The Nature of Loyalty

Kent’s nature is evident from the very first time he talks to Lear. Lear has begun to detail his disappointment in Cordelia, and announce that he will not be providing her with a dowry. Kent interrupts Lear’s speech with a cry of “Good my liege” (Shakespeare 17). This is a very risky move on the part of Kent, as he knows that Lear may not be in a rational state of mind, and may take any disagreeing with him as a challenge. Through this, Shakespeare shows the reader that a truly loyal character will not fear the consequences his actions. Shakespeare reinforces this point later on in the play when Kent disguises himself to aid Lear, even though he is aware that if he is found the penalty is to be death.

Kent expresses the extent of his loyalty when he conveys the thought “Royal Lear, Whom I have ever honoured as my king, Loved as my father, as my master followed, As my great patron thought on in my prayers”(Shakespeare 17). With this statement we see the type of dedication that is required to someone for true loyalty. Kent is loyal to Lear not only as a king, but as a father and a master. Kent is quite willing to acknowledge that he is less than Lear. Through this speech the reader is shown the amount of respect and love that Kent has for Lear. These qualities are shown in even greater detail later on, when Kent must look after the delusional Lear, a quite unpleasant experience.

Kent is also quick to point out that Lear may be making his decision to banish Cordelia due to madness, and not reason. He is brutally honest when he says “Be Kent unmannerly When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man? Thinkest thou that duty shall have dread to speak When power to flattery bows?” (Shakespeare 17). This statement show the reader two things about the nature of loyalty. The first is that a truly loyal person is not afraid to use brutal honesty, if that’s what’s needed to get the point across. This is seen later on with the Fool, another character who is loyal to Lear, and who is certainly not afraid to be honest with him. The second thing that this statement does is reinforce the point that a truly loyal person is not afraid of the consequences of their actions. Where before Kent was taking a risk by arguing with Lear, he now calls him a crazy old man, which he knows will be taken for an insult. Kent points out that just because Lear is his King, and he is obligated to serve him, it does not mean that he will be afraid to be honest with him when Lear is making a poor decision. Through these actions, Shakespeare shows us that true loyalty is not affected by the amount of power someone has.

Through this one small scene, Shakespeare has shown us what is involved in the true nature of loyalty. The loyalty that Kent shows in this scene is repeated throughout the play, when he is put in the stocks for defending his King, and including the ultimate act of loyalty in the final scene, in which Kent truly shows his absolute loyalty by refusing to take the crown, as he knows that he will not live long enough to do the job credit. Shakespeare shows us that the nature of true loyalty is not fearing the consequences of one’s loyalty, to be truly loyal you must sometimes be painfully honest, and that a truly loyal person will put the well-being of the person they’re loyal to above their own.

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