King Lear

Authority: Kent as a Model of Loyalty in King Lear

King Lear, as both head of state and paterfamilias, has multiple claims to power, and to obedience. His spectacle of dividing the kingdom between his daughters confuses their obligations to him as subjects with their filial obligations, duties which are not necessarily equivalent. Cordelia cannot play both roles at once; she favors her role as daughter over her duty to her father as a subject in his kingdom. The duty that Lear expects can only be acquitted by speaking. Cordelia damns herself by being unable to speak what is expected. Kent, an alternate model of loyalty in the play, incurs Lear's wrath by speaking too plainly. Kent's loyalty - which distinguishes itself from obedience - demonstrates the suspicious attitude the play has of speech. He departs from the forms of affection that attempt to measure loyalty in terms of simple, spoken complaisance.

A corollary of Kent's distrust of rhetoric seems to be his attention to physical presence, his dependence on optical proof. This model of knowledge allows Kent to seem nearly prescient in recognizing the deception of Lear's elder daughters. It also contributes to an important part of his service to the King; looking past the words, spoken in madness, by Lear,...

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