Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The King Lear Story

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 27, 2014


Esther, fifty-five, refers to herself as Cordelia, the daughter of King Lear who refused to sell her love to her father, leaving the King to buy the false marketing, but pleasant sounding words of his other two daughters. By her account, her pure love was overshadowed by her manipulative sisters, and as such, she was abandoned by her family. “It sounds like you are so lonely and misunderstood,” I say to Esther, thinking that I need to re-read King Lear. “Yes, but I am also angry,” Esther says firmly and directly. “I tried so many times to explain to my father my perspective, but he did not listen,” she says with sadness and frustration. “Do you feel that I listen?” I wonder, if she has assumed that because her father did not hear her, nobody does. “Yes and no,” she says. “I think you hear me sometimes, but sometimes you go off on your own tangent.” Esther says, again with characteristic directness. “When I go off on a tangent, does this make you feel like you have disappeared in my mind?” I ask, wondering how hurtful that is to her. “Absolutely,” she says, as if there were no other way to think about it. “Maybe I am being self-centered, and focusing on my own thoughts, but if you remind me, I can get back on track and connect with you,” I say, highlighting that there is a difference between lapsing into my own brain and erasing her from mine. “I need to think about that one,” she says, with rapture about my comment.

5 Responses to “The King Lear Story”

  1. Shelly said

    Wasn’t it you who said that sometimes a person would rather believe the lie than face the reality, which is much harder to grasp? King Lear didn’t want to believe that those closest to him, two of his three daughters, would be false. He preferred to believe that the two young women truly did love him and that Cordelia simply had trouble getting along with her siblings. What interests me in this piece with Esther is how you switched the scenario from Esther’s describing her relationship with her father to her sessions with you. I fully realize that in your sessions, often you take the place of your patient’s parents, and that you were trying to get a feeling if Esther believed that she was never heard by anyone. And like her father, you seem to go off on tangents. Did Esther ever try to redirect her father back to the business at hand?

    • The “business at hand” is an interesting question, because is her father the “business” or her approach to the world where she has used her relationship with her father as a template for all future relationships. As you imply, I am concerned with the latter, as Esther’s larger issue is the failure to grieve the father she wished she had, leaves her to repeat her pattern as one who is “loving” but never heard. Thanks.

  2. Jon said

    It would seem to be best for Esther to put as much distance from herself as possible from the King Lear story. The story is great, and it is a great tragedy, but it is that, a great tragedy. Things do not end well for either Cordilia or her father Lear – not to mention the two sisters Goneril or Regan and many others. While Esther may feel trapped by bad family dynamics, it may be more helpful to recognize the dysfunction and move on then wallow too much in the goat song (the literal meaning of tragedy).

    • Your word “wallow” struck me, as I was following your logic until then. I agree that Esther needs to see herself in a way that her father did not, but this is a mighty task, given the length of time, and the vulnerability that Esther, like all of us, have, as children. The word wallow implies a certain impatience with Esther’s preoccupation of her tragedy, rather than a deep sense of how hard Esther must struggle to write a new story. Thanks.

      • Jon said

        Good point. “Wallow” is the wrong word. Impatience was not meant to be implied – more stuck and floundering. Perhaps “be ensnared” would have been a better choice of words.

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