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.