In the beginning of the play, we are introduced to Lear’s three daughters: Goneril, Regan and his favourite, Cordelia. As we continue with the play we notice that they are the only women there. So from that point we can see that Shakespeare did not really favour women in this particular play. In Act 1 scene i Lear gave his daughters a “love test” after he announced that he was splitting his kingdom between them. Goneril is the first to speak, “Sir I love you more than word can wield the matter” now to Lear that is flattering but to us, the audience it is all fake.
Regan is just the same but she tries to outdo Goneril, “I am made of that self mettle as my sister and prize me at her worth”
Already we can see that being a woman she is not all that happy because she feels that only Goneril and Cordelia’s speeches will have an effect as they speak first and last respectively.
So far we can see that Shakespeare has presented Regan as a jealous woman. The next daughter to declare her undying love for Lear is Cordelia but she surprises us and Lear, “nothing my Lord.” Lear is shocked that his favourite daughter doesn’t want to flatter him with words. So now we have seen a different side to the third daughter. Shakespeare has portrayed Cordelia as Lear’s favourite, but also as the most only truthful woman in the whole play.
From their responses to the love test we can see that the sisters differ in all senses. Goneril and Regan are the oldest yet from the way they act, it would seem that Cordelia is older and wiser in maturity. We can also see that Goneril and Regan will do anything to get what they want , even if it means lying to their father to please him. Whereas Cordelia doesn’t care about the land and I think she is quite hurt when Lear gives them the love test because she feels that he would rather his daughter feast empty words at him than take them at face value. We can see that Shakespeare’s presentation of women varies between the three daughters.
Goneril and Regan are heartless, they only care about themselves, if we, the audience can see that and Cordelia saw right through their act it is a surprise that King Lear couldn’t see that. The language Goneril and Regan used with Lear is different to the language they use between themselves and Cordelia. “Sir I love you more than word can wield the matter”-Goneril. “I am made of self mettle as my sister and prize me at her worth”-Regan. From these two quotes we can see that they flatter Lear with their niceties, even though the audience are not fooled by them. “Prescribe not us our duty”-Regan. Here we can see that Regan’s tone has changed from the one she used with Lear, as she talks to Cordelia. Also at the end of Act 1 we can see their tone is absolutely cold “such unconstant starts are we like to have from him”, “this last surrender of his will but offend us.” In those quotes Regan and Goneril are talking about Lear and his rash impulses and how he will cause problems for them. We can see the difference in speech from when they were talking to Lear. Before they were expressing their unconditional love for him, now they are plotting against him.
In Act 1 scene i we can tell due to the language and tone of Goneril and Regan that Shakespeare presented them as selfish uncaring women and maybe it was because he chose not to have a mother figure for them so that we could see it wasn’t the issue as Cordelia isn’t presented as a selfish woman. Act 1 scene iii is a short scene but it is essential to the understanding of the development of the play. This scene shows us that the relationship between Lear and his daughter Goneril is strained. Goneril is not happy that Lear has come to stay with her so she has ordered her knight Oswald to be disobedient towards Lear “put on what weary negligence you please.”
From Goneril’s language we can also see that she is very bitter towards Lear and is doing everything that will force him to flee. “Idle old man” there is talking about Lear and calling him foolish, that shows that she has no respect for Lear. The scene also shows that Goneril is going to join forces with Regan to stop Lear from overruling them. “I’ll write straight to my sister to hold my very course” There Goneril is telling Oswald that she is going to write to Regan, and tell her that she should act like her when Lear goes to her house. So we can see that Goneril doesn’t want to be the only one disrespecting Lear.
Act 2 scene ii shows us that Regan is a cols and selfish person. She makes Cornwall (her husband) lock Kent in the stocks all night “till noon! Till night my lord and all night too” after Cornwall said he would only be there till noon. She has no respect for Lear either because Kent is his soldier, so if anyone should punish Kent it should be Lear. “What’s he that hath so much thy place mistook to set thee here?” Lear questioned Kent as to who put him in the stocks and why though they had the right to do that. Shakespeare has portrayed Regan as a selfish woman, maybe it’s because she is the middle child, In Act 2 scene iv we see that Lear is slowly catching on to his evil daughters and he also makes reference to Cordelia “our youngest born”. Lear gets mad at Goneril and Regan because Regan expects him to beg for forgiveness from Goneril which is an insult to him.