- King Lear
Shakespeare's dramatic use of chaos and conflict provides a rich background conducive to exploring psychological issues. In King Lear, chaos in the kingdom, represented by the king's division of the kingdom, symbolizes King Lear's corrupt personal relationships, wherein he tries to quantify his daughters' love. In the first act, King Lear commands his daughters to perform an outward show of love for payment, i.e. a part of the kingdom. In respect for her father, Cordelia refuses to put a price on her love. This paper will investigate King Lear's underlying motives for his unreasonable demands by using Freud's psychological theories, while connecting King Lear's motivations with his monologue in Act 5, Scene 3.
The confrontation in Act 1, Scene 1 reveals King Lear's underlying motivations, suggesting that King Lear, unaware of his own desires, is sexually attracted to his daughter and does not wish to give his daughter away in marriage, a normal outcome between a father and a daughter. In keeping with these darkest desires, King Lear damages Cordelia's marriage prospects, although she is both dutiful and truthful. In light of this analysis, Cordelia's words, which are not offensive, become hurtful to her father, who desires all her love. She says:
You have begot me, bred me, lov'd me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Happily, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
[To love my father all]. (1.1.96-105)
Cordelia's words, that she loves Lear like a daughter, but half of her love and care must go to a husband, are not acceptable answers to King Lear. In rage, he disinherits his "sometime daughter" (119). Continuing the scene, King Lear presents Cordelia, divested of her dowry, to both Burgundy and the King of France, thereby sabotaging Cordelia's chance of marriage. However, the King of France accepts Cordelia, and ironically, places her in a position where she can assist her father to regain both his sanity and his kingdom.
King Lear's motivations for his unreasonable demands become clear when contrasted with his monologue in Act 5 Scene 3. In his words, King Lear's betrays his underlying need for Cordelia: "Come let's away to prison: / We two alone will sing like birds i' th' cage" (9-10). King Lear continues: "So we'll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh / At gilded butterflies" (11-3). King Lear's words, which are incompatible with his circumstances, reveal his happiness to be with his daughter and represent his love, which is strong enough that even in prison he will be content if he can be with his Cordelia. These emotions, more appropriate to a lover than to a father, expose his underlying need for his daughter.
In conclusion, King Lear's demand for a public display of devotion from his daughters become comprehensible when analyzed in the context of a father's sexual interest in his daughter. King's Lear's disproportionate anger against Cordelia, although entirely unfair, can be understood in this context. Even his act of sabotaging his daughter's marriage prospects reveals his desire to own his daughter and to keep her with him. Although King Lear has more power than a father does today, according to Freud, this psychological need is still being played out in our modern relationships.