"Goodness" in King Lear: A Lesson in Loyalty
Shakespear's good characters, in the play King Lear, are considered good because they are loyal even when they are disguised from or unrecognizable by those to whom they owe loyalty. In addition, their loyalty does not waver even when they are banished or mistreated by those to whom they are loyal. Cordelia, Edgar and Kent are all characters that exemplify this goodness and unwavering loyalty.
Let us first consider King Lear and his relationship with his daughter Cordelia. When King Lear asks Cordelia to profess her love for him she merely answers that she loves him according to her bond, no more. Enraged, the king banishes her without an inheritance or dowry. Cordelia tries to explain that she will not speak of her love for him in order to get fortunes since this would be deceitful. However, Lear refuses to understand and Cordelia leaves imploring her sisters to care for him.
What makes Cordelia a good character here is not only that she refuses to flatter her father in order to deceive him out of his wealth, but also because she accepts her father's punishment and leaves willingly even though she knows it is not a just punishment. Additionally, she expresses no animosity toward Lear, instead she asks her sisters to care for him. This unwavering loyalty is also exhibited later in the play when Cordelia finds Lear and she realizes he is mad. She cares for him and gives him medicinal herbs until he is well again. Even when Lear begs for her forgiveness she insists that she has no cause to be offended.
Perhaps the most pure form of loyalty is when it is displayed even when the beneficiary is unaware. When loyalty is expressed in this discrete manner the bestower cannot expect to be repaid for his allegiance. Cordelia displays such discrete loyalty when left alone with her sisters after she is disowned and she expresses the hope that they will love Lear. Even though Cordelia knows Lear does not hear her good wishes for Lear, she nonetheless expresses them. This fact is proof that she displays this pure form of discrete loyalty.
Edgar is the next character who displays loyalty to his father even