Consider the view that Shakespeare’s presentation of personal and political power in King Lear has universal interest and relevance

Lear in the beginning Lear has power, that he decides to divide between his daughters. He later comes to regret this because, by giving the power to them, he loses it himself. He has the authority to banish Kent and get rid of Cordelia when they don’t act exactly how he expects them to. He also uses his power to set up marriages with his daughters.Relevance:The instability that can be created from someone who has power and uses it wrongly. The instability that can be created through division of power – as James wanted to show. Pre-arranged marriages by parents with men that the women don’t love.
When the servants ignore him and he realises Lear realises that by delegating his power to his daughters, he has given up his own power. His power is being questioned; something which is a bold move on Shakespeare’s part as it was questioning James’ authority as King and implies that Kings give too much responsibility to the people with less power than them and thus Shakespeare questions the English court.Relevance:The loss of power within court – links to loss of power in a family, in work etc. – often comes with old.
The power shift to Gonerill and Regan – ‘The younger rises when the old doth fall’, ‘on my knees I beg’ The power shift is brought about by Lear himself but he fails to see this. It could suggest that the monarchs over time didn’t realise how, by delegating power to parliament, they increasingly lost power. This is relevant today in that Elizabeth is a figurehead and, because of the power shifting to his daughters, Lear is essentially a figurehead from this point in the play. There is a shift of power from male to female and from older to younger, showing the change that Shakespeare believed would occur. The fact that he recedes and begs to Gonerill, shows that he recognises the shift in power and Shakespeare uses actions to show the physical power shift in that he is lower than her.Relevance:In Shakespeare’s time, the male to female shift was unlikely, but in modern day, females are getting more and more power – for example, Theresa May. Feminism movements. Women’s rights.
The Fool – ‘May not an ass know when a cart draws the horse?’ The fool gains mental power over thing King through his comparative stability in the time that Lear becomes progressively mad. The fool points out the fact that the King should have realised that he is being led by his inferiors now. He holds position of King merely as a name, but with no meaning or force behind it.Relevance:Many people don’t realise when they’re being influenced by something else when they think they’re making their own decisions – for example, propoganda.
Cordelia Although Cordelia has no power with her title over Lear, she holds power over him emotionally, as shown in the final scene. She is also awarded power in France which could be a suggestion from Shakespeare that France are doing things right and that women should be given more power.Relevance:Feminism. Women’s rights. Taking examples from other countries – some countries being more forward than others.
Lear at the end Lear gains respect as he realises how he’s treated his subjects and when he stops ordering people around. The fact that people begin to refer to him as the King again and give him arguably more respect than he’d been given before, suggests that Shakespeare believed that a good King should care about his subjects.Relevance:People often want those with power to care about the people they influence with the power they have, rather than wasting it.
Edmond vs Edgar – ‘Edmond the base/ Shall top th’legitimate’ The idea of how a bastard son is constantly suppressed and, even with the same opportunities, is viewed in a harsher light than the legitimate son. Edmond, however, through deceitful means, is able to grasp a higher authority over Edgar by manipulating everyone into believing that Edgar is evil. Shakespeare suggests that illegitimate sons should get more recognition.Relevance:Bastards and the power illegitimate children have. The idea that legitimate sons are more likely to inherit their father’s fortunes than illegitimate ones.
Men vs Women – emotions – ‘this mother swells up toward my heart;/ Hysterica passio!’ Men are seen to hold power over women in that women are constantly expressed as weak through their emotions. When Lear feels upset, he refers to the feeling as female and tries to suppress it because he fears that if he reveals emotions, he’ll been seen as feminine and weak.Relevance:The rising influence of women, the rising equality between men and women. How men are still seen as weak if they show emotions and men use women’s emotions against them as weakness.
Men vs Women – physical power/intelligence – ‘Women as more military than men’ Women, despite being seen as weak through their emotions, are consistently seen as intelligent, whether it be the cunning of Regan and Gonerill or the wisdom that Cordelia portrays by refusing to tell Lear how much she loves him. Women’s intelligence is shown to be a strength, and thus the King and the fool, both male, are presented as foolish in comparison.Relevance:Women are able to do more physical things – e.g. physical fighting clubs but they are often looked down on or laughed at because men are assumed to be physically stronger.
Context – questioning Divine Right – ‘As flies to wanton boys, are we to th’ Gods;/ They kill us for their sport’ Questioning the power of God, and thus questioning James as James believed in Divine Right. By making it seem as though God only put Lear in a position of power for his own enjoyment, Shakespeare questions the authority of James, an act which would have been considered treasonous.Relevance:Athiests – how they believe that science has power over religion because it’s based on ‘fact’.
Regan vs Gloucester – ‘plucks his beard’ Regan shows authority through her actions, by a small violent gesture such as ‘plucking’, she is able to be demeaning towards him, whilst behaving inhumanly. Regan also encourages the taking of Gloucester’s eyes, meaning that she has manipulative power over him. Relevance:Someone who shouldn’t be allowed power manages to gain it and uses it wrongfully – such as dictators like Hitler.