Nothing Will Come of Nothing
Cari Gilkison, Critical Writing
“Nothing will come of nothing,” (1.1.90) In Shakespeare’s King Lear we see how empty words and empty deeds will end up amounting to nothing. The emptiness and greed then leads to many tragic deaths. While Cordelia utters this line to her father to let him know that he will receive no false flattery from her, the line also encompasses the theme of the play as well.
Lear’s two daughters Goneril and Regan damn themselves and all those around them with their selfish and empty pursuit of power. In Act 1 then lie to their father about their undying loyalty to him. Both hope to be given more land by their father and they hope that their flowery speeches will win him over. As the play unfolds they both fight for Edmund even though they are both already married. Goneril’s adulterous nature is most obvious when she kisses Edmund in Act 4 Scene 2. Through the plan and they plot without a thought as to how it is tearing their family apart. Goneril then poisons her sister so she can have the inheritance all to herself only to be overwhelmed with guilt and kill herself as well. In the end neither sister got what they wanted. They did not gain a thing. Instead, they lost all they had, including their lives.
Edmund is perhaps the most ambitious of them all though. In his zeal to rise above his illegitimate status, he tears apart his family as well as Lear’s family. Edmund claims it is written in the stars it is in his nature to be greedy. It is easier for Edmund to blame his nature for his dastardly deeds than to take responsibility for the horrible choices he makes. He even says, “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeits of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsions. (1.2.121-25). With the use of trickery and deceit, he sets his father against his brother. Although not aware of Edmunds hidden agents, Gloucester tells his son that such greed does more harm than good. “Love cools, friendships fall off, brothers divide and the bond cracked between son and father.” (1.2.109-13) Despite this warning, Edumnd continues his plan which will ultimately lead to his own death. It is a death which his brother Edgar calls, “Very bootless.” (5.3.299) Edmund’s death was indeed in vain. Again, nothing came of his empty greed. The wise fool warns King Lear not to divide his kingdom lest he bears the burden of such a tragic mistake. Lear does not listen to advice of his loyal and insightful subject. His words fall on deaf ears and so Lear does nothing to prevent the tragedy. The Fool’s advice came to nothing as well.
Kent give Lear the same advice, but Lear does not listen to him either. In fact, King Lear banishes Kent for being so bold. He says, “When majesty falls to folly reserve they state, and in thy best consideration check this hideous rashness.” (1.1.150-52) Not only does Kent point out his King’s mistake, he calls him old as well. Lear, being offended by Kent’s audacity, refuses to listen to him. Kent then disguises himself and tries to help Lear in other ways. Even these extensive measures can’t prevent the tragic events that appear to be destined to happen. In the end Kent’s identity is revealed. As Lear mourns his beloved Cordelia’s death, Kent asks Lear, “Is this the promised end?” (5.3.268) Nothing came of Kent’s efforts to prevent Lear from making his fatal mistake.
Lear himself is to blame for the tragedy that befell him. He turned a deaf ear to his friends and refused their help in running things. He was selfish to demand his daughter’s love and attention in return for land and power. He went mad with the fear and anger he felt because of his own foolish actions and his pride. Lear simply could not handle the truth that his own daughters would betray him. When he realizes what he has done, it is too late to do anything about it. Lear says to Cordelia, “I am bound on a wheel of fire, that mine tears do scald me like molten lead.” (4.7.47-8) It is not a direct apology, but a declaration of his regret. Regret, however, cannot bring his daughters back from death. When he finds out that his beloved Cordelia is dead as well, he dies of a broken heart.
Nothing came of nothing.