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The play King Lear is a representation of the limitations that women faced in patriarchal cultures. The majority of patriarchal cultures tended to undermine the status of women, thus enhancing man's power and control over female members. King Lear is a patriarchal figure who casually engages and uses the female members of his family to further his own agendas. His philosophy is based on the concept of male dominance and institution. He deeply believes that the role of women in society is to supplement men's desires. The patriarchal culture of King Lear suppresses the female experience. Act one of the play King Lear provides a succinct reflection of the inclination towards the repression of female experiences. In dividing his inheritance properties, he compels his daughters to proclaim their love for him. He declares “tell me, my daughters, since now we will divest us both of rule, interest of territory, cares of state. Which of you shall we say doth love us most? That we our largest bounty may extend” (Act 1, Scene 1, 50). He compels them to declare their love for him and the suitors in determining the individual who will receive the largest chunk of the properties that are extended on to the children.
The act is an extension of the commodification of female emotion in the patriarch society that Lear resided in. His actions compel his daughters, and intrinsically, to use the declaration of emotion as a metric in determining their validity. Thus, according to the allusion made in the act, women should channel their entire emotions and actions towards men in order to be rewarded. When Cornelia responds by proclaiming that “unhappy as I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth: I love your majesty according to my bond: no more nor less” (Act 1, Scene 1, 93), King Lear is not pleased and asks his daughter to revise here response lest she lose out on the inheritance that was being divided. Again, this is an act that negates the validity of the female experiences.
Additionally, King Lear seeks to command all the experiences and emotions that his daughters have. For instance, in stripping Cordelia of her titles, he lays her bare to the whims of the suitors that had sought her hand in marriage. He thus declares that “let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her” (Act 1, Scene 1, 129). When Burgundy learns that Cordelia had been stripped of her title and wealth, he decides to recall his marriage plea. He indicates boldly that “elections make not up on such conditions” (Act 1, Scene 1, 208).
Principally, the statement is a reflection of the inferiority regard that was extended the women in the subject society. King Lear opens his daughter Cordelia up to ridicule and shame by rendering her valueless given her practice of her own freedom. The actions of King Lear, in support of Burgundy’s statement, attests to the limitations that were imposed on women with regards to their freedoms of thoughts and feeling.
Conclusively, experiences by women in King Lear’s kingdoms are influenced by male interests. Thus, the males determine the nature of the responses that they expect from their women and further ensure that female experience is aligned towards the promotions of their own satisfactions. Thus, King Lear impedes the autonomy of the female experiences while encouraging subservience to the male individuals in the subject society by the female citizens.
Craig, W. J. (Ed.). The Tragedy of King Lear. Methuen and Co., 1905.
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