An Analysis of the parent and child conflicts in Shakespeare’s King Lear.
As the plot of King Lear progresses, two different conflicts arise between parent and child: one between the Earl of Gloucester and his bastard child Edmund and one between King Lear and his elder daughters Goneril and Regan. The two conflicts contribute to the overall meaning of the work through the role reversal and treachery of the children.
The Earl of Gloucester is very quick to point out that Edmund is a bastard child by saying that there was “great sport at his making,” which shows that the Earl of Gloucester is actually ashamed of Edmund even if he “is no dearer in [his] account” than his legitimate son. This causes Edmund to loathe his father and his brother Edgar, the legitimate son. Unlike today’s culture, Edmund will always be the bastard child with no inheritance, and he cannot stand that.
After King Lear divides out his kingdom and gives away most of his power to his eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan decide to diminish their father’s power even more than it already has been so that he will not “carry authority with such dispositions as he bears” and “offend [them].”
Edmund begins his treacherous plot against Gloucester and Edgar to try to gain at least some power. Through his evil actions, he gets Edgar to “disguise himself as the crazy Tom” and “escape the hunt” by going into hiding and his father blinded by tricking both of them into thinking that each is angry and upset with the other. Goneril and Regan send their father out of their homes into a storm and take away all of his knights. In both conflicts now, the role of parent and child has been reversed by the child setting the rules and standards instead of the parent.
Edgar and Gloucester are reunited, and Edmund’s plot was discovered. Sadly, Gloucester can only truly see the evil actions of Edmund and what has happened to him when he is blinded, which is contrary to typical beliefs of sight and insight vs. blindness and ignorance.
Order is restored when the evil children die, though. Edmund’s plan completely backfires when Edgar is given all of the power at the end of the play, and the sisters’ plan backfires as well when they lose all of their power before their father. The role reversal and treachery of the children causes the meaning of the work to be enhanced by causing the reader/play attendee to have a flood of emotions about the different conflicts and possibly have the ability to relate it to their own lives.