Act I, Scene 1
Q1. What is the question Lear asks his daughters before he makes the division of his kingdom final? What does he expect of his daughters?
Answer – Lear demands that his daughters affirm their love for him. He asks, “which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Lear expects his three daughters to offer him rivaling speeches and declarations of love and affection. However, Lear is looking for empty words and flatteries rather than an honest affirmation of love.
Q2. What is Cordelia’s answer to Lear’s question, and why is Lear outraged by Cordelia’s answer?
Answer – Cordelia declares that she has “nothing” to say to her father in order to deserve her inheritance. She also explains that she only loves Lear “according to [her] bond; nor more nor less.” Lear is disappointed because Cordelia has always been his favorite daughter. He expected her to top her sisters’ flattering speeches. However, Cordelia loves her father with the honest affections of a daughter and refuses to offer Lear the empty and meaningless flatteries he is looking for. Lear does not recognize Cordelia’s sincerity. He is outraged and eventually banishes Cordelia and renounces her as his daughter.
Q3. How does Kent’s reaction to Lear’s banishment of Cordelia introduce the theme of sight and insight?
Answer – Kent understands that Cordelia’s words have expressed true loyalty to her father. He subsequently warns Lear to “see better.” Kent wants Lear to understand that Cordelia’s answer is a more honest declaration of love than the words her sisters have spoken. He realizes that Lear is “blind”; Lear does not “see” true honesty and love. Kent understands that Lear is very superficial, and he offers to help Lear look beneath the surface of appearances and vague flatteries.
Q4. In this first scene of the play, how does Shakespeare establish the parallels between the stories of Lear and his daughters on the one hand and the story of Gloucester and his sons on the other hand?
Answer – The parallel between the two plotlines established in this first scene is based on the relationship between natural and unnatural affections and the inability of Lear and Gloucester to recognize the true characters of their children. Lear misjudges his three daughters. He believes that Goneril and Regan love him, while he insists that Cordelia is an unthankful child who is not deserving of her inheritance. Lear comes to this conclusion based on the artificial and superficial speeches Regan and Goneril have offered him. Gloucester differentiates between his children in a similar manner. He favors Edgar, who is his legitimate son, while he makes fun of Edmund, his son born out of wedlock. Both Gloucester and Lear do not carefully evaluate their children’s characters and actions and only look at the surface of things to form their opinions.
Q5. Explain the ambiguous nature of Cordelia’s farewell to her sisters: “The jewels of our father, with wash’d eyes / Cordelia leaves you,” particularly as she reveals the theme of sight and insight?
Answer – Cordelia’s reference to her own “wash’d eyes” serves as an ambiguous statement that follows the sight and insight theme. Cordelia might refer to her own crying as she leaves her family, but, on another level, she might refer to her own clarity of vision, her insight and understanding into the true nature of her sisters’ love for their father. Cordelia’s eyes have been “washed” and she now sees clearly – she understands that her sisters have been insincere in their declarations of love to their father.
The expression “jewels of our father” also refers to the sight and insight theme. “Jewels” might serve as a synonym for eyes. Cordelia understands that her father falsely trusts her sisters. He “sees” things the way Regan and Goneril want him to see things. By looking at the world through the eyes of Regan and Goneril, Lear is misled and commits the mistake of banishing Cordelia and giving up his power.
Q6. How does Lear’s “love test” foreshadow the way the plot is going to play out and suggest the primary character motivation for the action of the play?
Answer – By promising to divide his kingdom based on who loves him the most, Lear has essentially pitted daughter against daughter. This suggests that sibling rivalry is the predominant motivation.
Q7. What emotional reasons are suggested for Goneril and Reagan’s later treatment of their father and Cordelia?
Answer – Lear clearly favors Cordelia. He says he will divide his kingdom based on each daughter’s profession of love, yet he gives each daughter her share before the others have spoken, saving the best portion for Cordelia. Clearly the two older sisters would envy their obviously-favored youngest sister and resent their father for his obvious favoritism
Q8. What emotions are at the root of the Edmund/Edgar plot line?
Answer – Again, sibling rivalry and the desire for parental affection is at the heart of Edmund’s decision to become a villain.
Q9. How has Lear himself upset the “natural order”?
Answer – Royalty is born to its rank, authority, and privileges. A proper king has an obligation to reign, not merely a prerogative. By abdicating his authority, Lear is essentially abandoning his rightful place in the Universe.
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