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King Lear explores conflict between the masculine and the feminine. This theme is illustrated through the disagreements between fathers/daughters/sons. Kathleen McLuskie suggests that ‘the misogyny of King Lear, both the play and its hero, is constructed out of an ascetic tradition, which presents women as the source of the primal sin of lust’. This shows masculine frustration at not being able to control the feminine independence of the majority of the female characters.
Stereotypical roles of masculinity and femininity are sometimes reversed in the play. Despite being a male character, Albany displays so much emotion, and allows it to overcome him that to some audiences he could be seen as having a feminine side to his character. ‘This milky gentleness’ indicates his mildness and lack of power when he is confronted by another male charatcer
‘Who with this king hath rivaled for our daughter?’ Lear clearly shows how Cordelia is portrayed as a conventional female. Lear implies Cordelia is too weak and moral that she needs a man to support her and care for her
‘Gentle and low, an excellent thing in a woman’. Lear reflects on Cordelia’s gentle nature after her death. His confession hints at his love for his daughter who held priorities other than power and strength, like love care. He comments on the submission of a female ‘gentle and low’, again referring to a woman needing to be controlled by a man
‘And now and then an ample teat trill’d down her delicate cheek; it seem’d she was a queen over her passion’. Cordelia is portrayed to be too restricted by her emotions. As a woman, she wants to contain her emotions however they were too powerful and overcame her. This idea links with the idea that women could not control their emotions, and therefore could not be given responsibility or authority.
King Lear is unusual as portrays the two daughters of Lear, Goneril and Regan, as aggressive, masculine, and powerful. They initiate the harsh treatment of Lear and cause the blinding of Gloucester which ultimately destroys all the relations in the play.
Even in their romance with Edmund, both of them approach Edmund in a predatory way which is obviously conventional in a courtship.
Comparatively speaking, Cordeliais softer, more feeble and feminine. Her behaviourpresents a contrast with her villainous sisters.
However, all three daughters appear strong and assertive at certain points, their behaviourunravels their inner feminine nature and they are in fact not as firm and powerful as they first seem.
There is a large predominance of male characters in the play. Although there are three female characters, Goneril and Regan are occasionally portrayed to have masculine characteristics rather than female. Cordelia could be argued to be the only ‘true’ female in the play
‘I am asham’d that thou hast power to shake my manhood’. Lear is ashamed that his masculinity can be challenged so easily. He hints that he is not a true man if his masculinity can be harmed so easily. Lear has lost the power and authority he once held and so, has been stripped of his masculinity.
‘Hauing more man than wit about me’. Kent displays how masculine qualities and bravado overshadow the need for knowledge and intelligence. Being strong and in control was seen as more desirable than having an understanding of others
Goneril is often portrayed as the least feminine of all three sisters. ‘Pluck out his eyes’ demonstrates her aggressive and violent side. Aggression, more often associated with male characters, overcomes Goneril when she wants something so passionately (land and power), and she looses her feminine traits