Today let’s take a look at this Goneril Monologue from Act 1, Scene 3 of King Lear by William Shakespeare. King Lear is argued by many to be the greatest of Shakespeare’s tragedies and for good reason. It is jam packed with complex characters, a fascinating plot and deep existential themes on life, birth and death. If you’re looking for a monologue with a few sharp edges then this Goneril Monologue might just be for you.
King Lear of Britain has decided to pack it in as King as he is growing older and wants to have less responsibility and so he calls his three daughters, Goneril the oldest, Regan the middle child, and his favourite Cordelia, the youngest, to come see him.
He’s decided that he will divide his realms amongst the three daughters depending on who loves him most. Goneril speaks first telling him how fabulous he is and how much she loves him. After she’s finished speaking Lear immediately bequeaths her, her share of the kingdom. Next is Regan who does much the same and is also immediately bequeathed her share of the Kingdom. Lastly is Cordelia who not wanting to flatter her Father more so than is truthful says that she does love him deeply and refuses to guild her speech too much saying that she reserves some love for her future husband. Lear flies into a rage and disinherits and disowns Cordelia and says he’s off to live equally between Goneril and Regans homes for the rest of his days.
After this when Regan and Goneril meet they divulge just how they only lied to get their inheritance and that secretly they think Lear is just a dithering old fool.
Not long after this Lear makes his way to Goneril’s home where he treats her staff with contempt and rudeness. When Goneril catches wind of this she has this to say.
By day and night he wrongs me. Every hour
He flashes into one gross crime or other
That sets us all at odds. I’ll not endure it.
His knights grow riotous and himself upbraids us
On every trifle. When he returns from hunting,
I will not speak with him; say I am sick.
If you come slack of former services
You shall do well; the fault of it I’ll answer.
He’s coming, madam, I hear him.
Put on what weary negligence you please,
You and your fellows; I’d have it come to question.
If he distaste it, let him to my sister,
Whose mind and mine I know in that are one,
Not to be overruled. Idle old man,
That still would manage those authorities
That he hath given away. Now by my life
Old fools are babes again and must be used
With checks as flatteries, when they are seen abused.
Remember what I have said.
Very well, madam.
And let his knights have colder looks among you,
What grows of it no matter; advise your fellows so.
I would breed from hence occasions, and I shall,
That I may speak. I’ll write straight to my sister
To hold my very course. Go, prepare for dinner.
Modern Translation (Monologue Only)
Night and day he does the wrong thing! Every hour he breaks some law that pits us all against each other. I’m not putting up with it anymore! His knights are growing rebellious and restless and he is criticising us for every little problem. When he comes back from hunting I’m not going to speak to him. Tell him I’m sick. And if you slack off on your courtly duties you’ll be doing what’s right and I can take the blame for it.
Be as neglectful of your duties as you want. I’ll make it so he comes to question me about it.
If he doesn’t like it he can go live with Regan. Who I know is on the same page as me and that won’t be changed. He’s an inanimate old man who seems to think he can still command the powers that he gave away! I swear old people are just babies who need discipline instead of flattery when they’ve been giving bad advice. Remember what I told you.
And don’t be nice to his knights either, no matter what, and tell your colleagues to do the same. I want this to cause more problems so that I can tell him off. I’ll write to Regan and tell her to do the same. Go and get ready for dinner.
Notes on Performance
This is a great monologue if you’re wanting to explore some villainous themes. Think about the kind of character that would be so chiding of their parent even after they had been inherited a part of a Kingdom. Lear is not without his faults but for Goneril to firstly lie to his face about how much she loves him and then chide him like this in her home speaks to us about what kind of a person she is so lean into that.
Another thing to think about is that this is a plotting speech so play with the idea of discovering these ideas in real time. Don’t just blast through the monologue as if she knew exactly what she was going to say the second she walked on stage but find the thoughts and let them fly.