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In addition to the theme of the continuous decline of King Lear in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name and his personal growth as the titular character, the theme of family relationships and their destruction is equally important. It is due to King Lear’s initial misjudgment of Cordelia that the play catalysts towards tragedy.

It could be argued that the drama of King Lear revolves around the destruction of family relationships. Tragedy ultimately emerges from the broken bonds of relatives, most notably between parents and children. This is demonstrated in the first scene of the play when Lear misreads Cordelia’s understated but pure declaration of love for him and subsequently denounces all ‘parental care’. By doing this, he not only withdraws his ‘father’s heart’, but also leaves Britain in the hands of ‘tigers not daughters’ instead of the virtuous Cordelia. Driven by greed, Goneril and Regan fail to show solidarity with their sister and eventually betray their own father to consolidate political power. Although the sisters initially ally with each other, their deep desire for Edmund leads to Goneril murdering Regan, before killing herself. Thus, Lear’s initial dismissal of Cordelia leads to the annihilation of Lear’s entire family line.

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Furthermore, the impact of broken family relationships is again emphasized by Edmund in the play. Edmund’s plan to trick Gloucester into disowning his legitimate child Edgar coordinates with Lear’s family situation. He betrays his father and brother, similarly to Goneril and Regan, in order to gain political power, essentially choosing status over family. Despite Edmund being the villain of the piece, the lines “Why brand they us/ With base? With baseness? Bastardy? Base, base?” encourage the audience to feel sympathy for him as he is clearly deeply hurt by the stigma of being a bastard. The fact that Edmund is considered to be less than Edgar due to the circumstances of his birth further highlights questions about parent-child loyalty. Gloucester chooses to acknowledge Edmund’s socially determined status, instead of their biological connection, thus leading to Edmund’s obsession with proving that he is more than what he has been labeled as. Jan Kott states that “’King Lear’ is a play about the disintegration of the world” and the disintegration of family bonds, appears to parallel the destruction of the British state.

To conclude, although the fall of the king is extremely impactful within the play, the broken bonds of family are what ultimately destroy the kingdom. Throughout the play, the betrayal that occurs between both siblings and parents and children is what causes the collapse of the kingdom, as there would have been far less catastrophe had it not been for Lear’s initial misjudgment and Edmund’s conspiracy to trick his father. Furthermore, the fall of the king would not have been so great if it hadn’t been for the betrayal of his two older daughters.

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Family Relationships in ‘King Lear’: Essay.
(2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from

“Family Relationships in ‘King Lear’: Essay.” Edubirdie, 28 Feb. 2024,

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