Shakespeare's portrayal of Goneril and Regan

In Act 2, Scene 4, Goneril and Regan are portrayed as patronising, belittling and extremely down putting when talking to their father King Lear. For example: “Why might not you, my lord, receive attendance from those that she calls servants, or from mine?” Goneril is talking in a belittling way, practically saying that now Lear is no better than them, so he can make do with their servants, he has little power now as he’s given it to his two daughters, so he is no higher in society than them.

This would be seen as especially down-putting for a King in that era, which conveys the harshness and cruelty of the two daughters, to whom Lear gave everything.

Lear states: “I gave you all.” To which Regan smugly replies: “And in good time you gave it.” Regan speaks so ungratefully of her fathers actions of granting her land, which clearly makes Lear realise how stupid and idiotic he has been. The two sisters are portrayed as evil, ungrateful and smug throughout this scene, which makes the audience feel sympathy with Lear, even though he made rash, harsh decisions at the beginning of the play.

“What must I come to you with five and twenty, Regan? Said you so?”

“And speak’t again, my lord. No more with me.” Here, Regan appears to be saying that Lear is worth no more than to have twenty-five followers with him. He gave away his land, and with that gave his power. Therefore, he is worth the same, if not less than the two daughters, and he must face and live up to this fact.

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“I’ll go with thee, thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty, and thou art twice my love.” Lear tells Goneril he shall follow her and live with her, as she shows double the love for him by letting him bring double the followers. Is this slightly ironic to what happened earlier in the play where he chose Regan and Goneril over Cordelia? “Hear me, my lord: what need you five and twenty, ten, or five, to follow in a house were twice so many have a command to tend you?”

“What need one?” Again in these two sections the sisters are really ganging up on Lear, Patronising and belittling him, saying he doesn’t need so many servants/knights/followers to tend him, he could do fine with one. This patronising language conveys the sisters as being nasty and cruel, as well as ungrateful, which again makes the audience sympathize with Lear. Overall in this extract, Lear is portrayed as the innocent helpless old man who is seeking help and shelter from his daughters, to whom he gave everything. However, the evil girls (spoken of as “Wicked creatures”) were rude, unkind and brutally cruel to their father, and are the characters who an audience love to hate.

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Shakespeare's portrayal of Goneril and Regan
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