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YMMV / King Lear

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  • Accidental Innuendo: As Regan plucks Gloucester's beard, he calls her a "naughty lady". He meant naughty as in rude, but to modern readers...
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • At least one critic has wondered if a few particular lines in the play indicate that Lear has sexually abused his two oldest daughters. He refers to Goneril's 'dishonoured body' and the specific wording the two use to lay on the flattery in the love test is rather sketchy. This idea formed the basis for the adaptation A Thousand Acres.
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    • How much of Goneril's and Regan's plotting is fueled by ambition and jealousy, and how much is concern for keeping the kingdom from collapsing under their senile father? Remember also that the "good guy" army is a foreign invasion from France.
    • Some have suggested that Lear was married and widowed twice, but loved the second wife more than the first, and that Goneril and Regan are children from his first marriage while Cordelia is the daughter of The Lost Lenore. A lot of productions will give the elder two the same hair colour to highlight this idea. Ian McKellen chose to wear two wedding rings when he played Lear, also claiming that he felt Cordelia's mother died in childbirth - and that she is now the same age as her mother was when she died. This adds a new layer to his love for Cordelia. Shakespeare Unwrapped - featuring a twenty-something as Lear - played the reunion scene between them this way.
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    • Lear's decision to divide up the kingdom in the first place. While ill-thought out, perhaps he genuinely thought it was the right solution. After all, he has three daughters, none of whom have any heirs to ensure the line. Dividing the assets among them and assigning them each a share of land to rule over may have seemed reasonable to him. Of course the love test to decide who gets the bigger share...
    • It's notable that Regan appears to be the more bloodthirsty of the sisters. She's the one that turns Lear out into the storm and takes part in Gloucester getting his eyes gouged out. How much of the sisters' scheming is the result of Goneril simply going along with her sociopathic younger sister - possibly realising it's better to have Regan as an ally than an enemy? Goneril's eventual suicide after poisoning Regan suggests that she feels more remorse for what's happened than she lets on. Another of Regan's key characteristics is that she is able to bring out the evilness in others - further supporting the theory that Goneril is heavily under her influence. As for Goneril's suicide - is it My God, What Have I Done? or Better to Die than Be Killed?
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    • Edmund is often interpreted as a Tragic Monster but it's not hard to see him as an Entitled Bastard instead (quite literally). He appears to at least have a comfortable status in Gloucester's household - and has a somewhat cordial relationship with his half-brother. He betrays his father simply out of a desire to have even more. Although Gloucester looks down on him, he's not exactly on the streets fending for himself. Edmund basically ruins a bunch of lives because he's greedy. Gloucester can't necessarily recognise him as heir because he's bound by the laws of the state. And being the younger child, he'd still be in second place to Edgar even if he were legitimate.
    • Albany is significantly more moral than the rest of the cast but despite his uneasiness at what his wife is doing, he never actively moves to stop her until he discovers his own life is in danger. So is Albany fine to turn a blind eye to the horrors going on around him until he learns that he personally may be affected? Perhaps learning that Goneril was going to kill him anyway persuaded him that he had nothing to lose by challenging her. Another possibility is that Albany never stopped Goneril because he actually loved her and was blind to her faults to an extent. Note that it's discovering she plans to kill him so she can marry Edmund that persuades him to take action.
    • Cordelia is Lear's favourite but she doesn't resort to flattering or ego stroking like the other two. Nor does she seem to think anything bad will come of being honest to her father. Is it possible that earlier in his life - before his senility started setting in - Lear actually preferred being told the truth and that his love for Cordelia is precisely because of her Brutal Honesty?
    • There is a massive amount of debate over Lear's line "my poor fool is hanged". Some assume it means that The Fool who disappeared after Act III has been executed too. Others point to the lower case f - and that an upper case one would have been used if Lear had been referring to The Fool. 'Fool' was also another word for child, and he could be referring to Cordelia in this case.
    • The Duke of Burgundy in the opening scene. He refuses Cordelia's hand after Lear disinherits her - meaning she is left without a dowry. Notably he doesn't officially reject the proposal until after the King of France gives a speech about Cordelia's virtue. Perhaps he's noticed that France appears to be falling in love with the princess, and is just bowing out gracefully under the pretence of being materialistic.
    • In the Ian McKellen version, Regan's actions in Act II are played in a greyer light. The common interpretation is that she and Goneril have been in cahoots from the beginning. But here when Goneril appears at Gloucester's house, Regan appears genuinely conflicted as to whose side she should take.
  • Designated Hero: Lear for the first half of the play before Goneril and Regan drive him out during the storm. Throughout the beginning he's an unlikable asshole who's introduced exiling his daughter and adviser, and treats the other two daughters like servants.
  • Ending Aversion: This was so strong that for centuries a slightly happier ending was written where Cordelia survives and marries Edgar.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • The Fool steals the show, more so than usual in this type of play.
    • Cornwall does not appear in the play that much - featuring only in Acts 2 & 3 (besides a non-speaking part in the first scene) - yet the memorable eye-gouging scene ensures he makes his mark.
  • Evil Is Cool: Regan is the favourite of the sisters precisely for this reason. In contrast to Goneril, who is more sneaky with how she goes about things, Regan is quite the badass.
  • Fair for Its Day: Edmund is the villain and treated as such because he's an illegitimate child. However he's still played tragically and does repent at the last minute, even if it's too late to save Cordelia. It helps that Regan and Goneril are just as nasty in comparison to Edmund, and they don't get played tragically at any point.
  • Fanon:
    • A lot of productions will show Goneril giving Regan the poison in Act V, Scene I. In the original text it's merely implied to happen offstage while Scene II is going on. But as it does come out of nowhere, it's prone to Foreshadowing.
    • Some productions will also kill off the Fool somehow at the end of his last scene, to justify his disappearance and to make sense of Lear's later line "my poor fool is hanged".
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
  • Ho Yay: A considerable amount between Lear and Kent. Kent is so loyal and devoted to Lear that he disguises himself as a servant to help him once he's been banished - and even braves the storm at his side. As Lear dies, Kent too implies he may kill himself later so they can be Together in Death.
  • Inferred Holocaust: The kingdom by the end is left in the hands of Edgar and Albany, neither of whom are the most authoritative characters. One wonders how things will turn out.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Lear is a haughty tyrant at the start of the film who banishes Cordelia for not flattering him. He endures a massive Break the Haughty and is reduced to hiding out on the moors in the middle of a storm. It's hard not to feel sorry for him when he reappears holding Cordelia's dead body.
    • Regan by the final act. In spite of being an Ax-Crazy bitch who becomes the first character to murder someone, she has to deal with a lot. Her husband - whom she's implied to love honestly - gets killed in front of her. Another man courts her, but he's just using her and is also seducing her sister. Said sister - who up until then had been Regan's ally - poisons her. Notably in her affair with Edmund, Regan is also the sister who isn't cheating.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Edmund of Gloucester, the literal bastard son of the Duke of Gloucester, executes a plan to consolidate power and play even his own family as pawns while vowing to make the gods themselves "stand up for bastards." A ruthless but deeply charismatic schemer who plays everyone for his own benefit, Edmund frames his brother for treason and convinces him to flee into exile while manipulating his father into granting him Edgar's legitimate birthright, before exposing Gloucester's sympathy for King Lear and handing him off to the Duke of Cornwall. As the Duke of Gloucester, Edmund schemes for the throne of Britain itself and seduces Lear's own ambitious daughters to further his own power. Even on his deathbed, Edmund finally finds the grace to defy his own bastardly nature and rescinds the order he had previously given to execute Lear and Cordelia—a sentiment which, tragically, is too late.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Cornwall crosses the line when he tortures Gloucester and gouges his eyes out. It's then considerably cathartic when one of his own servants murders him.
    • Edmund crosses it when he sets his own father up to be tortured. Just in case there's any doubt, he then orders Lear and Cordelia to be hanged in prison. Even he ends up regretting this and hastily trying to stop it.
    • Goneril sets herself up to cross it when she has an affair with Edmund and plots to have her husband killed. As she doesn't actually succeed in this, she definitely crosses it when she poisons Regan to get rid of her competition.
  • Narm:
    • Albany's Shut Up, Hannibal! to Goneril - "shut your mouth, dame" - needs a very talented actor to make it not sound hilarious.
    • One of Lear's insults to his eldest daughter involves calling her a "detested kite".
    • Oswald's Famous Last Words? "Slave, thou hast slain me". Well yeah.
    • Goneril has a line that begins with "holla, holla". It's an old way of calling attention to things, but modern readers are left wondering why Lear's eldest daughter is talking like a Sassy Black Woman.
    • Gloucester calling Regan "naughty" brings to mind a mischievous child, not the cruel and violent woman he is referring to.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The First Servant, who suddenly takes a level in badass and defies Cornwall.
  • Spiritual Licensee: The Manga Shakespeare adaptation of King Lear is the best graphic novel adaptation of The Leatherstocking Tales you will ever see.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Edmund these days is viewed far more sympathetically than he was in Shakespeare's day. Given that he's snubbed for being an illegitimate child, his villainy comes across as more of a Then Let Me Be Evil situation. He was expected to be nothing but trouble since he's illegitimate - so he's just doing what's expected of him.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Edmund (like Richard III) appears to be inherently evil as a result of his illegitimacy.
      "Some good I mean to do, despite mine own nature."
    • The scene where Kent is put in the stocks would be far more shocking to Shakespeare's audience. To put it in perspective - Kent is an Earl, and the king's right hand man. The stocks was a punishment reserved for common criminals and peasants. While it seems like a Jerkass moment to modern audiences, it was a huge Kick the Dog when it was written. It tells the audience that Regan and Cornwall are starting to go mad with power, and would be seen almost as shocking as the torture.
  • The Woobie:
    • Cordelia counts the most, since she never did anything wrong. She tells her father the truth the whole time, proving that she does love him. She ends up disinherited and humiliated because of this. Even so, when she hears of what her sisters have done, her first thought is to help her father and with no bitterness towards what he's done to her. Kent is even moved to tears at her kindness.
    • Edgar is an innocent boy who gets tricked by his half-brother. He easily believes his father hates him, and then has to find the same father lost in the wilderness with his eyes gouged out. Although it happens offscreen, it's said that Edgar stays with him until he dies.
    • Gloucester may not start out as this, but the horrors the man has to go through in Act 3 earn him a spot on the list anyway. The torture he suffers is so severe, he tries to commit suicide.
    • Albany too when you think about it. Goneril has him under her thumb and he has to sit by while the kingdom falls apart around him. As noted in Alternate Character Interpretation, maybe he did have some love for his wife - and then he discovers she views him as an annoyance to be gotten rid of like yesterday's trash. Even if he does the right thing, the poor guy is put through the Trauma Conga Line by the end.


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