In King Lear, Act I establishes the nature of the conflict between Cordelia and Lear, among Goneril and Regan and Lear, and between Gloucester and Edgar. This first act also establishes the twofold nature of Goneril, Regan, and Edmund, while demonstrating that Cordelia and Edgar are good characters. The remainder of the play’s central characters also make an appearance in this act. At the start of the play Lear intends to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, setting them a test to who loves him most.
At the start of Lear’s speech he uses the third person creating the royal ‘we’. ‘We shall express our darker purpose’, this shows that he has self-importance and speaks as a king. The language in Lear’s first speech is one of the first factors effecting the tension of the play. ‘Unburdened crawl towards death’ this adds suspense and tension to his speech as he knows he is going to die. The excessive use of pronouns adds to this as well. The long sentences used also add a sense of continuity.
When Gonerill tells her father how much she loves there is a lot of hyperbole language and excessive flattery for example, ‘as much as child e’eer loved, or father found’. As the audience we know this is much exaggerated and the dramatic irony helps to add suspense.
Then Cordelia says [aside] ‘What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.’ Already we begin to get an insight into Cordelia’s feelings creating suspense. This is because we do not know what she is about to say when her turn comes. She also says another aside after Regan, which keeps building up the suspense.
When Regan tells her father how much she loves him she uses aggressive tactics with self-confidence to address herself. There is also some sibling rivalry ‘ self mettle’ shows this sibling rivalry. There is also much hyperbole and dramatic irony adding to the suspense. We then move on to Cordelia who says nothing. In disbelief Lear challenges her and as a result she is banished from the kingdom, along with France and move away. This is the first result of Lear’s old age and creates tensions between Cordelia and her sisters and Lear. The use of metaphors and punctuation add suspense when Lear sends Cordelia away. ‘come not between the dragon and his wrath’ this adds to the suspense of the passage by describing himself as a dragon and telling the others not to get involved.
By the way Lear talks to Cordelia also show how it is a male dominated society. Later on in the play we learn that Cordelia was Lears favourite and that he only could of said these things if he was very ill. The monosyllabic language is simple but adds direct and powerful emphasis on how Lear sees Cordelia ‘glib and oily art’ shows this. This helps to add the tension as we see how Lear sees Cordelia and how the family tensions have got worse. ‘Without our grace love, our benison’ this list of three helps to add tension to the banishment of Cordelia as Lear says this as they depart. Showing that the relationship between them is very tense, adding to the suspense in act 1.