King Lear Family Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
Let it be so. Thy truth, then, be thy dower,
For by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate and the night,
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be,
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity, and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved
As thou my sometime daughter. (1.1.120-133)
When King Lear disowns Cordelia, who refuses to say she loves her father the most, he "disclaim[s] all [his] paternal care" and insists that Cordelia is no more to Lear than a "barbarous Scythian" or a man that eats his parents and/or his children ("makes his generation messes to gorge his appetite"). In other words, Lear equates Cordelia's so-called betrayal of her father with a kind of barbarous cannibalism.
According to literary critic Stephen Greenblatt, this is Lear's biggest "folly." Cordelia is the one daughter that actually does love King Lear. Lear's banishment of Cordelia, as we see, sets the play's tragic events in motion.
Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
I loved her most, and thought to set my rest
On her kind nursery. To Cordelia. Hence and avoid
So be my grave my peace, as here I give
Her father's heart from her. (1.1.135-141)
Now this is interesting. Lear admits that he's angry with Cordelia because he "loved her the most" and was hoping to "set [his] rest on her kind nursery." In other words, Lear was hoping that Cordelia would play mother or nursemaid to him when he retired, which makes Lear more of a child or a baby than a father, don't you think? This is especially apparent when Lear says he's going to spend his retirement "crawl[ing] toward death" (1.1.43). Compare this passage to 1.4. below.
[…] e'er since thou mad'st thy
daughters thy mothers. For when thou gav'st them
the rod and put'st down thine own breeches, (1.4.176-178)
Lear's Fool (Lear's personal comedian) seems pretty smart when he points out that Lear's daughters became more like his "mother" when Lear gave up his power and his kingdom to them. The Fool notes that Lear might as well have pulled down his "breeches" (pants) and given his daughters a "rod" to spank him with.
Speaking of mothers, we also want to point out that, even though there's a lot of talk about moms in this play, there aren't actually any mothers present in King Lear. What's up with that?