Saturday, July 11, 2020

Sibling RIvalry found in King Lear, My Sister's Keeper, and East of Eden

I first started talking about sibling rivalry found in King Lear here. Yep, that was me, blaming the entire tradegy of Shakespearce's play on the parent. 

Similar to King Lear, a contemporary story that plays with sibling rivalries spurred on by a parent’s favoritism is Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, which brings the theme of sibling relationships to a new level. The older sister, Kate, has leukemia. With a horrible prognosis at how bad the disease will get and that there will be very few donor matches to save her life, her parents decide to have another child solely to be a compatible organ and blood donor for her sister. Anna’s character knows that she was only born to save her sister. She goes to court for medical emancipation when Kate needs one of Anna’s kidneys. Anna has always given whatever Kate needed, but this time she wants the freedom to make her own choices. She relays that “there are always sides. There is always a winner and a loser. For every person who gets, there's someone who must give” (Picoult). 

My Sister's Keeper: A Novel by [Jodi Picoult]

The same sentiment rings true for the sibling rivalry in King Lear. There are the two older sisters, Goneril and Regan, who receive portions of the kingdom only because the favored daughter, Cordelia, who would most likely have received the entire inheritance was disinherited when she didn’t curry favor and verbally flatter her father. Goneril and Regan have grown up in a household where they knew they were not their father’s favorite. That couldn’t have helped their self-esteem. From the beginning, this poor parenting is set up when Lear declares to his daughters, “which of you shall we say doth love us most/that we our largest bounty may extend/where nature doth with merit challenge?” (1.1.50-52). He has completely set them up as rivals, which we can assume he has been doing their entire lives, which would account for their jealousies and rivalries with not only Cordelia, but then between themselves when they turn on each other for the affection of Edmund. Both My Sister’s Keeper and King Lear end with Anna and Cordelia coming to know that their parents do love them, yet tragically they both perish anyway, Anna in a twist of fate when she wins her rights to her own body, becomes brain-dead in an accident shortly afterward. Another contemporary story that plays with sibling relationships along the same vein as King Lear is East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

First Edition Cover ~ Fair Use

East of Eden plays on the rivalry represented in the Old Testament of Cain and Abel, with one son’s offerings being favored while the other son’s is rejected. Charles (Cal) and Aron are twins. Aron is good-natured and has always been favored by his father, where Cal feels that he has a darkness inside of himself and is resentful that he can never please his father. When he makes money to help their struggling family, he is again rejected because his father feels that is wasn’t honest to take advantage of the farmers. This line sums up Cal’s self-worth, “It's awful not to be loved. It's the worst thing in the world...It makes you mean, and violent, and cruel” (Steinbeck). Swap Cal’s feelings with the sentiments of Edmund who bemoans being born a bastard. “My father compounded with my mother/under the dragon’s tail and my nativity was under Ursa/Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut, I/should have been that I am” (1.2.121-124).  East of Eden also ends in tragedy when Cal shows Aron the truth about their mother being a prostitute. Aron runs off to war and is killed, which causes their father to have a stroke and die. The father’s end is very similar to the death of King Lear as Lear hovers over Cordelia’s corpse, crying, “And thou no breath at all? Oh, thou’lt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never” (5.3.315-316). Both Adam, Cal and Aron’s father, and Lear showed poor parenting skills as they, perhaps inadvertently, favored one child over the others, and in effect produced sibling rivalry that brought about terrible ends for all involved. Shakespeare was brilliant in tapping into the complexity of family relationships, creating famous rivalries between siblings that are relatable to almost everyone.  

Relationships are complicated, especially between siblings as they grow together and try to find their place within the family. Compound those relationships with parents who favor one child over the others and there is a dynamic theme to explore and bring to any audience to relate to. If a person isn’t having issues within their own families, they will see rivalry within others, whether it is with their friends, neighbors, work associates, or in the political arena as the people of the Elizabethan era were entrenched in with the succession from the Tudor line to the Stuarts. Shakespeare was able to capitalize on this because it is something that everyone with a family can relate to. While watching a play or movie, we relate to the characters. We feel the anger, loss, betrayal, hope, and love, even more deeply when it involves family members. The theme of siblings vying for attention of their parents, whether it deals with inheritance or pleasing them will endure throughout all generations. The entire play revolved around the test of love that Lear set up between his daughters in dividing his kingdom. Imagine if he had not posed that question and had split up his kingdom evenly between the three sisters. Goneril and Regan may have stayed true to their characters and squandered their inheritance, yet Lear would have been able to have a safe retirement and lived out his life in the partial kingdom with Cordelia, and the conflict between Edmund and Edgar would never have come to fruition without the interference of the two sisters supporting him. Yet there would not have been a plot worth enduring and the theme repeated throughout history.


Works Credited

Shakespeare, William. “King Lear.” No Fear Shakespeare: King Lear. Spark Publishing, 2003. Print.

Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. Penguin Books, 2002 edition. Print

Piccoult, Jodi. My Sister's Keeper. Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print 


Sunday, June 28, 2020

King Lear ~Sibling Rivalry Rooted in Poor Parenting

When a parent favors one child over the others, jealousies evolve as children seek their place within the family unit. The theme of sibling rivalry is universal in any time period because family relationships and how we view our own identities within our families are complicated. I found this theme interesting because I come from a large family where a lot of how we dealt with each other stemmed from how our father treated us. For example, my mother didn’t make it to the hospital so my father ended up delivering my younger sister. My father and sister always had a special bond and the favoritism and considerations given her were undeniable. Rivalry between siblings is seen in William Shakespeare’s King Lear as the retiring king poses a test of love that pits his daughters against one another. In the secondary plot, Gloucester also favors one son over the other, which also drives the story into tragedy and death over the aspect of inheritance. 

By Gustav Pope (Austria 1831–1910 Londres) - Museo de Arte de Ponce, Public Domain,

And it all kind of mirrors what was happening during Shakespeare’s time. Queen Elizabeth died without an heir and rivalry between cousins over the English throne was echoed in the play. Meredith Skura states in Dragon Fathers and Unnatural Children: Warring Generations in King Lear and Its Sources that “insofar as Edgar inherits this role, he is like Shakespeare’s own new monarch, James I, prince of the newly united realm of Britain and first in a new dynastic line” (142). In King Lear, Shakespeare demonstrates through the context of the rivalry with Edmund, how Edgar rises above and casts off his old persona, as a political statement for the audience of his time and culture. William Shakespeare explores the theme of sibling rivalry brought on by parental favoritism through characterization, and use of the issues of his time and culture that makes his themes as relatable today as they were in the Elizabethan era.

Shakespeare had a talent for making characterization believable and true to what his current audience was dealing with in his society. Within a relationship between brothers and sisters, or sister to sister, brother with brother, the way siblings speak to one another, less formal, and with an intimate knowledge of growing up together, Shakespeare was able to take that kind of familiar relationship and bring it to his characters. Robert F.Willson, Jr., John R. Holmes, Joseph Rosenblum attribute this to “Shakespeare’s talent for creating the illusion of reality in mannerisms and styles of speech…Shakespeare’s keen ear for conversational rhythms and his ability to reproduce believable speech between figures of high and low social rank also contribute to the liveliness of action and characters”. Shakespeare wanted everyone in his audience, king and pauper alike, to recognize the universal themes that applied to them. Lines such as “I have been worth the whistle” (4.2.28) spoken by Goneril in King Lear or when she says to her husband, “No more. The text is foolish” (4.2.37) is the kind of thing family members say to each other when not in polite company. It’s these types of dialogue and characterization that everyone can relate to and hear in their own verbiage, albeit in our time it would sound more like “Shut up. You’re not making any sense”. 

King Lear clearly favored one daughter over the others. In Daughters of Chaos: An examination of the women in King Lear and Ran, Cathy Cupitt states that Lear’s daughters “have been living all their lives in a patriarchy, ruled over both politically and familiarly…there must be consequences to this kind of oppression, however benign”. Cupitt further conjectures that the girls most likely never had any access to political power so once they have it, they are “interested only in the exercising of their power no matter what mayhem is caused”. It is Lear himself, that sets his daughters up for failure, rivalry, and jealousies between them when he tests their love for him. He does so, anticipating that his favorite daughter, Cordelia, will flatter him, which will give him justification to give her the largest portion of the kingdom. The older daughters must have grown up knowing who was the favorite child. Goneril and Regan gave their father the flattery wanted, while Cordelia answers more reticently and is disinherited. The characterization of the sisters seems like simplistic ideals between evil and good. Goneril and Regan are evil, which is shown when they blind Gloucester, while Cordelia is the epitome of all that is good. It’s argued that “the split between the good and bad women is so extreme and simplistic it can be read as the use of archetypes rather than the development of characters” (Cupitt). Shakespeare also creates believable characters with the brothers as this same trend of rivalry between siblings continues with Edmund and Edgar caused by their father Gloucester.

The rivalry between Edmund and Edgar is just as tragic and just as impressive with remarkable degrees of characterization. Like Lear who caused the rivalry between his daughters, Gloucester is similarly guilty of favoring one son over the other.  From the first act of the play, Edmund’s resentment is shown clearly at not being a legitimate heir to his father’s lands. He gets the first soliloquy, complaining, “why ‘bastard’? Wherefore ‘base’?/When my dimensions are as well compact?” (1.2.6-7). Gloucester says he loves his sons equally, yet doesn’t recognize Edmund as an heir, clearly favoring his legitimate son, Edgar. “Explorations of Edmund’s character have focused on his exclusion from the social order” (Atherton). Because of this favoritism, Edmund puts a plan in place to gain legitimacy. “Edmund destroys his father and brother when they get in his way, turning one against the other, as he does with his lovers when he commits double adultery” (Skura 127). It is Edgar who pays the price and must flee. The Elizabethan audience would have felt sympathy for Edgar’s fallen pitiful state, anger when his father did not recognize him as a beggar, yet would also have cheered when the brothers met in combat, which proved Edgar’s innocence and Edmund is killed. “Edmund, like a playwright, is good at manipulating people—his father, his brother, his lovers. Edgar, a shake-scene himself is a brilliant improviser” (Skura 133). While Shakespeare was a master at characterization, he also took themes from the people of his day and what was important to them. The theme of rivalry to the common man as well as rivalries for the throne was a huge part of the Elizabethan culture.

Shakespeare may also have been borrowing from the reputations of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, with Mary’s short rule having the reputation of being bloody and Elizabeth being known for her goodness. Elizabeth was the queen after a short reign by her sister Mary. Due to the culture at the time, both the Tudor sisters had to overcome gender barriers about the role of women in politics. Even as queen, they were deemed unfit to rule and were urged to marry so that a man, more suitable to the task than a woman, could reign for them, very similar to Goneril and Regan, who were written as unfit for rule. According to Brenda Zetina “the Tudor queens were initially expected to be good wives and mothers who would let their men rule for them. However, both sisters took drastically different approaches to these expectations” (12). This same culture thinking is played out in King Lear where all three of Lear’s daughters are married as dutiful wives even though the two eldest of the women are given Lear’s kingdom. It is expected that they will be obedient wives with strong husbands to see to the running of the split kingdoms and because they didn’t adhere to that cultural expectation, Shakespeare cast them as the villains, who needed men to work their conspiracies for them. In fact, both women meet their end when their rivalry turns on each other over a man. By drawing on what was happening in society into his plays, Shakespeare may have influenced his culture and the way people think through his entertainment. This becomes especially apparent with the rivalry of Edmund and Edgar and what was happening with the inheritance of the throne.

One of the worst things a parent can do is make their child feel unloved or not as loveable as their sibling, yet it happens all the time, sometimes not as a conscious act. William Shakespeare’s theme of sibling rivalry brought on by parental favoritism is as relatable today as it was in the past, and when it is portrayed as well as Shakespeare wrote it with bringing in the issues of his culture and his ability to convey it through true-to-life characters, the theme will continue to be represented in new film and literature. 

Similar to King Lear, a contemporary story that plays with sibling rivalries spurred on by a parent’s favoritism is Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper and John Steinbeck's East of Eden. I touch on those similaries here. 



Works Cited

Atherton, Carol. “Character Analysis: The Villains in King Lear—Edmund, Goneril and Regan.” Discovering Literature: Shakespeare & Renaissance. British Library, 2017.

Bevington, David. “As You Like It: Work By Shakespeare.” Encyclopedia Britannica,

Cupitt, Cathy. “Daughters of Chaos: An Examination of the Women in King Lear and Ran.” 4 Oct 2010.

Shakespeare, William. “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” The Gutenberg Project.

            “As You Like It.” The Gutenberg Project.

“King Lear.” No Fear Shakespeare: King Lear. Spark Publishing, 2003. Print.

Skura M. “Dragon Fathers and Unnatural children: Warring Generations in King Lear and Its Sources.” Comparative Drama. 2008.

Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. Penguin Books, 2002 edition. Print

“Lady Arabella Stuart” Tudor Place.

Willson, Robert F., Jr., et al. “William Shakespeare: The Dramatist.” Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, 2017. EBSCOhost,

Zetina, Brenda. Mary and Elizabeth Tudor: Embracing and Manipulating Gender Expectations. No. 2, 2015. EBSCOhost,



Hidden Gems of Sweet Small Town Romances


I'm so excited for Rules of the Heart to be on this list with all these other wonderful clean & wholesome romances.  
I thought I'd share a little bit about each of these books. 

After Sierra West suddenly left town, Braxton Chalmers tried to move on with his life. But thoughts of her always taunted him, to the point no other woman could ever live up to her standards.

Sierra West returned to the outback town of Oakdale after the death of her beloved grandmother. Seeing Braxton again has reignited past emotions. She can’t allow these feelings to surface again – she must return to the city once her business in Oakdale is done.

The only thing Jake Dunn can keep alive is a plant. Besides his friend Dusty, he has no use for anyone, including God. So when Dusty’s sister asks him for help, he turns her down flat—until he realizes he needs her help, too. As they trade tulips for business expertise, Jake finds there’s more to Kim than he’s ever noticed before. Too bad the only way to keep her safe is to keep her out of his heart.