A continual theme throughout King Lear is loyalty or the misconception of faithfulness. Devotion is difficult to find even among those closest to you. Loyalty is exhibited not only with words but through actions. King Lear initially misconvieces this notion but with development comes to this realization at the end of the play. Loyalty is seen throughout the characters of Cordelia, the Fool, and Kent. Without deviation, these characters offered and displayed loyalty for King Lear in every scenario, even in times of his insanity and betrayal. King Lear misconstrues most of the devout people’s words for disrespect and dishonor. In actuality, those exact people are who assisted and praised him the most. Once King Lear has banished and mistreated those that truly care for him and is put solely at the wrath of those hungry for only his power, he realizes his egregious actions and those who genuinely appreciated him the most.
King Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, is his favorite and most devout daughter. This changes alters when King Lear requests all his daughters to express their love for him in order to receive their portion of the kingdom. Regan and Goneril continue to lavishly declare their artificial love for their father. Meanwhile, Cordelia offers a brief assertion, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty/ According to my bond; no more nor less.” (1.1.100-103) that appears uncompassionate and empty of flattery. King Lear is unable to see view past the lavish words the past two daughters extended to notice that Cordelia’s words are the most genuine and full of affection. Lear responds to Cordelia in a rage, “...By all the operation of the orbs/ From whom we do exist and cease to be,/ Here I disclaim all your paternal care,/ Propinquity, and property of blood,/ And as a stranger to my heart and me/ Hold thee from this forever" (1.1.123-128). Lear disowns Cordelia for her lack of speech even as she deeply cares for her father. He is not able to recognize true respect and adoration is not an ornate display. Even so, Cordelia is banished from Lear’s life and he is now at the mercy of the falsehearted members of his kingdom. After all the atrocious actions and words Cordelia is subjected to by her father, she has means to hate him but instead she chooses to display her loyalty and love towards her father with her actions. Cordelia returns to help her father when she gets news of his unfair dreadful treatment and increasing insanity. Even Lear recognizes this he doesn’t deserve Cordelia’s kind actions stating, “I know you do not love me, for your sisters/ Have, as I do remember, done me wrong./ You have some cause, the have not” (4.7.83-85). Cordelia denies this and clarifies she has “no cause” (4.7.86-87) to harbor ill feeling towards him as she maintains her love for him. Alternatively she selects to assist and shelter her father instead of banishing him like her sisters. Cordelia cares for King Lear even after he loses his power, land, and stature. She embodies the true meaning of loyalty, giving or showing firm and constant support. Cordelia manages to forgive her grudges against him and is his only daughter that realizes loyalty doesn’t have an economic status. The Fool is the only loyal character to King Lear that remains in his good spirits throughout the play. The Fool is perspective and constantly advises and reminds Lear of his mistakes. As his job is to entertain the King, his words are not taken as harshly and he is allowed to voice his true opinions without punishment. His bluntness engenders King Lear’s realization of his faults. He manages to push the boundaries of respect towards King Lear , “To give away thy land,/ come place him here by me;/ Do thou for him stand” (1.4.144-147) He is able to call Lear a fool in a roundabout way. His words, as sharp as they may seem, come from a place of compassion as the Fool is conveying his concern and worry towards his dear friend. The Fool even goes as far to mock the King, “Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou/ hadst no need to care for her frowning. Now thou/ art an O without a figure: I am better than thou art/ now. I am a fool. Thou art nothing” (1.4.176-179). These words may seem cruel but as the play progresses, the reader recognizes the amount of love the Fool holds for his king and how protective he remains. He honors King Lear even after he loses all his wealth and status and remains by his side during his tragic wandering. The Foot is truly the king’s advocate, staying honest and loyal through his use of irony and sarcasm to point out Lear’s mistakes.
Kent, Lear's servant, also remained with King Lear even as he was banished from the land forever. Kent, like the Fool, is never been timid when expressing his mind to King Lear if he believe Lear is erroneous. Under that reasoning, King Lear banished Kent because he gathered Kent had dishonored and betrayed him. In actuality, Kent would sooner deliver the truth to King Lear about his actions, rather than lying and allowing him make a mistake "Royal Lear,/ whom I have ever honored as my king,/ loved as my father, as my master followed,/ as my great patron thought in my prayers--...Let it fall rather, though the fork invade/ the region of my heart. Be Kent unmannerly/ when Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man?/ Think'st thou that duty shall have dread to speak/ when power to flattery bows? To plainness honor's/ bound/ when majesty falls to folly. Reserve thy state..." (1.1. 156-159, 161-167).Kent's banishment granted more reason to deceive King Lear. Despite this, he did not. Instead, he disguised himself to maintain a presence around Lear to assist him when needed. Persisting by Lear’s side, Kent repeatedly showcases his loyalty towards him."If but as well I other accents borrow/ that can my speech diffuse, my good intent/ may carry through itself to that full issue/ for which I razed my likeness. Now, banished Kent,/ if thou canst serve where thou dost stand/ condemned,/ so may it come thy master, whom thou lovest,/ shall find thee full of labors" (1.4.1-8). Helping Lear was no requirement but his devotion and love towards his King are strong. When King Lear is expelled from the homes of Regan and Goneril, Kent helps him find a momentary sanctuary "...Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel.Some Friendship will it lend you 'gainst the tempest. Repose you there..." (3.2.59-61).Although Lear offered horrid treatment towards Kent, he does not cease in his kind protectiveness towards his king.
Shakespeare uses the concept of loyalty in King Lear as a means of portraying a message. Cordelia, the Fool, and Kent are all honest and blunt characters that show the most genuine care for King Lear but Lear is blinded by power and affluence to realize who the most devout to him are. Even after all his mistakes, these three characters persist by his side with all the assistance support they can offer.Regardless if King Lear had power or not, that did not affect the loyal people around him. Through this theme, King Lear recognizes authentic loyalty is very rare in people. Lear can not attach a price and observes that it is more significant than any kind of power.