THE PROGRESS OF LEAR
At the beginning of the play Lear is the embodiment of perverse self will. He believes the obsequious flattery of his pelican daughters, and he knows neither himself nor the nature of things. His demands of his daughters that they quantify their love for him - Which of you shall we say doth love us most - is perverse. While he talks of love and paternal care, his actions contradict this. He disowns Cordelia – Here I disclaim all my paternal care. He talks of shedding the powers of kingship and the burden of leadership, but his intention to retain the status of a king - we shall retain/the name and all the addition of a king - contradicts this. His banishment of Kent – come not between the dragon and his wrath - for daring to question his treatment of Cordelia - See better Lear, and let me still remain/The true blank of thine eye- is the action of an autocrat who is morally blind and who commits himself to his own destruction.
Cordelia recognizes the mistake that Lear is making, but rather than rail against his injustice, she indicates to Goneril and Regan that she doubts their sincerity - I know you what you are - and asks them to mind Lear – Love well our father. The scene ends with Goneril and Regan conspiring against Lear, criticizing his lack of self-knowledge and his poor judgement – ‘Tis the infirmity of his age; yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.
Lear’s poor judgement is apparent when Goneril is seen to scheme against him with Oswald – Put on what weary negligence you please. Her actions are blatantly disrespectful and designed to be provocative. She hopes that Lear will leave to go to Regan and her actions, in telling her household not to tolerate Lear and his retinue of knights, is a deliberate attempt to exasperate her father.
When Goneril meets Lear, having initially told him she is unavailable, there is a confrontation. She complains about his riotous knights – your insolent retinue …so...