Do you love me this ______ much?

As a child you are usually never questioned as to whether or not you love your parents. It is something that is assumed, as long as one has had a decent upbringing, however King Lear has taken a very different approach with his three daughters. We are introduced to the three girls Goneril, Regan and Cordelia in the beginning of the play and they are asked the question, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most.”(2339)

King Lear is asking his daughters who love him the most so that he can decide who will be getting the most of the land when his daughters are married off to princes and he must divide the lands accordingly. This is a very interesting predicament that the girls are placed in and how they react is something that some would not expect, but anyone who has grown up with sisters is not truly surprised. The two eldest daughters automatically attempt to prove their love for their father because they know of the payoff that will be coming to them. Sisters act this way. There is no way around it, there is always competition for anything that the parents offer. The interesting character is the youngest daughter, Cordelia.

Her initial reaction is “I am sure my love’s more richer than my tongue.” (2340)  and in this instance she is not sure she has the silver tongue that her sisters possess in order to prove to her father her love. This in my opinion is the most truthful that I have ever seen a character. Cordelia does not begin to try to put into words her love for her father because there are no words that can truly describe it. She is rewarded in the end but I am not sure as to whether or not it is a reward that she should want.

Instead of trying to prove my love to my father, like the two eldest do, I am curious why they do not question him back. While I understand that the profit they seek is great, the initial view of female characters in this play is conniving and greedy. After reading other plays by Shakespeare I am curious why he initially portrays woman in such an evil and weak role (as in the case of Cordelia who in a sense takes the high road but does not truly try to fight her sisters). The way that Shakespeare characterizes women is something that needs to be followed throughout the play due to the tremendous role that they will be playing (specifically Cordelia is someone that should be watched carefully and her relationship with her father is also something to watch).

2 thoughts on “Do you love me this ______ much?

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    Thanks for calling our attention here to the gender dynamic of this circumstance. I agree that it is significant Lear is dividing up his kingdom among daughters, and not sons. For one, it would be unthinkable for three sons to share the kingdom. Land and title (as we have seen) goes to the oldest born son, leaving the youngest with nothing (see Edgar and Edmund). But with daughters the matter is different. This gender dynamic, incidentally, has led people to give this play a Freudian interpretation. What is the "love" between Lear and his daughters? Is there more of a history there? I don't believe that Shakespeare was thinking along those lines in writing the play, but the interpretation is enticing to modern viewers.

  2. Sammo Khan

    Nice points, this kind of made me wonder about how Cordelia was raised and loved by her father to the point where she didn't have the heart to fool him, even to make him feel better for a little while. This brings back your point about how we are born with a love towards our parents and so how come the other two daughters didn't feel the same way as Cordelia? Perhaps it was a different kind of love between Cordelia and King Lear, as the professor pointed out, in which the other two girls were missing out on, or perhaps King Lear had a different kind of love with the other two daughters in which Cordelia was not a part, hence her reactions. King Lear's severe retribution to Cordelia's response attempts to prove that there was something going on between King Lear and his daughters that was below the surface.


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