How do the events of Act 1 Scene 1 of ‘King Lear’ prepare the audience for what happens in the rest of the play?
The events of Act 1 Scene 1 of prepare the audience for what happens in the rest of the play as Lear intends to split his kingdom between his three daughters. Because he has a weakness to flattery, he intends to get his daughters to say how much they love him and then apportion his land to them on the basis of what he thinks they deserve. Goneril and Regan take advantage of his flaw and flatter him immensely, but Cordelia, his favourite daughter, is honest and tells him truthfully how much she loves him. This causes dramatic consequences because Lear fails to realise the truth and banishes her. Cordelia knew this might happen but is too stubborn to lie. Burgundy no longer wants to marry her because she will not bring any extra wealth or land. France however, sees her for what she is and is prepared to forego future wealth. Kent tries to explain to Lear what is going on but with little effect and he too is banished. Regan and Goneril discuss the situation privately and a sense of rivalry looms. In their discussion they criticise Lear for being too old and suggest that his judgement has deteriorated with old age:
“You see how full of change his age is: the ob-
servation we have made of it hath not been little
he always lov’d our sister most; and with what
poor judgement he hath now cast her off appears
Lear has a huge ego, which helps to blind him to things that are going on around him. It makes him appear to be unaware of the consequences caused by his actions. Lear isn’t totally worthless because when he finds out the truth then he realises he is at fault. When he splits his land up he wants to keep the title of ‘King’ and also wants to keep 100 knights, but not have any of the pressures which surround the ‘job’.
“With reservation of an hundred knights
By you to be sustain’d, shall our abode
Make with you by due turn. Only we shall retain
The name and all th’addition to a king; the sway…”
The logical conclusion to him splitting up his land would be civil war, due to the country being in several parts and ruled by different leaders.
The first scene is rather ironic because Lear banishes the good from his kingdom, Cordelia and Kent, and keeps the bad, Regan and Goneril.
Cordelia is very honest; some would say too honest or even naï¿½ve. Her honesty verges on the point of stubbornness. This is proved as she has the choice between exaggerating her love for her father in order to please him and gain extra riches, or, say truthfully and risk losing everything:
[aside] “What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and
[aside] “Then poor Cordelia!
And yet not so; since I am sure my love’s
More ponderous than my tongue.”
Despite knowing that the consequences could be disastrous her high principles prevented her from exaggeration, even slightly, her love for her father.
The first scene of the play is used to introduce the main themes, the relationship between parent and child and how power corrupts people. The conversation between Gloucester and his son Edmond and the deteriorating relationship between Cordelia and Lear sets up the conflict between old and young which is to be further developed throughout the play.
The reader soon becomes aware of the tension between Lear’s declared intention to abdicate his kingdom and his actions, which suggest he is not ready to do this completely. The ‘test’ he imposes on his daughters shows he still needs their devotion to satisfy his ego and points to a flawed character, which is ultimately to be his downfall.