Goneril in King Lear: Character Analysis & Monologue

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  • 0:00 Goneril Gets Rich
  • 1:12 Goneril's Character Traits
  • 1:32 A Case for Goneril
  • 4:03 Evil Personified
  • 5:13 Goneril's Way Out
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

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

There is mean and then there is downright evil. In this lesson, we will learn about Goneril, the horrid, scheming eldest daughter from Shakespeare's 'King Lear.'

Goneril Gets Rich

The mad King Lear, who is king of Britain, is getting old and wants to retire. He decides the best way to distribute his wealth is by making each of his three daughters play a game where they must flatter the king and tell him how much they love him. The two daughters who don't love the king, Goneril and Regan, both lie to Lear and tell him elaborate tales proclaiming their great affection. Goneril begins the adulation, 'Sir, I love you more than word can yield the matter.' However, the one daughter who actually does love the king, Cordelia, refuses to put into words how much she adores her father. Unfortunately for Lear, the game turns out to be a catastrophe. He is upset with Cordelia's refusal to flatter him and decides to disown his favorite daughter. Meanwhile, he splits up his vast wealth to the evil daughters who only pretend to love him, and they immediately start to scheme on how they are going to get rid of their father for good.

Goneril's Character Traits

Goneril is clever. She knows enough to know at the beginning of the play that flattering her father will make her rich and powerful. That about sums up Goneril's positive attributes. Goneril is also disloyal, greedy, power-hungry, vicious and downright mean.

A Case for Goneril

There is no doubt that Goneril is an awful, wicked person. However, we can sort of make a case that some of her feelings about her father are justified. First off, King Lear is crazy, and he has issues controlling his anger and vanity. He's been king for a long time; he's used to people bowing down and giving him everything he asks for. However, when he gives up his wealth and land, he no longer wields the same power. When he moves in with Goneril, the king expects to be treated, well, like a king. He takes over Goneril's home with his 100 rowdy knights, who bust up her furniture and harass the female servants. This is the one instance where Shakespeare allows the audience to feel a bit of sympathy for Goneril. She approaches Lear about his entourage of knights and pleads with him in a monologue from Act 1, Scene 4 to stop treating her castle like a brothel and to show a little more respect.

This admiration, sir, is much o' th' savour
Of other your new pranks. I do beseech you
To understand my purposes aright.
As you are old and reverend, you should be wise.
Here do you keep a hundred knights and squires;
Men so disorder'd, so debosh'd, and bold
That this our court, infected with their manners,
Shows like a riotous inn. Epicurism and lust
Make it more like a tavern or a brothel
Than a grac'd palace. The shame itself doth speak
For instant remedy. Be then desir'd
By her that else will take the thing she begs
A little to disquantity your train,
And the remainder that shall still depend
To be such men as may besort your age,
Which know themselves, and you.

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