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As our children grow, we begin by parenting infants, then parent children, then adolescents, and finally we parent adults. As the play opens, Lear plans to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. His way of deciding who is to get what is at best unwise and at worst likely to generate tremendous problems. Tell me, my daughters, Since now we will divest us both of rule, Interest of territory, cares of state, Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend Where nature doth with merit challenge. Act I, Scene 1, Lines The oldest two daughters, Goneril and Regan, oblige by making exaggerated professions of love. For example, Goneril claims:. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty According to my bond; nor more nor less.
Enraged, Lear disinherits Cordelia, dividing her portion between Goneril and Regan. Those two had promised to alternate housing Lear, but quickly tire of having him around. One after the other, each pushes him to leave and deprives him of his knights, whom they had agreed to support. When Lear angrily leaves them both behind even though a terrible storm is brewing, neither daughter tries to dissuade him. The Earl of Gloucester points out the hazardous conditions, but Regan replies coldly:.
O, sir, to wilful men, The injuries that they themselves procure Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors. Lear ostensibly has been generous to his daughters by giving them his kingdom. He seems to think he has acted in love. If Lear loves at all, though, he loves conditionally. Lear is seemingly incapable of unconditional love. In my work as a psychologist, I regularly meet with adult clients who are hurting because one or both parents were and still are unloving towards them. One woman is constantly told that she is incompetent and will fail; another is repeatedly informed that her brother has always been a better child, a third always is instructed that she should sacrifice her life to take care of everyone else in the family.
If the child deviates, he or she is treated like Cordelia, cast out of the kingdom. How can we know whether our love of our adult children is conditional? A good place to begin reflecting on the nature of our love is to examine Paul's description of love in I Corinthians 13, which reads in part:.