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Feminist And Psychoanalytical Critical Approach To King Lear

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This essay aims to take a look into the play ‘King Lear’ authored by William Shakespeare, using both the feminist and psychoanalytical critical approach. Like most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, King Lear can be identified on various levels and from a diversity of critical perspectives, due to its complexity. The result of the play not having one particular meaning, it leaves the readers vulnerable to feel stunned by the intricacies of the storyline. The typical conflict of good vs. evil is ideally one of the broadest themes to transpire from this work. Shakespeare was able to depict this notion through the use of different characters in the play. The evil was exhibited through and established by the humans, which is overshadowed by the great in the realm of King Lear. Duke of Albany stated that the penalty for malevolent people with have justification (ACT V, iii, 303). Albany indicated that the cause of wickedness was the individuals, not gods. Withstanding that, this paper aims to intensely analyse the play based on two critical literary approaches and to investigate the application of the theories to the play.

Sigmund Freud affirms that the practice of psychological rehabilitation is what is known as psychoanalysis. In other words, free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of resistance and transference are able to conceal or comatose impulses, anxieties and inner disputes. The focus is on the author’s state of mind or the state of mind of the characters in the literary text. Freud’s philosophies and multiplexes can be used as an in-depth look at letterings of certain literary texts. The play I’m going to be analysing is a target of the psychoanalytical criticism.

As Pamela Thurschwell (pg. 28) puts it, “Psychoanalysis enquires a certain sign which occurs through tyranny. When solid emotional responses are subjugated, then systems arise.” With a man’s ability to think and react as coherently as they do. The deepest secrets, fears and oddest desires of any human can trigger such an intrusion. With his adoration or materialistic and possession of poor public relations, King Lear is an example of a man who only follows through with his materialistic ways. Permitting readers to comprehend his behavioural patterns and his mental stability through the discovery of his human emotion’s creations the denotation that, eventually, it was in fact his dignity and temperament that lead towards his madness.

Analytically, whilst observing the play, an object theorist would look at the destructive performance of the protagonist as indicative due to the absence of appropriate frontiers between himself and everyone who encompasses him. In relation to the object relation theory, a baby perceives the mother as a piece of itself. However, if the necessity of the conditions is not met for healthy development and there is an unsuccess of separation, the future relations for the child will be characterised by a potent yearning for syntheses with others. The behaviour of Lear may be indicative due to the dearth of adequate nurturing treatment from when he was an infant, which can be the explanation for his tainted attachment to other people with damaging sentiments. Harold Bloom puts it: “Love is no shaman in The Tragedy of King Lear; it starts all the mess and is a disaster within itself… Parental affection is kept away from the calamity” (484). It is evident in the scene to which Lear asks his daughters to express their love for him, that his yearning for fusion with his daughters and the anger fulfilled at the thought of them having independent lives constitute two emotional poles. “Which one of you will we pronounce doth love me highly?” (1.1, line 50). He doesn’t expect respect and gratitude which normally children would feel for their father, but rather a complete devotion.

The selfishness in King Lear’s comportment shows ID as Cordelia refuses to show her vanity about love towards her father. Another example of being ID driven is when Edmund’s ID dominates the entirety of his mind. In doing so, it drives him to commit actions that are judged ‘amoral’ by society. “Edmund, the ground will excel if this missive speed and my invention flourishes. I will grow and prosper. Now, Gods, stand up for bastards!” (1.2.21-24)

Being superego propelled necessitates that the ego is unable to break from the learned rules and boundaries of society. In King Lear, the character of Cordelia has a superego driven mind. This is shown as she is not able to stand up against her father’s actions in the love test. “I adore your majesty. Rendering to my connection, no farther or fewer.” (1.1.91-93)

Accordingly, Feminist literary theorists are principally absorbed upon the depiction of women in texts, as literature is an imperative part of the ethos and within society the distribution of role models. In a lecture carried out about the Feminist theory, the designation of Feminism is stated as “politically motivated movements dedicated to personal and social change” (Koehler-Ridley 2012). The associations, which are viewed as social constructs, amid sexual and gender identification originated in an androcentric hierarchy. Hence, the examination and evaluation Feminists undertake in which a text requires the reader, as members of a precise ethos, to sympathy of what it means to be female, or male and whether or not it heartens them to contest gender norms (Belsey and Moore 1989). The evidence that King Lear has defined misogynistic tones comes from a Feminist literary perspective. This can be drawn to the fact the storyline challenges traditional societal gender positions, and views women as demonic, assertive and the origin of all issues in society.

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The female characters in King Lear do not behave as women of their period, as it is quite perceptible from the starting of the play. An example of this is the fact they acquire attributes that deem more “masculine”. Goneril, for example, is a woman who is overly controlling and has quite the authority over her husband. The fact her main goal is to take over the household and clarifies that she wears the pants, would direct the role of “housewife” to Albany, her husband. To argue this: “Arms at home must change and give the house domestic to my husband’s hands.” (4.2.17-18) This quote proves that she defies the typical feminine role of her time.

Sexism is a key theme which runs throughout King Lear. Par example, Lear clearly gives sexist descriptions of the female anatomy; especially in relation to his own daughters. He states that “from the waist up, all women are relatively normal. But, from the waist down, it’s full of “hell.” To him, he views this as sheer obscurity and nothing but “demonic.” Notwithstanding that, powerful women’s presentation by Shakespeare influences them to be viewed as having a deformity with both their mind and body. The following quote shows Albany stating that formidable women have the form of a woman but the mindset of an imp: “See yourself, the Devil! The deformity shows not in the fiend but in women as pure horridness.” (4.2.60-61) This remark puts a notion in place of how women ought to behave beyond certain boundaries.

As former Director of the Shakespeare institute, Kathleen McClustie asserts that the King Lear has an opposite view. In her opinion, the play is ‘anti-feminine’. Her suggestion of “the misogyny of King Lear is made out of an austere folklore which shows women as the source of the primordial immorality of envy”. The arguments she makes are based solely off her recognition that the audience accepts an equation amid “mortal nature” and “masculine energy”. For her, she sees the audience as having no choice but to agree that the women in the play are evil and that they create a chaotic world to which must be resisted. The sexual politics is challenged by the patriarchal authority in the play where “male authority” is a fixed social order; it can lead to destruction and chaos.

The two daughters of Lear each displayed their prodigious inclination to have all the power over the kingdom. To prove they are in command over every situation; they exhibit a few characteristics typically shown by men. Although, they both do end up dead as an outcome. It is shown through this that whilst Shakespeare was striving to illustrate to his audience that ladies can accomplish everything males can, he also wanted to prove to his audience that the strength the women ghad is the one thing that wrecked them in the end.

In the play there are several sexual nuances which do point to the Lear’s incestuous yearnings for his “daughters turned mothers”. In Act 1, Scene , Goneril and Reagans sermons are inundated with symbolic manifestations not of a father-child relationship, but rather a paramours’ desire. The type of language they use when indicating to sensual actions are described as the type of “love that makes breath destitute” (1.1-8); of which, does create such a substance feeling for Lear. In his thesis named “Psychopathology of Shakespeare’s King Lear”, Paunch depicts the Oedipal complexity in the play. He utilizes the phrase “Lear Complex” when discovering a “ kind of a reverse Oedipus complex, indicating to a father’s being sexually attracted to his own daughter” (358).

Reagan and Goneril’s attitude towards Lear can be construed as the onslaught on his masculine individuality. Owing to Lear granting up the authority he has over his land, which in patriarchal society was associated with masculinity; he desires to preserve a bit of his manliness by applying regime over his knights. The scarcity of Lear to his knights can be depicted as comparable to castration, and Lear labels it as “I am mortified, that you have the power to unsettle my manhood” (1.4.123). And because of the tremendous pressure of his two daughters, of which they act like dominating mothers, Lear deems to be squandering his virility and his comportment develops further to be feminised. His familiarity of hysteria (of which until the untimely contemporary era was considered as an entirely womanly feeling produced by “wandering womb”) and ends up in tears when the brutalities of Goneril and Reagan are put forward. Because of this feminisation, anxiety is inspired in him which is evident: “If it be you that stir these daughters’ hearts… No, I’ll wail… I will go crazy!” (2.4 72-3).

In supposition, the psychoanalytical and Feminist investigative readings of King Lear have established resemblances and discrepancies between the play and the two theories. For instance, both theories show suggestion of the fact Shakespeare used certain eccentrics to show certain facets of things wrong within a culture. The research I had undertaken beforehand meant that I could easily apply my prior knowledge of feminism easily to my analysis, but for Psychoanalysis I found it a lot more difficult.

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Feminist And Psychoanalytical Critical Approach To King Lear. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
“Feminist And Psychoanalytical Critical Approach To King Lear.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
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