Significance of the Subplot in King Lear.
In an attempt to universalize the travesties endured by the protagonist and tragic hero, Shakespeare incorporates a significant subplot into King Lear. Although the focus clearly lies on the tragic plight of King Lear, the secondary plot involving Gloucester and his offspring mirrors and dramatizes Lear's hopeless situation. Both Lear and Gloucester misjudge their offspring and respond rashly to inaccurate information; the subsequent rejection of those closest to them leads to a chaotic sequence of irreversible events. The characters that purposefully instigate the inevitable downfall of both Lear and Gloucester do so with contempt in their hearts. As a result of their malicious actions, Regan, Goneril and Edmund are rewarded by their respective fathers. After realizing their loyalties were falsely placed, and, unable to overcome the shame and remorse they feel as a result, both Lear and Gloucester slowly go insane. Their gradual mental deterioration is pathetic and evokes a great deal of pity in the reader. Ultimately, the parallels in Gloucester's story enhance and further universalize the play in its entirety; evil is not confined to nobility or legitimacy; it exists potentially in every man.
Rushing to inaccurate conclusions inevitably leads to trouble, turmoil and tribulation. Both Lear and Gloucester mistake their offspring's true intentions, as they are blinded by the immediate rage they feel. When told to articulate the extent of her love for her father, Cordelia can only say that, "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty/According to my bond, no more nor less" (William Shakespeare, King Lear [New York: Penguin Books, 1999, Act I, scene i, lines 91-93.] All further references to this work will be documented parenthetically in the text.) A woman with strong moral values, Cordelia cannot bring herself to lie or exaggerate the truth in order to gain material wealth; as detrimental as the consequences may be, Cordelia will be brutally honest.