The second theme that is prominent in King Lear Act I is parent/child relationships. There are two main parent/child relationships in separate families, but throughout the story they become intertwined. The first family is the Duke of Gloucester and his two sons: Edgar and Edmund; and the second is King Lear with his three daughters: Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia. These family dynamics are different in many ways because it's daughters vs. father and sons vs. father. As a result, this creates an interesting energy between the two families as they fight for power and control. As the novel progresses, the interactions between the characters become darker and more aggressive.
Gloucester is a nobleman who is a follower of King Lear, and Edgar is his legitimate son while Edmund is an illegitimate son and bastard. Edmund schemes to incriminate Edgar and have him banished from the Kingdom so that he can inherit land because bastards are given that privilege.
"For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? why “bastard”? Wherefore “base,”
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous and my shape as true
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With “base,” with “baseness,” “bastardy,” “base,”
Gloucester is treating Edmund poorly because he's a bastard, which is his motivation for why he is trying to discredit his brother Edgar. He wants to be treated as a worthy person which is an important position in the power structure. Edmund continues with his plan and writes a letter pretending to be Edgar and shows it to their father, knowing Gloucester would not question him. Somewhere in Edmund's twisted mind, thinks that Gloucester loves him more than Edgar. Gloucester sees the letter that states,
"...If our father would sleep till I waked
him, you should enjoy half his revenue forever and
live the beloved of your brother. Edgar." (1.2.55-57)
Gloucester gets furious and eliminates Edgar from the kingdom indicating that Edmund will inherit everything. Edmund and Gloucester see their relationship differently as Edmund sees their relationship as economic and inherence, and Gloucester sees it has a "tender" and emotional love. Their inability to see eye to eye makes their interactions more dynamic and bitter.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is King Lear and his three daughters which bring a whole new dynamic. At the beginning of the novel, King Lear is in control and gets to decide how and the amount of ownership of power and each will receive. As King Lear relinquishes his land to two of his daughters, they become more powerful, resulting in having more leverage over their father. They soon strike back and withdraw half of his knights and then soon all of them leaving their father will nothing. Their goal was to diminish their father's power.
The roles have been reversed, which leads to an interesting outcome between King Lear and his daughters. They are so bent on destroying one another that they are not paying attention to the damage it's causing their kingdom. The actions of King Lear and his daughters make the reader question who to sympathize with and which side is good and which one is evil. It's hard to tell because the energy changes between the characters so much throughout the novel.
Also, the distinct relationship between Cordelia and King Lear compared to Regan and Goneril is completely different. Cordelia and King Lear have a more gentle, sweet and honest relationship because she generously loves her father and is not seeking profit from his love. This shows how Cordelia stands out from her sisters,
"You have begot me, bred me, loved me.
I return those duties back as are right fit:
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall
carry, Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
(To love my father all)." (1.1.106-115)
King Lear responds by becoming very angry, disowns her and distributes her dowry to her two other sisters. Regan and Goneril take advantage of their father to get powerful and rich. They do not truly, love King Lear. This can be seen when Goneril says,
"You see how full of changes his age is; the observation we have made of it hath (not) been little. He always loved our sister most, and with
what poor judgment he hath now cast her off
appears too grossly.
REGAN: ’Tis the infirmity of his age. Yet he hath ever
but slenderly known himself." (1.1.334-340)
In King Lear, it's quite clear that Regan and Goneril and Edmund are willing to destroy their fathers to gain power. In comparison Cordelia and Edgar, want to be loved and do not want to have to fight for ownership, property and do not care as much about power and control. Each one of their relationships changes and evolves as the play progresses, which is interesting to watch and adds more depth to the characteristics of the characters and the story.