King Lear—the character in the play of the same name—does not make a good first impression. He demands grandiloquent love-speeches from his daughters. When the one honest girl among them refuses to depart from moderation in her address, the rash king disowns her and banishes her from the realm. Then the tragedy that will claim his life—not to mention pretty much every other character’s life, too—begins.
But, although we hardly like the king after this first scene (he banishes his most stalwart knight, too, for telling him the truth, in the same scene), the violently flawed hero winds up making more sense than anyone else by the time the play is over. This fact explains why I adore “King Lear” and would worship it as my god—if it were not for the fact that I worship the actual God.
King Lear demands love, the sweet affection of his daughters—to whom he gave life and (we gather) a lavishly kind upbringing. Now his powers weaken with age. He has loved without measure, giving away all, even foolishly giving away the very governance of his kingdom. He asks—he demands—that he be loved in return, loved without measure: without a calculus of usefulness, without an analysis of whether or not his demands really “ought” to be accommodated. I’m your father. I say I travel with a train of 100 knights. Ergo, you will accommodate 100 knights when I come to visit you, and you will smile and kiss me when I walk in.