King Lear

Debatable points

Is Cordelia justified in refusing to flatter her father?

In the first scene of the play, King Lear asks his daughters which of them loves him the most. Cordelia knows that if she imitates her two sisters and exaggerates her love for her father, she will receive an equal third of his kingdom. Instead, she simply says, “I love your majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less” (Act 1, Scene 1). This direct and honest response provokes her father’s fury and leads to her banishment, but she refuses to back down from it.

Do you think Cordelia’s answer is justified? Is she being honest and virtuous in this scene, or unnecessarily stubborn and literal? Do you think Cordelia should have done the same as her sisters, or was she right to stick to her guns?

Did Lear make a mistake in giving away his kingdom?

In the original story of King Lear, Lear only gives away half his kingdom to his daughters, and they rebel and seize the other half. In Shakespeare’s version, Lear gives the entirety of his kingdom away. For this reason, some have argued that he sets himself up for his own downfall. However, the deadly events that followed would most likely not have occurred if Goneril and Regan had behaved differently.

Do you think Lear made a mistake in giving his kingdom away to his daughters? Is it a good idea for parents to give the inheritance to their children when they are still alive?

Is there hope at the end of the play?

Shakespeare’s play has a tragic ending: most of the characters die, including King Lear and his daughter Cordelia. However, the play ends with the antagonists vanquished and power being taken up by Edgar, who has proven himself to be an upright and honest person. Edgar speaks the ambiguous final words of the play: “The oldest hath borne most; we that are young / Shall never see so much, nor live so long.” (Act 5 Scene 3)

What do you think Edgar means? Do you think there is any hope at the end of the play?

Is Lear a sympathetic character?

Some scholars see Lear as an innocent victim of his daughters’ cruel and ruthless behaviour, while others see him as vain, selfish, and lacking self-awareness. What is your opinion? Do you feel sympathy for Lear, or do you think he set himself up for his own downfall?

Related resources