Duke of Cornwall in Shakespeare's King Lear: Traits & Analysis

Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Some men fight to survive, while some men just like inflicting pain on others. In this lesson, we will learn about the cruel and sadistic Duke of Cornwall from William Shakespeare's 'King Lear.'

Silly Games

In Shakespeare's King Lear, the king of Britain is getting old and wishes to retire. He has three daughters named Regan, Goneril and Cordelia. Lear decides that the best way to split up his great wealth is by making his daughters play a game where each will tell their father how much she loves him.

Goneril and Regan, who don't love their daddy, make up elaborate lies that flatter the mad king. Meanwhile Cordelia, the only daughter who actually loves Lear, refuses to put into words how much she adores her dad.

Who loves daddy the most?
Lears Daughters

Lear is enraged by Cordelia and gives her nothing. Lear's wealth is then split among the two evil daughters who only pretend to love their father. In order to receive the king's wealth, both daughters must also marry. So Goneril marries the Duke of Albany and Regan marries the Duke of Cornwall.

Cornwall's Character Traits

There is a lot of scheming, violence, greed and anger in King Lear. In fact, the play is an all-out blood bath, with almost every major character getting murdered or killing themselves. And one of the most sadistic characters of them all is Cornwall, who appears to love violence for the sake of violence.

Cruel

We first see Cornwall's penchant for cruelty at Gloucester's castle. The Earl of Gloucester is an old lord in King Lear's court who also has issues seeing which one of his children is honorable. By this time, Lear's daughters have already mistreated their father. Regan booted her dad and his knights out of her house and left them homeless.

Cornwall and Regan go to Gloucester's house to discuss their planned war against Lear, who is growing more insane by the second. Lear's loyal servant Kent arrives at Gloucester to deliver a message, where he subsequently gets into a fight with Oswald (Goneril's servant). Cornwall and Regan break up the fight. However, instead of respecting Kent, Cornwall puts him in the stocks - a wooden shackle - for 24 hours.

Disrespectful

When Lear arrives at Gloucester, three things enrage him to no end. The first is that Kent is being disrespected and treated like a common criminal. The second is that Regan and Cornwall initially ignore Lear by refusing to speak with him. The final straw is broke when Goneril arrives on the scene, and alongside Regan, the two children chide Lear.

The Evil Sisters
Goneril and Regan

They push his fragile state of sanity to the brink. Lear flees the castle and enters a nasty storm. Cornwall orders Gloucester to lock Lear out of the castle. Gloucester obliges even though he is concerned about Lear's safety. Cornwall and the evil daughters couldn't be happier. Getting rid of the old man was the goal. And now they are almost clear of his burden.

The Mad King
Lear

Sadistic

Edmund, Gloucester's evil son, proceeds to tell Cornwall that his father is looking to help Lear. This is when we see the true evilness in Cornwall and Regan. The pair tie up Gloucester (in his own home), insult him and yank on his beard. Cornwall is upset that he can't actually kill Gloucester without a trial, but is delighted that he can torture him. Remember that Gloucester is a nobleman, a lord. And Cornwall and Regan are humiliating and disgracing him in front of several servants.

The cruel Cornwall takes out one of Gloucester's eyes with his sword, throws the eye on the floor and then steps on it. Regan is loving it and tells Cornwall to take out the other eye.

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