King Lear Quotes

Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now.
The two great princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters –
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state –
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. Goneril,
Our eldest born, speak first.

– William Shakespeare

King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1. The proud and egotistical old King Lear devises a "love test" to decide how to divide his kingdom between his daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. He demands that they flatter him with a declaration of total love, and their share of the kingdom will be based on whoever professes to love him most. Lear’s plan is to prevent "future strife" that might result from him dying without an heir – he has no sons and three daughters, with Regan married to the Duke of Cornwall, Goneril to the Duke of Albany, and the King of France and Duke of Burgundy love rivals for youngest daughter Cordelia’s hand. There is a terrible irony in this because Lear’s foolish action results in tragic consequences and the very strife he wishes to avoid. Lear’s fatal flaw is his pride and that and its fellow traveler folly bring about his downfall, which is foreshadowed in this passage.

Let it be so. Thy truth, then, be thy dower,
For by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate and the night,
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be,
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity, and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighboured, pitied, and relieved
As thou my sometime daughter.

– William Shakespeare

King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1. Lear flies into a rage at Cordelia’s stubborn refusal to flatter him and play ball with his love test charade. Her truth will be her only inheritance, he tells her. He calls on the natural forces of the sun, moon and planets to assist in his disowning of Cordelia. Lear promises to treat her "as a stranger to my heart" (simile). He compares his daughter to a "barbarous Scythian" who eats their own children. When he says "Here I disclaim all my paternal care" the tragedy of the play starts to unfold, as Lear gives up his fatherly care and love for her. The first major betrayal in the play is Lear’s betrayal of his daughter Cordelia. This is a decision which will have far-reaching and serious consequences for Lear. And it is one he will later learn to regret when his two other daughters treat him exactly this way. They treat him with unkindness and show him no compassion, just as he does with Cordelia. It is ironic that the daughter who loves King Lear most and the one who respects him most to tell the truth is the one who is disinherited and banished from her own country. This betrayal and cruel abuse of power turns out to be Lear’s greatest folly. His astounding blindness to the true worth of Cordelia and her sisters is his most unforgiveable case of choosing appearances over reality.