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King Lear Theme of Loyalty

Think of all the tough, out-for-#1-type antiheroes you know: Walter White, pre-Leia Han Solo, Littlefinger.  Yeah, all those guys would feel right at home in King Lear.

In the harsh world of King Lear, loyalty is rare. Surviving in an unstable political situation means that many people focus on the bottom line: saving their own skins. But there are some characters in the play who demonstrate extraordinary loyalty, such as Kent and Cordelia. The play celebrates this virtue, but it also shows that it can be dangerous. Loyalty is not appreciated, but rather ignored. In some cases, loyalty means death, and in all cases, it means suffering.

Questions About Loyalty

  1. Why does Kent remain loyal to Lear? Does he really love the King, or is serving him the only life he knows? What about the Fool? Is he just doing his job, or does he have some personal investment in King Lear?
  2. Are the characters in King Lear rewarded for their loyalty, or punished?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

King Lear suggests that in a politically unstable country, the price of loyalty is too high to pay. When politics are at stake, those who act according to principle will be punished.

In King Lear, even the most selfless acts of loyalty remain painfully unacknowledged. Yet, because loyalty is its own reward, loyal characters are happy in their choices.

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