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The Role of Trickery in Shakespear’s “King Lear” Essay

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2021


This essay will try to examine the x. These may be both the trickery that characters engage in to achieve evil ends and trickery other characters engage in to achieve good ends. An overview of the role played by evil and virtuous trickery in King Lear will show the viewer or reader that although trickery is generally evil, it could destroy both good and bad intentions. However, the play also suggests that while good intentions have the propensity to triumph, the evil enjoyed the ride.

Since this is a prevalent issue that emerges with King Lear, this essay shall focus on the thesis that while evil trickery which may mean evils ways to achieve evil goals already courts disaster or tragedy, the evil-doers are provided much more pleasure than the good.

This essay will also consider whether trickery serves an important function in the play. It will contrast one example of an evil trick with one example of a virtuous one. An analysis in the strategy used in the playing of each trick will also be presented. The trickster and the person being tricked, the switching that the trickster uses in order to play a trick on the person will also be put to light. This paper will consider whether the strategy of the evil trickster is the same as that of the good one or whether the strategies similar for the most part or similar in certain small ways.


The play King Lear is the story of an elderly ruler of England in a mythical period between Rome and the Middle Ages. The King who is about to abdicate his throne wants to dispose of his kingdom evenly among his three daughters: the married Goneril and Regan and the youngest Cordelia who is still single. Lear calls for all of them to gather at his palace with the plan to offer the hand of his youngest daughter to several suitors.

During the family gathering with husbands and nobles attending, Lear asks each of his daughters. As maybe obvious in speech, King Lear made apparent to all how he might interpret the answers to his own question: “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

That we our largest bounty may extend…” (Shakespeare, 1623, Act 1, Scene 1). So that the reader or viewer will know the flatterer as the liar and the sincere who will only profess deed. Goneril and Regan were the same, when one (Goneril) declared: “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter; Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty; Beyond what can be valu’d, rich or rare; No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour…” (Shakespeare, 1632, Act 1, Scene 1, Verse 18).

It is arguable whether Cordelia was exhibiting her father’s pride (Granville-Barker, 1927, p 188) when she answered indignantly with consideration of giving also her love to her husband-to-be, as such insisted that what she declared was from her heart: “So young, my lord, and true.” (Shakespeare, 1632, Act 1, Scene 1, Verse 24).

Cordelia was banished despite Kent, the royal servant, trying to dissuade the King’s anger and wrongful decision. Regan and Goneril along with their husbands and Edmund, bastard son of the Duke of Gloucester proceeded to divide the kingdom. Lear spent time one at a time with his daughters Regan and Goneril throughout the year. However, Lear only saw through the deception of his daughters after Regan drives him and his servants out of her house. Goneril thus declared, “Put on what weary negligence you please,

You and your fellows; I’ll have it come to question: If he dislike it, let him to our sister,

Whose mind and mine, I know, in that are one, Not to be over-ruled. Idle old man,

That still would manage those authorities That he hath given away! Now, by my life,

Old fools are babes again; and must be used With cheques as flatteries,–when they are seen abused. Remember what I tell you,” (Shakespeare, 1632, Scene 3 V 5.)

The king was cast out without anything. But Lear was accompanied by the only man who has stood up to him, Kent disguised as Fool or jester. They strayed together with the Fool hoping to reconcile the king and Cordelia someday.

Meanwhile, the bastard Edmund destroys the reputation of his half brother Edgar and their father readily accepted the lies. Thus, Edmund showed a fake letter from Edgar which Gloucester read as, “Come to me, that of this I may speak more. If our father would sleep till I waked him, you should half his revenue for ever, and live the beloved of your

brother, EDGAR.’” (Shakespeare, 1632, Scene 2, V 13). The duke himself was soon blind, then banished. Edgar who pretended to be a poor man soon crossed paths with Lear. Edgar soon discovered his father as blind and they reconcile upon establishing the truth behind Edmund’s trickery.

Cordelia married the King of France. And soon, she took an army to invade England. As the fight ensues, Cordelia meets her wandering father and Lear recognized her. They finally reconciled. Cordelia, however, was killed and Lear, not being able to cope, followed suit. The end shows the viewers a kingdom ruined.

As clearly painted on the play, the story of King Lear is rich of negative and positive deception. It is not clear to point if Cordelia’s own bluntness itself is a form of deception as she had to suppress her overflowing emotion to bluntly place a fact that after marriage, her love and loyalty is divided between her husband and her father, King Lear.

The lies, however of Goneril and Regan are blatant and pure flatteries: said only to please the receiving end. The effect was an old, perhaps senile man’s way of reciprocating the lies – to give or divide his kingdom for the tow flatterers and banish the honest Cordelia.

Another trickery in King Lear is the servant Kent disguising to continue serving his King. This is a positive trickery as the intention is good and there is the loyal devotion seen on the servant who became the Fool or jester. Another trickery played is by Edgar, the son of Gloucester. This is another positive trickery as it was to save himself from persecution as well as find ways to correct a wrong done.

But the most notable trickery of all is itself the opening, the part where King Lear decided to measure his daughter’s loyalty and ability to manage a kingdom through profession of verbal love for him. Although he should have grown wise to know the truth, he was blinded to play fool, like a Russian roulette, only to be the main loser.


In summation, the story of King Lear is fool of trickery from the start. It bean with the king tricking his daughters so that the first casualty was the innocent and pure: Cordelia, as it was not right to divide a kingdom among persons who profess a vocal devotion when in his heart, he already knew the truth. He soon found out he was tricked himself as the true colors of Goneril and Regan became apparent.

The trickery, however, was not limited to negative. There are also positive trickeries done by Kent and Edgar. Although the actions of Kent and Edgar proved to be right, it did not redeem the whole story as Cordelia and the king remained victims of their fate and the kingdom was left ruined. In conclusion, while evil and good remains separated, the evil doers enjoy more pleasure for their acts as Goneril, Edmund and Regan proved in this play.


Granville-Barker, H. (1927). Prefaces to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare, W. (1632). King Lear. Web.

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