Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Feminist perspective of King Lear

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Kathleen McKluskie suggests that “King Lear” contains misogynist overtones when interpreted or valued from a feminist perspective. If valued from a feminist viewpoint, then the play and to some extent even the character of Lear, can be shown to be entirely masculine, encompassing no feminine attributes. However by stark contrast, Cordelia seems to possess totally the feminine qualities, which are highlighted by a feminist reading of the text. “King Lear” is valued in a feminist reading for the manner in which it reveals the societal conceptions of women in Shakespeare’s time, reflected by lines such as

“Proper deformity shows not in the fiend, So horrid as in woman.”

McKluskie argues that for “King Lear” to be accepted as a serious piece of dramatic work, the audience must subliminally accept the equation between male power and human nature, or patriarchy, which Shakespeare has created. A feminist interpretation of the play suggests that Shakespeare associates female insubordination with anarchy, proclaiming

“Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire are my daughters, I tax not you, you elements with unkindness. I never gave you kingdom, called you children ”

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It is central that the audience accepts that the daughters owe their father particular duties in order to feel pity for Lear in the end, according to McKluskie. Goneril and Regan are both strong characters that dispel the myth that women are essentially weak, which is created by the lines

“…let not women’s weapons stain my mans cheeks.”

According to a feminist interpretation of “King Lear”, Goneril and Regans defiance of their father Lear by refusing to accept his company and band of knights (in Act one Scene three) is what director Sir Peter Hall describes as a

“…paying off of old scores, that those girls have had a terrible childhood, abused and bullied ”

and that their assertion of power and influence is a form of revenge. It is clear from the beginning of the play, that Lear desires to posses his children. According to Sir Peter Hall,

“I think he is sickly, wrongly and unbalanced in love with his daughters and I am not saying that he abused them in modern parlance, but that the intent is there ”

Hence, a feministic valuing of the text takes Cordelia’s truthful response

“I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less ”

to be an affirmation of female power which boldly challenges the patriarchal organisation of her society, whilst allowing her to profess true love for her future husband. Analysis of the gaps and silences regarding the roles of women reveals almost as much information as the actual text about how women were valued in Shakespearian times. In this way, “King Lear” may be valued within a feministic context for as a representation of female roles in early times as compared to contemporary society.

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