By saying that, Goneril becomes a hypocrite, because she succumbs to her own lustful desires later on, when she plans to betray her husband to be Edmund’s mistress. Goneril called her father fickle (1. 1. 284), but she decided that she wanted to be with Edmund as soon as she heard that her husband, Albany, no longer supported her plots. She even kisses Edmund, and insinuates that she wants to be his mistress (4. 2. 24). Then, Goneril blames her husband, for being a “Milk-livered (cowardly) man” for having morals like a fool (4. 2. 49-57).
This becomes her biggest hypocrisy when Albany finds out from the letter about Goneril’s plot to betray him, and she commits suicide. In a sense, her death spells justice, but readers can easily still feel like she got the easy way out. She realized she had lost everything, and took her own life like a coward rather than facing the consequences of her own actions.
The main passage is significant because it is the first time Goneril challenges King Lear. It is the first time King Lear sees Goneril’s true colors, and serves as a transition for the audience to truly begin to loathe Goneril.
The evil things Goneril did already make her a bad character, but when she tries to be tricky and sly, the audience loses all sympathy for her. Her contradictions and hypocrisies dilate her immoral deeds, and Shakespeare portrays this cleverly through repetition, imagery, and word choice. These literary techniques are important because they are more powerful than directly telling the audience how wicked Goneril is; the literary tools dig deep into the audience’s subconscious and take over their emotions. The audience still needs to pay close attention to every line in order to absorb everything Shakespeare presents in his plays.
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