liquid trust in, gave him nothing but pain in return. The raging storm not only symbolizes the division between the kingdom, but also the harsh treatment of his daughters who have both expelled him. 

There is also a unique place for swapping illegitimate for legitimate. Lear blindly falls for Goneril and Reagan’s manipulation and in turn, casts Cordelia aside. Although all daughters are legitimate in the natural sense, it is the illegitimate intentions of the other two daughters that are trusted. Lear fails to see that the child he saw as villain is actually the most loyal, while the daughters he gives everything to are the ones actively plotting against him. Similarity, Gloucester’s falls for the same trickery. Edmund, who was a societal outcast because of his illegitimate status, goes to great lengths to expel the legitimate son. Edmund’s intentions are unambiguous from the start and his status matches up to his intentions. His plot to become the next heir plays out well into the play as he is able to band Gloucester and Edgar against each other. It is only when Gloucester is physically blinded and expelled from the castle, it is finally revealed that he placed his trust in the wrong son. Gloucester says, “I have no way and therefore want no eyes. I stumbled when I saw” (4.1.19). Here Gloucester’s trust flows into Edgar, the son that he mistakenly expels. He states that he was more blind with his sight than without it because he was unable to see through the deceit. Both Lear and Gloucester are expelled from their ranking in society and the homes of the ones they once trusted. It is the swapping of one child for another that leads to faulty expulsion. 

The concept of expelling family is never-ending in King Lear. Both King Lear and Gloucester engage in expelling others and are soon expelled themselves. It is only when it is done to them that they realize their mistakes. Once again, the idea of liquidity or flowing trust comes back as King Lear reunites with Cordelia and begs for her forgiveness. A similar ending is found with Gloucester when he places all his trust into Poor Tom because he has lost both his sons. The ending of the play leaves me wondering how deceit and trickery would play out if both King Lear and Gloucester were not so quick to expel their own children.

Swapping Power Leads to Expulsion

King Lear is a play in which many characters make decisions and take risks based on the liquid assets at stake, money and property, and attempt to swap places with other characters in order to gain liquid assets, this leads to expulsion. The concepts of swapping and liquidity are crucial in understanding the 2008 housing crisis, and the treatment of people as they have also encountered exploitation due to the decisions of others when the same liquid assets seen in King Lear, money and property, are at stake. The characters in the play treat each other as if money and property can be swapped for love and power. The swapping of these liquid assets leads to the expulsion of characters, leaving them with little to no power, money, property, or the love of their family members. 

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Defining Liquid

Liquid has the ability to drive individuals to madness on account of the inferred power it gives the owner. In the famous tragedy, King Lear, by William Shakespeare, the control over liquid leads the characters to their own demise. Despite the financial definition of liquid, each character within Shakespeare’s play redefines what they determine as liquid. For some of the characters, liquid can be aligned more closely to the denotation of the meaning, as a form of inheritance or power. For other characters, trust and love are defined as a form of liquid. All the characters in King Lear act on the obtainment of liquid, therefore functioning as the driving force of Shakespeare’s play. This leads to a series of swapping within the play in order to obtain their best potential for liquid. Throughout the play, almost all the characters find themselves a victim of expulsion on account of swapping whether it be of power, roles, or even ideologies. Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is therefore arguably driven by each character’s various desires for liquidity causing them to freely swap roles on the account of being expelled or wish to expel others. 

Driven by his expulsion, Edmund in King Lear is motivated to banish his brother and swap roles in order to obtain his father’s inheritance and power which he defines as liquid. Born as a bastard, Edmund is marked as an illegitimate child by his father Gloucester. The inevitable means of expulsion this places on him strips any ability for him to obtain liquid from his father. Edmund’s older brother, Edgar, thus inheriting all their father has to offer, further expelling Edmund from his family. In this case, the obtainment of liquid also defines each character’s intrinsic value, causing Edmund to come up with a devious plan in response to expulsion. As a result of his expulsion from inheritance and his family, Edmund, therefore, wishes to swap roles with his brother to gain trust (both monetary and relationally) from his father. He claims, “Well then,/ Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land/  Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund/ As to th’ legitimate…Edmund the base/ Shall [top] th’legitimate. I grow, I prosper./ Now, gods stand up for the bastards!” (1.2, 31). As a result of Edmund’s fraudulent behavior and his father’s fear of losing his own liquidity (which is defined by his successor), Gloucester swaps his trust from Edgar to Edmund without hesitation, expelling his firstborn and switching the roles between the two brothers. Edgar, who previously has had everything, is driven to madness by the lack of liquidity which previously offered him intrinsic value. It can be argued that the swapping between Edgar and Edmund’s expulsion on account of liquidity, also has the power to control their emotional response which leads to their demise as Edmund also drives expulsion for other character’s indirectly within the play.

The daughters of King Lear also experience the swapping of roles throughout the play, as they attempt to gain their best potential at obtaining liquid; however, the daughters not only find themselves being expelled from their father, but also from each other.  In Act One of King Lear, Cordelia finds herself a victim of exile. This is due to her promise to equally both love her father and her husband, love acting as her definition of liquid. Despite the rationality of her proposal, Goneril and Regan prove themselves more loyal to their father allowing for his dues and respect to be attributed to them, leading Cordelia to expulsion. Although the older sisters can be viewed as acting fraudulently, Lear defines his liquid by trust and loyalty which Cordelia does not prove. After expelling her states, “I loved her most and thought to set my rest/ On her kind nursery…So be my grave my peace, as here I give/ Her father’s heart from her,” (1.1,15) liquid, therefore, driving his actions. Later in the play, Cordelia’s expulsion is swapped with her sisters after they expel Lear and Cordelia proves her loyalty to her father. As a result, the eldest daughters who earnestly expelled Lear, become subject to expulsion from their father. Their own intentions swap as well as they expel each other, in pursuit of Edmund’s love which presents itself as liquid. The two women thus find themselves swapping roles with Cordelia, expelled from everyone including each other. Similarly to Edmund’s love being their form of liquid, King Lear also redefines the term liquid.

King Lear also experiences expulsion which swaps his understanding of liquid assets, defined by both his possessions and daughters’ trust. Due to his position in society, King Lear has control over various different forms of liquid, including servants and property, but the trust he instills in his daughters is also one of his forms of liquidity. This is evident not only with Cordelia but also with Regan and Goneril. When his two eldest daughters deny him his servants from residing with him, they disrespect King Lear’s understanding of trust and strip him of his liquid in various different ways. As a result, King Lear is expelled from his daughters’ homes and he is left with no liquid. While expelled from his home, King Lear comes to an epiphany about the meaning of liquid as he comforts the Fool who is stuck in the storm with him, “Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart/ That’s sorry yet for thee” (3.1, 131). King Lear comes to the discovery that not all men have the same liquid advantages as himself and he finds himself pitying those who have also been expelled. In King Lear’s epiphany and swapping of understanding, the term liquid becomes literal as the rain acts as a symbol of rebirth for King Lear’s new perspective on liquid. It can be argued that the liquid trust of his daughters is, therefore, more important to King Lear than his personal possessions. This is proven when Cordelia returns to her father and proves her trust, causing King Lear to swap the respect he has for his daughters on the account of liquid. After her death, his last moments are spent in despair over the loss of his liquid which is now defined by his love for Cordelia. 

The definitions of liquid connote differently than its denotation for each character within Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear. For some liquidity is a form of power and inheritance, but for other character’s liquidity can be defined by trust and love. Liquid within King Lear, therefore, can be defined as anything the characters deem important or have intrinsic value for one’s self. The value placed on liquid, therefore, causes a series of swapping between these liquid assets as well as the characters’ roles, specifically in relation to expulsion. Liquid, therefore, acts as the driving force of plot in King Lear, motivating characters to act out in wish to obtain their best possible advantages; however, it is liquid and the actions that occur as a result that lead the characters to their own demise and expulsion from the real world.