The play King Lear is, first of all, a play about kingship; about a
trustful old king, every inch a king, who in old age brings destruction to
himself, and to certain persons in his own circle, and to his country. It
is a play which tears off the outer coverings. Pious and innocent-seeming
people who are villainous, are revealed in their true nature, and the
similar is disclosed for what it is, as it works destruction. This is done
in a world in which most men are constantly seeking their own advancement,
in a court which flatterers are always lurking, and in which a king should
be constantly wary and constantly careful to follow the advice of such
practical honest men as Kent.
Within the first two acts of King Lear, the element of disguise is
established. The king’s two daughters, Regan and Goneril, use flattery as
a disguise. They conceal their true feelings, conspiring to take over the
land once they gain control of it. Goneril says,
Sir, I love you more than word can weild the matter;
Dearer then eyesight, space, and liberty; . . . . Beyond all
manner of so much I love you. (I,I,56-63})
I am made of the same metal as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love,
Only she comes too short, that I profess
Myself and enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear Highness’ love. (I,I,72-80})
Clearly, these words are loaded with flattery. The third daughter,
Cordelia, cannot wear the mask that the other two wear, “I love your
Majesty According to my bond, no more nor less.” (I,I,97-98}) It is for
this reason that Cordeila is banished from the kingdom.
An obvious example of disguise is with the Earl of Kent, as he enters
the play as Tom of Bedlam. Even though he was exiled from the kingdom, he
has returned to protect Lear. His great loyality to the king, forces Kent
to risk his life in order to decieve Lear.
Lear : What art thou?
Kent : A very honest-hearted fellow, and as poor as the king.
(I, IV, 18-20)
A disguise normally is associated with covering up, leaving a very
superficial character, but in the case with Kent, it is not so. Kent is
still as loyal as he ever was, and it is clear from this scene that he will
fight for Lear until his death.
The element of disguise, was used extensively within the first two
scenes. It shows how Regan and Goneril used this factor to decieve Lear,
and it showed how kent used it to help the king.