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Shakespeare's characterization of females character in his play King Lear

By: Unluckybolte (my game name)


This study purposes characterization of female characters by Shakespeare in his play King Lear. A small research-based work on female characters' role, picturization, morality and the follow-up of patriarchal concept in perspective of Shakespeare; in mainly considered work, King Lear.

Keyword: Shakespeare's characters, female characters, representation of females


Shakespeare belongs to literary figures of Elizabethan period; the age consisted high popularity of patriarchal mentality. Getting the environment of an age more than often unfree for woman, a literary writer specifically male, chooses to go in accordance with his ancestral. In Era where woman is bounded would surely get converted into two moral beings, either good or bad. One can highlight both characterizations in Shakespeare's play, King Lear. According to Ajda Bastan,
"Shakespeare, generally, partitioned his female characters into two classifications. One was the easy-going, faithful, high-minded lady . . . The other was the autonomous, commanding, fiendish partner."


Shakespeare had been a dramatist who mocked female characters through his works. Notably, both faces of females, in patriarchal society, are elaborated by three of the female characters Regan, Goneril and Cordelia in the tragedy, King Lear. Females, in that era, were highly degraded in comparison with male, however, their roles in the play is evidence of their inferiority than that of opposite sexes. The readers can witness in the play of King Lear, females are less seen delivering a dialogue than males. According to Hope and Kelley,
"In contrast, to Lear's voluminous speeches (he has 166 lines in the Folio's first scene alone), Regan has only 182 lines in entire (Folio) play, Goneril 149 and Cordelia 107."
Patriarchal society always been with a mindset of less creditability for a woman's words. Male domination suppressed woman, and everything was just in order of their interest, females had no choice to speak up until and unless asked for. Shakespeare clearly showed this culture of the period at the beginning of the play that none of the female character speak until they are permitting by the king. To distribute the kingdom in three parts, he orders each to speak one by one on their parts. King says,
“Goneril, Our eldest-born, speak first."
Then Goneril expresses for what she was asked for. After this King turns the permission for narration to the second eldest by these words,
"What says our second daughter, Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall? Speak."
The same at last he turns the commands to speak towards Cordelia and says,
"what can you say to draw/ A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak."
These dialogues from the play are evidentiary how patriarchal society treated woman around them. Hope and Kelly rightly identified conception of Shakespeare over these situations they said,
"Shakespeare was, of course, writing for all-male companies . . . Women has less to say Also: of roles with more than 500 lines, only 13 percent are female."
Shakespeare mocks females for their such known-silenced roles and acceptance of patriarchal society. More out of it, he distinguishes negative and positive effects and reasonably creates evilness in Goneril and Regan after they are credited with power and leadership.
Critics, in follow-up of feminism, have described Shakespeare's creation of these characters, a challenge to Patriarchal society. Although it seems disagreeable; equality does not mean causing injurious conditions to a father. Fool's dialogue correctly illustrates petty situation of King by both of the daughters. He says,
"The Hedge-Sparrow fed the cuckoo so long/ That it had its head bit of by its young."
On the other side, yet he shows the chastity and good morality of woman in the same period, though she, Cordelia, had faced injustice for his truthful speaking. As she refers a dialogue, after getting details about her father's condition,
"No blown ambition doth our arms incite/ But love, dear love, and our aged father's right/ Soon may I hear and see him."
This chaste reaction over a father who willingly did wrong to his daughter is a picture of showing good sides of people. Though King granted her not power and kingdom but as being wife of king of France, she had soldiers to act upon her words.
She could be the same as her sisters, even with more rights because everything flew against her rights. Another dialogue of Cordelia more open the talk,
"O my dear father! Restoration hang/ thy medicene on my lips; and let this kiss/ Repair those violent harms that my two sisters/ Have in thy reverence made!" (Act 4, scene 7).
This dialogue reveals true love of Cordelia for her father, no matter how she faced arrogance of King Lear. It too sheds a light over evilness and goodness of a female character if given authorities. Shakespeare mocks it and creates images behind existence of patriarchal concept. Because they, the females, are reasoning increased-age for patriarchy through their actions totally underlying to destruction.
Some of feminism believers and critics passed their point of views against Cordelia's act of reviving patriarchy. Mostly, Mcluskei takes the behavior of Cordelia as a true face of recreation of patriarchal psychology. However, Pragati Das differentiate the love of Cordelia and the restoration tools for a Patriarchal society in these lines,
"Though I agree with Mcluskei in consideration of King Lear an anti-feminine play, I don't think that Cordelia's function is a restoration of 'Old order.' She is a balance against her sister." (Das, 55).
One can judge Cordelia's character, she is never a determiner of patriarchal concept, but a true daughter to her father who raised her up.
Elizabethan age limited women to live in chastity. The most favorable was that whose chaste being was most phrased in Elizabethan age or in period of Shakespeare. In King Lear, readers gain a true face of mocking those female characters whose vanity was stronger than the ordered-following chastity by Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare's lustful words for Edmund as dialogues of Regan and Goneril clarify how the age was full of women living totally against of being chaste.
"I never shall endure her dear my Lord/ Be not familiar with her." Regan (Act 5, Scene 1, 15-16).
Here one can find over jealousy of Regan for Goneril that Edmund must no longer go with/to her sister Goneril.
On the other side, Goneril had nothing but more hatreds than of Regan. Her dialogue makes the picture well visible, that goes,
"I had rather lose the battle than that sister/ Should loosen him and me." Goneril (Act 5. scene 1. 18-19).
These both dialogues by both of the women of same interests tell a true shape of their wrongdoings, which in fact, was a common practice in some extents.


Shakespeare’s way of revealing true face of females characters in some or better portion is considered and worth respectable. He not only represent female characters less valuable but threw a way, opened, for their moral betterment with respect to the age’s requirements. Everyone might focused the role of no mother in this complete tragedy, albeit Shakespeare’s more concern is in male power and their efforts in feeding children. King Lear plays the role of both in one.


1) Bastan, A. (2019). The Elizabethan Era and Shakespeare's Women Characters in the Public Arena. Galaxy: International Multidisciplinary Research Journal. 10(6). (167)
2) Hope, Laura, and Phillipa, Kelly. "Feminist Dramaturgy: Notes from No-(Wow)man's Land". Theatre Topics 24.3 (2014): 225-37. Project Muse Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
3) Shakespeare, W. (1608). King Lear, Ed Kitab Mahal Literary Series.
4) Das, P. (1995) Shakespeare's Representation of Women in His Tragedies. Prime University Journal ISSN, 55.
It's good that I don't understand English, but anyway, I don't know why I was reading this
Wow, such a great effort in developing this piece of writing.... Everything seems well managed as a research paper! I don't know whether here people know the value of it or not!!! Beautiful 💕💕
Wow, such a great effort in developing this piece of writing.... Everything seems well managed as a research paper! I don't know whether here people know the value of it or not!!! Beautiful 💕💕
Grateful, 🥰 yep, did my best for this though! It needed more than my sleep 😴 :) but when concentrated so can be done :) and grateful for your appreciation ❤️