King Lear and the Wife of Bath Essay

Pages: 5 (1568 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … Power Explored in King Lear and "The Wife of Bath's Tale"

Love and power are two of the most compelling of human desires. People are driven to do sometimes ridiculous things in the name of love and in the conquest for power, many of which do more harm than good. Regardless of the consequences, the human drive to achieve love and power becomes an interesting notion to study. Two stories that illustrate the human emotion connected to love and power are William Shakespeare's King Lear and Geoffrey Chaucer's the Wife of Bath's Tale. Both stories revolve around love and power. In one story, love and power never actually have the opportunity to co-exist. In the other, love and power come together to create a positive atmosphere. Thee stories show us how love and power are forces that are almost out of the realm of human control. Love and power shape our desires and desires shape our behavior. These stories illustrate how love and power can create or destroy.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on King Lear and the Wife of Bath Assignment

In King Lear, we know that Gloucester is a man that has the power and wants the love. Gloucester makes a mistake in relation to his quest for love is banishing Edgar. The two reconcile when the son helps the father in his time of need. It took an extreme action to get this to happen, but it was worth it because the end result is love. Gloucester is transformed by what happens too him. He tells his son, "Thy life's a miracle" (Shakespeare Edgar tries to console his father and encourages him to think "free and patient thoughts" ( Love is displayed here between two people that had much to overcome. Edgar puts his pain away to comfort his father. Edward Dowden agrees, writing that Edgar is the "champion of right, ever active in opposing evil and advancing the good cause, discovers that the gods are upon the side of right, are unceasingly at work in the vindication of truth and the execution of justice. His faith lives through trial and disaster, a flame which will not be quenched" (Dowden). J. Stamper maintains that Gloucester dies "between extremes of joy and grief, at the knowledge that his son was miraculously preserved, Lear between extreme of illusion and truth, ecstasy and the blackest despair, at the knowledge that his daughter was needlessly butchered" (Stamper 366). We can construct a strong and reliant character with Edgar, which only reinforces the idea that love can overcome.

Love is not always easy, however, and this is demonstrated with King Lear's relationship with Cordelia. Through remarkable courage, they accept their destiny. Dowden asserts Cordelia is comprised of "unmingled tenderness and strength, a pure redeeming ardor" (Dowden). This is best displayed when she tells Lear that they are not the first who "with best meaning, have incurred the worst. / for thee, oppressed king, I am cast down; / Myself could else out-frown false fortune's / frown" (Shakespeare V. iii. 17-22). He echoes these sentiments when he tells her that they will "sing like birds i' the cage: / . . . so we'll live, / and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh / . . . And take upon the mystery of things" (V.iii.97-106). That they choose to walk down the dark path together illustrates the power of love. Diane Dreher "In the midst of civil upheaval, madness, and metaphysical confusion, the heroic choices made by Cordelia affirm ideals of love and truth that transcend logic and redeem her world from utter despair" (Dreher). This powerful realization affirms what we want to believe about the power of love. Cordelia not only believes but acts bravely on this notion. According to Dreher, she defies the "commodification of love that tore her father's kingdom apart, Cordelia knowingly puts herself in danger in an attempt to rescue Lear, sacrificing her safety and material comfort as queen of France" (Dreher). Love makes sacrifices when it needs to do so. Harold Bloom maintains, "Shakespeare's intimation is that the only authentic love is between parents and children, yet the prime consequence of such love is only devastation" (Bloom 483). This statement sums things up rather well. We see that the power of love is strong yet it does always erase all immediate problems. Life and fate carry on and love only makes the journey a little easier.

Power makes it way in King Lear through the characters that seem to be Cordelia's opposites. Goneril and Regan are mesmerized by all that is appealing about power. Their revenge fuels their drive and they do accomplish their goal. What we learn from them is that it is not just power that corrupts but the desire to have it that destroys as well. Their terrible mistreatment of their father makes Cordelia's character stand out even more. In addition, the final scene seems to indicate that love trumps power and it always should.

Geoffrey Chaucer tells about the power of love in a different way in "The Wife of Bath's Tale." With this story, we see the power of love through the actions of a knight that is not a typical knight by any means. In fact, he is a rapist and tends to put his earthly desires above his moral code of being a knight. We read that he has a "lusty liver" (Chaucer 300) and this makes his search seem even likely to be successful. However, his journey transforms his attitude. He learns that some women might want "wealth and treasure" (301), and others might want "fun in bed' (301). He realizes that he is surrounded by others that want "freedom to do exactly as we please,/With no one to reprove our faults and lies,/Rather to have one call us good and wise" (301). He even tells the queen that a woman wants, "the self-same sovereignty/Over her husband as over her lover,/and master him; he must not be above her" (304). From thee scenes, we can see the value of romantic love is stressed in the knight's journey and his subsequent change of heart. However, his education does not stop there.

The knight has more to learn about love from his wife. He learns that love sometimes means doing things that one would rather not do. When the knight submits to his wife, he is rewarded. Roppolo notes that tale is about more than an ugly woman becoming beautiful, it is a story about the "change which occurs in a selfish, proud, and morally blind knight who is taught to find beauty and worth in wisdom and purity" (Roppolo 263). As a result, the knight "gains importance" (Roppolo 263). He notes that "sovereignty becomes her principal point" (Roppolo 269), being that "true gentilese comes from God alone and brings with it an awareness of moral worth and beauty" (269). Here we see that age is just as valuable as submission and when they are equally respected, love stands a chance.

It cannot go without saying that power is what drives both of these characters. The queen and the knight desire to have power over their victims. The knight has no problem with using violent acts to get what he wants and the queen also exerts her power when she needs to do so. Power and love come together in this story in that they learn to live with each other. Rosalyn Rossignol maintains, "The loathly hag's physical transformation is actually triggered by the young knight's spiritual one" (Rossignol). "His own transformation is signaled by his willingness to leave the decision . . . up to her, indicating a profound change from the heedless desire to have his own way that led him to commit the crime of rape" (Rossignol). He gives up his power in this relationship.


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How to Cite "King Lear and the Wife of Bath" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

King Lear and the Wife of Bath.  (2009, April 6).  Retrieved November 30, 2021, from

MLA Format

"King Lear and the Wife of Bath."  6 April 2009.  Web.  30 November 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"King Lear and the Wife of Bath."  April 6, 2009.  Accessed November 30, 2021.