King Lear by William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

King Lear
by William Shakespeare
(1564 - 1616)

Type of Work:

Tragic drama


Medieval England

Principal Characters

Lear, King of Britain

Cordelia, his faithful daughter

Regan and Goneril, his two mean-spirited

The Dukes of Cornwall and Albany, their

The Earl of Gloucester

Edmund , the Earl's treacherous son

Edgar, the Earl's true son (later disguised
as a madman)

The Duke of Kent, Cordelia's loyal helper

Lear's Fool, a comical character

Story Overveiw

England's aged King Lear had chosen to
renounce his throne and divide the kingdom among his three daughters. He
promised the greatest portion of the empire to whichever daughter proved
to love him most. Goneril lavished exaggerated praise on her father; Regan
even outdid her sister with a wordy show of hollow affection Cordelia,
however, refused to stoop to flattery, and insisted that she loved her
father no more and no less than was his due. Lear exploded at what seemed
to him her untenderness and immediately disowned her. Moreover, Lear banished
the Duke of Kent from the castle for defending Cordelia.

Two suitors had come to the British court
to seek Cordelia's hand: the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. After

Lear had disinherited Cordelia, Burgundy suddenly lost interest in her
he aspired to a wealthy bride. The King of France, however, was delighted
by Cordelia's honesty and immediately asked for her hand. They departed
for France, without Lear's blessing, and Cordelia's part of the kingdom
was divided between Goneril and Regan, who were all too happy at their
sister's fall from grace. Furthermore, these two daughters decided that

Lear had succumbed to a sort of senility, and they set upon a plan to exploit
his weakness to their own advantage.

Meanwhile, in the Earl of Gloucester's
castle, Edmund, Gioucester's bitter and cunning illegitimate son, was fretting
over his father's preference toward the legitimate brother, Edgar. Edmund
now forged a letter in which Edgar supposedly expressed his intent to murder
their father. Gloucester immediately believed the letter and fled in distress
from the palace. Then Edmund, in mock concern, went and warned his brother
that someone had turned Gloucester against him. Edgar, too good at heart
to suspect his brother's treachery' accepted the story and escaped to the
forest. Thus, with two clever strokes, Edmund had managed to supplant his
brother in his father's affections.

After dividing his kingdom, Lear decided
to lodge for a time at Goneril's palace. Now that she had her half of his
kingdom, however, she no longer feigned love for him. In fact, she so distained
her father that she ordered her servants to mistreat and insult him. Accordingly,
her servants began to deal with him as a senile old man rather than as
a king.

In the meantime, the banished Duke of Kent
disguised himself and presented himself to the king at Goneril's palace.

Lear failed to recognize the disguise and hired Kent as a servant. Then,
with the help of the King's Fool (whose biting jibes and puns provide some
of the finest moments in all literature), Kent began hinting to Lear that
he had acted unwisely in dealing with Cordelia, until the King began to
perceive his folly. As Gonerit continued to humiliate him, Lear, bemoaning
his fate ("How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless
child!"), determined to move on to Regan's household. He did not know that

Regan was at that moment on her way to visit Gloucester. (In fact, all
of the characters were now converging on Gloucester's castle).

Near Gloucester, Edgar, still convinced
that his life was in peril from his father, lingercd in a local wood, disguised
as a madman - Tom o' Bedlam.

Soon Regan and her husband, the Duke of

Cornwall, arrived at Gloucester. They were followed by King Lear not long
after. When Goneril and her household also appeared, the two sisters united
to disgrace their father, ordering him to dismiss all his servants. But
this humiliation proved too much for the old King, who, in a fit of anger
and shame, rushed out of the castle into a furious storm, where he wandered
about madly, screaming and cursing. Their plan having succeeded, the daughters
locked the doors behind him.

Then follows a most famous and stirring
scene: Lear raged and cursed in the midnight storm, with his frightened

Fool cowering beside him, uttering the most biting and ironic jokes, while

Kent watched in disbelief.

Fortunately, Gloucester found them and
led them to a little hovel, where they encountered Edgar, still disguised
as Tom O'Bedlam and pretending derangement. Lear, now half mad himself,
set about conducting a bizarre mock trial of his daughters, with Kent,
the Fool, and Edgar all serving in his