The boundary between love and loyalty becomes an unclear notion to the characters but wide-open to the reader. Starting off King Lear, the King himself demands his three daughters to outwardly conveying their love for their father. The outward demand from King Lear allows the play to hit the ground running in regard to the extremes of love and the subtle conspiracy conveyed through the emotion of the characters.
Immediately the two oldest sisters begin their scheming together, using their words to convey flattery rather than the true essence of love that they can express for their father “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter; / Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty” (1.1.55 – 56). The oldest daughter of King Lear, Goneril begins her attempts of flatter by insinuating that there are no words that can depict the love she possesses for her father, and then further attempts to explain (with words) how dear he is. The invitation of flattery towards the king evokes a sense of insecurity the man has about his importance in the lives of his daughters and can even mirror the lives of his subjects. But that sense of flattery does not emit the true sense of love that his daughters should have. Only through the insincere gestures of flattery that Lear’s older daughters present is there a subtle sense conspiracy against the loyalty and the authentic love they should have for their father. Cordelia, the youngest sibling, is the only one who authentically loves her father, and yet, because of her honesty and the true devotion that she has for her father, his blind rage to the division between truth and fallacy along with were their loyalties lie within his daughters, he banishes Cordelia whose only fault was to “love and be silent” (1.1.62).
The opposition of the older sisters—Goneril and Regan—in regards to the youngest sister and one most adored by the King, Cordelia, attributes to the division of the kingdom that is first alluded to by the Earl of Kent and Gloucester. The division of land is exposed through the division of children, especially those whom are truly loyal to their parents (Lear’s Cordelia; Gloucester’s Edgar) and those whom are planning to do harm (Lear’s Goneril and Regan; Gloucester’s bastard Edmund). The opposition between love and loyalty plays a crucial and a complicated role within the character’s motives. One of the more complicated characters, and a much more complicated villain within the play itself, would have to be Edmund when revolving around the notion of love and loyalty. Even though Edmund deviously goes about destroying his father, Gloucester, who mocks him because of his illegitimate status “His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge. I have so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to it” (1.1.8 – 10), his motive is a result for his recognition not as a bastard but as a person, as well as the love that had been denied him because of his status as a bastard. Because of that lack of love, that division of family, there was a lack of loyalty that Edmund could ever bestow upon a father that is ashamed to have his as a son, and now Edmund’s love and loyalties lay elsewhere.