Originally, Shakespeare’s King Lear seemed to speak mainly on the use of language to hide and uncover truths. However, I had not taken into account the absence of a mother figure in the play. Coppelia Kahn offers a rather unique approach to Shakespeare’s play in her essay, "The Absent Mother in King Lear." She argues that much of King Lear’s sorrow lies in the fact that there is no female counterpart to his overly masculine nature, thus he is gradually embracing the emotion, or “feminine” aspects of himself. This lack of femininity is apparent by the absence of a mother for Lear’s three daughters, and again at the banishment of his favorite daughter, Cordelia. During this particular scene, Lear says, “I loved her the most and thought to set my rest [o]n her kind nursery,” as if Lear thought Cordelia to be a replacement for the unappearing mother figure.
I believe the feminine aspect that Kahn speaks of is the motherly one that takes use of emotion, goodness, and empathy. Thus the females that actually do coexist with Lear during the play, Goneril and Regan, do not offer these qualities to him in the least, for they betray him. This search for balance between masculinity and femininity serves as an explanation to the beginning scene, where Lear is asking his daughters how much they love him, as if their womanly love could counterbalance his manliness, or boyishness for that matter. King Lear’s “id” seems to be running rampant and there is no physical “super-ego” to keep him in line. The search is finding this motherly or fatherly aspect within himself, as the Ancient poet Ovid said, to “keep a mid course between two extremes.”
Although Kahn’s explanation of masculinity versus femininity does seem apparent, and although I do personally believe that there should be an equal balance between these two opposites in all people, I feel King Lear is best analyzed in Freudian terms. After all, masculinity and femininity have rather relative definitions, based on the social beliefs of a certain place at a certain time, but when one speaks in the terms of holding on to one’s “ego” and balancing the “id” and the “super-ego,” it is more easily relatable to a wider variety of people using more definable terms. This would also explain why some refer to Shakespeare’s work as some of the first studies in Psychology. Thus I believe that Kahn offers an interesting and, for the most part, true analysis of King Lear, I feel that one must view the whole work in several different lights in order to see the entire picture.