King Lear Characters and Study Guide
Descriptions in the Times New Roman Type-face: http://absoluteshakespeare.com/guides/king_lear/characters/characters.htm
Descriptions in this Abadi Type-face: Mabillard, Amanda. King Lear Character Introduction. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/kinglear/kinglearcharacters.html >.
King Lear Characters guide studies each character’s role and motivation in this play.
Lear, King of England: The tired ruler of England, his plan to divide his kingdom between his three daughters and then place his welfare in their trust leads to his humiliation and total loss of power at the hands of his cruel daughters, Regan and Goneril. He misjudges all those around him in the first act, banishing those who care for him the most whilst rewarding those whose kind words prove false. Only after enduring multiple humiliations and betrayals does Lear gain true wisdom and insight, only to die soon thereafter.
Childlike, passionate, cruel, kind, unlikable, and sympathetic – Lear is one of Shakespeare’s most complex characters and portraying him remains a tremendous challenge to any actor. The noted Shakespearean scholar, William Hazlitt, (early 1800’s) eloquently elaborated on Lear’s many dimensions:
The character of Lear itself is very finely conceived for the purpose. It is the only ground on which such a story could be built with the greatest truth and effect. It is his rash haste, his violent impetuosity, his blindness to every thing but the dictates of his passions or affections, that produces all his misfortunes, that aggravates his impatience of them, that enforces our pity for him…The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual; the explosions of his passions are terrible as a volcano: they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that rich sea, his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. (Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, 1817)
Macbeth Macbeth is a play written by William Shakespeare in the 1600 th Century, when England was under the rule of King James. Shakespeare was born and lived in Stafford upon Avon. Macbeth was one of his famous works, and it is about a man, Macbeth who kills the king, so he can rule England. The plot is complicated and the play develops a character profile of Macbeth showing how his mind and ...
Regan and Goneril
King Lear’s two monstrous daughters, Goneril and Regan, are archetype villains from the onset of the play, and, although they serve well their purpose, they are not as developed as other Shakespearean scoundrels, such as Lady Macbeth. Please click here for an in-depth look at Regan and Goneril.
Goneril (wife to The Duke of Albany): Lear’s selfish, ruthless daughter. When Lear asks her to profess her love for him before he gives her part of his kingdom, she professes great love for Lear, “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;” (Act I, Scene I, Line 57).
Yet, once Lear has given her half his kingdom, she shirks her obligations to host King Lear by making life so miserable at her castle that King Lear has no choice but to disown her.
The famous expression of the pain of thankless children originates in King Lear’s comments of Goneril, when he exclaims, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / To have a thankless child!” (Act I, Scene IV, Line 312).
Regan (wife to The Duke of Cornwall): The second of King Lear’s daughters to falsely profess her love then betray Lear. She professes that she is “made of that self metal as my sister”, adding that “I profess / Myself an enemy to all other joys / Which the most precious square of sense possesses… In your dear highness’ love” (Act I Scene I, Lines 71-78).
She too betrays Lear, denying him her castle on the terms obliged by her as a loyal daughter.
Cordelia: Lear’s youngest daughter, she refuses to profess blinding love for her father, instead offering only that which is true. When pushed by Lear to profess her love, she exclaims that “I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty / According to my bond; nor more nor less” (Act I, Scene I, Line 93).
King Lear: topic #2, revision. Matt Diggs III " Lear: Be your tears wet? Yes faith, I pray weep not. If you have poison for me, I will drink it. I know you do not love me; for your sisters Have (as I do remember) done me wrong. You have some cause, they have not. Cordelia: No cause, no cause.' In Shakespeare's King Lear the character Cordelia is disowned and denied dowry because she is unable to ...
Unlike her sisters, Cordelia does not and will not use “that glib and oily art” of her sisters “To speak and purpose not;” (to say what one does not mean), (Act I, Scene I, Lines 228-229).
In return for not lying as her sisters have done, she is banished by Lear and given nothing. Only later does Lear learn the truth that Cordelia’s love for him is indeed “More richer than my tongue” (Act I, Scene I, Line 80).
As the honorable and beloved daughter of King Lear, Cordelia ranks among Shakespeare’s finest heroines. Although Cordelia’s role in the play is minor (appearing on stage only in the first and final act), she is ever-present in the minds of readers as the symbol of virtue and mercy, in stark contrast to her sisters, Goneril and Regan. Please click here for more on Cordelia.
Duke of Burgundy: A suitor for Cordelia’s hand, he stops seeking Cordelia’s hand in marriage when Lear makes it clear that she no longer highly esteemed in Lear’s eyes. Cordelia rejects this Duke for whom wealth is so important.
King of France: The second suitor for Cordelia. Upon learning of Cordelia’s fall from favor (wealth), this King who can respect Cordelia’s integrity, takes her as his queen. The King of France’s comments in Act I, Scene I makes this clear:
“Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; / Most choice, forsaken; and most lov’d, despis’d! Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon:” (Line 253).
Duke of Cornwall (Regan’s husband): The husband of Regan, she matches his wife in his capacity for ruthlessness and calculated cruelty. When Regan pulls out Gloucester’s beard, he matches her by putting out Gloucester’s eyes. Such is his barbarity that one of his servants stabs him, being unable to tolerate further his master’s inhumanity.
Duke of Albany (Goneril’s husband): As the husband of Goneril, this Duke initially supports the cruel actions of his wife. With time, however, he grows increasingly hostile towards the cruelty of his wife, becoming an agent of good by the play’s conclusion.
... Regan thought that because of the banishing of both Cordelia and Kent, now Lear will have abrupt fits. She thinks that her and Goneril ... still in a state of rashness and partial blindness. Lear's daughter Regan detests Gloucester because he was against Edmund, the man whom ... can speak from his own experience. Several events in King Lear are seen differently by various characters. Their own intentions ...
Earl of Kent: A loyal servant of Lear, he is banished by Lear for pleading a reconsideration of Cordelia’s fate. Despite the threat of death, he serves his King faithfully in disguise. Kent, King Lear’s loyal and selfless companion, is one of Shakespeare’s most cherished creations. “Kent is, perhaps, the nearest to perfect goodness in all Shakespeare’s characters, and yet the most individualized.” — Coleridge
Earl of Gloucester (Father of Edgar and illegitimately, Edmund): An ally of Lear, only after he is blinded, does this man gain true insight and wisdom. Parallels Lear’s character in his initial gullibility and poor judgment of character in this play. Dies at the end of the play from the duel emotions of grief and joy when he learns that “poor Tom” who was protecting him was Edgar all along…
Edgar, son of Gloucester: As the loyal son of his father (the Earl of Gloucester), he suffers greatly from his father’s poor judgment of character. Trusting his brother, he is character assassinated (lied about) by his brother Edgar and forced to flee to survive. Like Cordelia, he comforts his father in his hour of despair, but most do so in disguise despite his father realizing his truly virtuous nature.
Edgar, the banished son of Gloucester and brother to the villain Edmund, is the primary character in the sub-plot of King Lear. The dutiful Edgar is much like Cordelia and suffers throughout the play due to his father’s transgressions. Unlike Cordelia, however, Edgar remains alive at the end of the drama, and becomes King of Britain.
Edmund, illegitimate son of Gloucester: The illegitimate son of Gloucester, he is loved as equally as his brother. Despite this, he frames his brother as a would be father murderer, and betrays his father in order to gain favor with Regan and Goneril. Also the source of romantic rivalry between Regan and Goneril.
Edmund is the illegitimate son of Gloucester. Bitter, bold and wicked, Edmund plots against Edgar and joins forces with the villainous sisters Goneril and Regan. Please click here for a detailed examination of Edgar’s character and motivations.
Curan: A Coutier
Oswald: Steward to Goneril, he mistreats both King Lear and his entourage to provoke Lear into leaving his master’s (Goneril’s) castle. Killed by Edgar when he attempts to kill the now blind and harmless Gloucester.
... story, with King Lear and Gloucester trusting, and being deceived by, the 'bad seeds.' Lear learns of his troubles after both Goneril and Regan throw him ... to justify the irrational actions of both Gloucester and Lear. Gloucester, deceived by Edmund, becomes paranoid of Edgar. Lear is portrayed as senile form the ...
Old Man: Tenant to Gloucester.
Fool: One of the most famous characters in the play, his comic asides often reveal the very foolishness of Lear’s actions. His words are often ironically the only source of wisdom, coherence and insight in Lear’s pathetic entourage
King Lear Summaries
King Lear of Britain has three daughters – Goneril who is married to the Duke of Albany, Regan, married to the Duke of Cornwall, and Cordelia who is unmarried, but has a number of suitors.
King Lear divides his kingdom amongst his three daughters and demands from each an assurance of love for him. Both Goneril, the eldest, and Regan, the middle daughter, satisfy Lear’s demands and are given their portion of the land. Cordelia, the youngest daughter, refuses to participate in what she views as a false public showcase. Lear is angered by her reply and disowns her, giving her share of the kingdom to her sisters.
The Earl of Kent is disturbed by what he witnesses and tries to change the King’s mind. Lear, exploding in fury at Kent’s intervention, banishes him as well. One of her suitors, the King of France is so moved by Cordelia’s honesty that he promises to marry her, even without a dowry.
Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, plots to turn his father against his legitimate brother Edgar.
Kent, in disguise, is taken on as a servant to King Lear. Lear vows to spend alternate months with Regan and Goneril, but the two elder sisters plan to mistreat him. Arriving with his retinue at Goneril’s, Lear is refused entry for his hundred knights. He curses her and departs for Regan. Goneril sends a letter to Regan and by the time Lear arrives, Regan and Cornwall have left their home. Gloucester and his house are overtaken by Regan. Edgar, who has been tricked by Edmund, flees the house fearful for his life and outlawed by his father.
Kent is put into the stocks by Regan for being rude to Oswald. When Lear is furious with Regan and Goneril for treating his servants so badly, they reply that he no longer needs any knights. Lear, Kent and the Fool leave in the night and hide in a farmhouse. They meet with Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom.
In the play King Lear, Lear reaches old age without achieving any wisdom. This statement is very true, many evidences can be found throughout the acts. For example: Lear is ignorant of the truth, he only hears what he wants to hear and he makes several rash decisions that leads to his downfall. Although Lear achieved very little wisdom over his lifetime, he did learn allot about humility, which is ...
Cornwall, at the urging of Regan, blinds Gloucester for his loyalty to Lear. Edmund is lusted after by both Goneril and Regan. Cornwall is wounded by a servant. Gloucester, blind and bleeding, sets out. Edgar meets his father and guides him to Dover. When Gloucester wishes to jump from the cliff, Edgar tricks him and reveals his true identity. They meet with Lear and Cordelia, who has gathered a French army to fight for her father’s kingdom.
In the fight against the armies of Regan and Goneril, Lear and Cordelia are captured. Edgar fights a battle with Edmund who is mortally wounded and reveals that he has given orders for Lear and Cordelia to be killed. Goneril, jealous of Regan’s love for Edmund, poisons her sister and stabs herself. Edgar returns and tells of Gloucester’s death. Lear enters with the dead body of Cordelia. Kent reveals his true identity to Lear. Believing that Cordelia is still alive, Lear dies. Albany asks Edgar and Kent to rule Britain with him.
Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, King Lear begins with the fictional King of England, King Lear, handing over his kingdom to daughters Regan and Goneril whom he believes truly love him. King Lear intends to stay with each daughter consecutively, accompanied by one hundred loyal knights.
Angry that Cordelia his youngest daughter does not appear to love him as do Goneril and Regan, Lear banishes his youngest daughter Cordelia, and Kent, the servant who attempts to defend her. Cordelia leaves and is taken by the King of France as his Queen…
Edmund, the loved but illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester plots to have his elder brother Edgar’s reputation ruined. Edmund tricks his father Gloucester into believing that Edgar wanted to kill him…
The disrespectful Goneril conspires to have her guest and father, King Lear, driven out of her house.
Kent, who has now disguised his identity to serve King Lear, earns King Lear’s respect by defending his name. Goneril offends King Lear and dismisses fifty of his knights. Lear starts to realize Cordelia was not so disrespecting. Lear decides to leave for Regan where he is sure to be treated properly…
... addition, Edmund betrays his father with the secret that France and Cordelia are preparing to fight for Lear. His actions cause Gloucester to ... he only cares for himself and nobody else. Goneril, Regan and Edmund are all characters that lived their lives as animals, ... in King Lear through the unnatural way Goneril and Regan treat their father and through the evil manipulative actions of Edmund. At ...
Lear instructs Kent to deliver several letters to Gloucester. The Fool teaches Lear several riddles.
We learn of possible conflict between evil sisters Regan and Goneril. Edmund further manipulates Edgar. Gloucester learns from Edmund of Edgar’s plan to kill him and believes it…
Kent and Oswald, Goneril’s steward fight. Kent is placed in stocks emphasizing just how little Lear’s name is now respected by daughters Regan and Goneril…
Edgar, now alone and disguised, describes his fate of living in hiding.
Showing complete disregard for King Lear’s authority, Kent remains in stocks. Lear tells Regan how much Goneril has hurt him. Regan in consultation with Goneril, allows Lear to stay but without a single follower. Lear decides not to stay with either daughter…
The King of France may well invade England. Kent sends a messenger to Cordelia to keep her aware of King Lear’s plight… Lear braves the elements against a storm, no doubt symbolic of his tortured soul…
Gloucester lets slip to his traitorous son Edmund that the army of France is poised to invade, guaranteeing Gloucester’s own future suffering. We learn more of a potential conflict between Regan and Goneril, centering on their husbands…
Lear is brought out of the elements. Lear explains that nature’s physical torment of him distracted him from the pain his daughters have given him.
Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son, makes his appearance, disguised as “poor Tom.” Cornwall, Regan’s husband and Edmund speak. After implicating his father Gloucester as a traitor against Cornwall, Edmund is rewarded for betraying his father Gloucester by receiving his father’s title as the new Earl of Gloucester.
Cornwall tells Edmund to seek out his father saying “he may be ready for our apprehension” or punishment.
Lear and company find solace and safety in a farmhouse. Lear, showing signs of madness, holds a mock trial to punish his daughters addressing two joint stools as if they were Regan and Goneril. Kent leads Lear to Dover where he will be safe…
Gloucester is captured and tortured first having his beard ripped away and later being made blind. Unable to bear Cornwall’s brutality any longer, a servant wounds Cornwall…
Gloucester now blind, realizes in his suffering his mistakes, especially about his son Edgar. Gloucester meets “poor Tom” not realizing it is Edgar in disguise. Edgar leads his father to the cliffs of Dover where his father wishes to commit suicide.
The Duke of Albany renounces his wife Goneril, realizing that he has been on the wrong side… The Duke of Cornwall (Regan’s husband) is now dead. The rivalry for Edmund by Regan and Goneril intensifies.
Kent wonders how Cordelia can be so good and her sisters so evil. The King of France will not oversee the battle about to begin. Cordelia is saddened by what she learns of King Lear’s plight…
Cordelia has her men search for her father… With the battle almost about to start, we learn Albany has switched sides again, supporting Goneril and Regan’s forces against the invading French.
Regan worries more about her sister’s intentions for Edmund more than the battle that lies ahead… Edgar continues to lead his father to the cliffs of Dover where he tricks him that he miraculously survived his fall. Lear learns of Gloucester’s blindness.
Edgar kills Oswald when he attempts to kill Gloucester. Oswald’s letter, which comes from Goneril, reveals instructions for Edmund to kill her husband, The Duke of Albany so she may marry him. Cordelia finds her father Lear who deeply regrets how he treated her…
Regan and Goneril put Edmund on the spot by demanding he choose for once and for all, which one of them he loves. Albany decides to fight on Regan and Goneril’s side but only to fight an invading power (France).
Cordelia’s forces lose to Goneril and Regan’s and Cordelia and Lear are taken prisoner. Captured, King Lear tries to comfort Cordelia. Albany congratulates his allies but now turns on them. Edgar fights his brother Edmund, mortally wounding him. Goneril kills herself and poisons sister Regan.
Edgar reveals his true identity to Gloucester who dies from a heart unable to take both grief and joy. Albany and the dying Edmund try to prevent Lear and Cordelia being hanged but are too late for Cordelia.
Lear howls with pain his loss of Cordelia. Kent is finally recognized for his loyalty by Lear. Lear, unable to take further pain, dies. Albany is left to restore order following this tragedy…
King Lear Commentary – Act I.
King Lear Commentary provides a comprehensive description of every act with explanations and translations for all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. – A Room of State in King Lear’s Palace.
King Lear: “’tis our fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths, while we / Unburden’d crawl toward death.”
King Lear gives his kingdom to daughters Regan and Goneril whom he believes truly love him. Angry that Cordelia his youngest daughter apparently does not, he banishes her, and Kent who tries in vain to make King Lear reconsider. Cordelia leaves and is taken by the King of France as his Queen…
The play begins with Kent setting the scene. We learn that King Lear is to divide and give up to his daughters his kingdom and that in doing so, he will not favor the Duke of Albany any more than the Duke of Cornwall as was expected. We learn that Gloucester, an ally of the King is embarrassed of his bastard son Edmund (Lines 12-26).
Lear, The Duke of Cornwall, The Duke of Albany and Lear’s three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia with Attendants arrive. Gloucester and Edmund depart to “Attend [meet, greet] the Lords of France and Burgundy,” leaving Lear to outline his future plans (Line 36).
Lear explains that he will shake away the problems and duties of his kingdom by giving it away to his children:
Meantime we [I, King Lear] shall express our darker purpose. Give me the map there. Know that we have divided / In three our kingdom; and ’tis [it is] our [King Lear’s] fast intent / To shake all cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on younger strengths, while we / Unburden’d crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall, / And you, our no less loving son of Albany, / We have this hour a constant will to publish / Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife / May be prevented now. The princes, France and Burgundy, / Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love, / Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn, / And here are to be answer’d. (Lines 38-50)
Crucially, Lear wishes to be told how much his daughters love him before he divests (gives away) his rule, kingdom and cares of state:
“Tell me, my daughters,- / Since now we will divest us both of rule, / Interest of territory, cares of state,- / Which of you shall we say doth [does] love us [King Lear] most? That we our largest bounty may extend / Where nature doth with merit challenge” (Tell me my daughters since I will now divest my rule, assets and responsibilities of state, which of you shall say you love me most that my largest bounty or reward may extend or go where nature meets with merit or is deserving), (Lines 50-55).
Lear first asks his eldest daughter Goneril to answer. She replies that she loves him more than words can express: “Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;” (Lines 57-63).
Cordelia is silent. Lear, gratified (happy, satisfied) gives her a large territory, which he outlines to her on the map present (Lines 65-69).
Next, Lear asks Regan to pledge her love for him. She describes herself as being “made of that self metal [same character] as my sister,” adding that “I profess [call / declare] / Myself an enemy to all other joys / Which the most precious square of sense possesses… In your dear highness’ love” (Regan explains that her sister falls short of her love for him; she claims to be an enemy of all other joys but her love for her King), (Lines 71-78).
Cordelia in an aside (speech intended only for the audience / a private speech revealing her innermost thoughts) is worried. Yet she says she is not, because her love is greater than her tongue (her love is greater than her ability to talk about it).
Cordelia in an aside says: “Then, poor Cordelia! And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love’s / More richer than my tongue” (Lines 79-80).
Next Cordelia, whom Lear describes as his youngest daughter and whose hand in marriage is valued by both the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy is asked to speak.
When Lear asks Cordelia to match her sisters sweet words, she replies with the words “Nothing, my lord” (Line 89).
Incredulous (amazed), Lear tells his daughter, “Nothing will come of nothing:” asking her to “speak again” (Line 92).
Cordelia explains that she cannot heave her heart into her mouth. Lear tells his daughter to “mend [change] your speech / a little, / Lest you mar your fortunes” (least you ruin your own wealth or fortune), (Line 96).
Cordelia explains that while she loves her father, she cannot love her father totally as her sisters have said since she must also love her husband.
Lear, unhappy, decides in anger to let her honesty be her dower and gives her nothing, disowning her in the process and giving her third of the kingdom to both Goneril and Regan. With one hundred knights as company and protection, Lear intends to stay at the castles of Regan and Goneril, switching hosts every month (Lines 89-140).
The Earl of Kent tries to intervene but his continued questioning of the King’s wisdom earns him banishment (Lines 122-163).
Gloucester returns with the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. Both have sought Cordelia’s hand in marriage. Upon learning of Cordelia’s fall from grace, The Duke of Burgundy decides not to marry Cordelia and leaves (Lines 208-215, 244-250).
Cordelia makes an important speech, revealing her character when she says to Lear that she lacks “that glib and oily art / To speak and purpose not; since what I well intend, / I’ll do’t before I speak-” (that art to say what you do not mean since I will do something before I’ll say it), (Line 227) a pointed attack on her two faced sisters, Regan and Goneril.
Cordelia upon learning that she is now to be dowerless and learning that the Duke of Burgundy is now no longer interested in her, says “Peace be with Burgundy! Since that respects of fortune are his love (since all he loves is fortune), / I shall not be his wife” (Line 252).
The King of France, understanding the value of true integrity takes Cordelia now dowerless to be his Queen. Cordelia accepts and reluctantly leaves her father, hoping her sisters will treat her father well (Lines 270-277).
Regan replies “Prescribe not us our duties” (do not proscribe or tell us our duties / we know them), (Line 278).
Goneril and Regan now plot. Both are concerned about Lear’s rash actions and agree to “further think on’t” (think about it further), (Line 311).
Act I. Scene II. – A Hall in the Earl of Gloucester’s Castle.
Edmund: “Edmund the base / Shall top the legitimate:-I grow, I prosper; / Now, gods, stand up for bastards!”
Edmund the loved but illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester plots to have his elder brother Edgar’s reputation ruined. Edmund tricks his father Gloucester into believing that Edgar wanted to kill him…
Edmund enters with a letter. He is annoyed that he is deemed less worthy than his brother Edgar merely because he is illegitimate (Lines 1-22).
With his letter he intends to change his fortunes: “if this letter speed, / And my invention thrive, Edmund the base / Shall top the legitimate:-I grow, I prosper; / Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” (if this letter is quick and my imagination and invention thrive or grow, Edmund the base or lowly shall topple the legitimate, Edgar: I grow, I prosper; now gods, stand up for us bastards!), (Line 19-22).
Gloucester now arrives and Edmund answers to Gloucester that he is reading a letter. Intrigued, Gloucester wants to know what it is about.
After some delay, Edmund lets Gloucester read the letter (Lines 50-60).
It suggests that Gloucester be killed and that the two brothers share Gloucester’s fortune. Allegedly Edmund found it “thrown in at the casement of my closet” (thrown into my closet), (Line 66).
Enraged, Gloucester asks Edmund to find his traitorous brother. Edgar now arrives and Edmund suggests he leave immediately since Edmund fears his father is quite displeased with him. Edmund suggests Edgar flee. Edgar does so. Now alone, Edmund scoffs at how “My practices [manipulations] ride easy!” or are so easy to achieve with “A credulous [gullible] father, and a brother noble,” (Line 201).
Act I. Scene III. – A Room in the Duke of Albany’s Palace.
Goneril conspires to have her guest and her father, King Lear driven out of her house.
Goneril and her steward Oswald discuss Lear’s behavior. When Goneril asks if Lear hit one of her gentlemen for chiding his fool, Oswald confirms that the story is true. Goneril claims Lear continuously wrongs her, “By day and night he wrongs me;” (Line 4).
She tells Oswald to make excuses should Lear ask for her, and tells him if he offends Lear he will do well by her (Line 9).
Goneril: “If you come slack of former services, / You shall do well; the fault of it I’ll answer” (Line 11).
With Lear arriving, she instructs Oswald to make an excuse for her not seeing him (Lines 12-16).
She tells Oswald to “let his [Lear’s] knights have colder looks among you;” (give the knights cold looks), (Line 22), earlier arguing that if Lear is unhappy, he may go to her sister “Whose mind and mine, I know, in that are one, / Not to be over-rul’d” (who like me, is not easily overruled or pushed about), (Line 16).
Goneril belittles (insults) the foolishness of Lear giving away his powers, describing him as that “Idle old man, / That still would manage those authorities / That he hath given away!” (an idle old man that would still try to control that which he has given away), (Line 18).
She argues that in Lear, “Old fools are babes [babies] again, and must be us’d / With cheeks as flatteries, when they are seen abus’d” (old fools are like babies again, and must be used with cheeks as flatteries when they are abused), (Line 20).
Act I. Scene IV. – A Hall in the Same.
King Lear: “How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show!”
The disguised Kent earns King Lear’s respect by defending his name. Goneril offends King Lear and dismisses fifty of his knights. Lear starts to realize Cordelia was not so disrespecting. Lear decides to leave Goneril for Regan where he is sure to be treated properly…
Kent enters disguised. Upon meeting Lear he is allowed to follow the King since Kent argues that “I can keep honest counsel [give honest opinion], ride, run, mar a curious tale in telling it, and deliver a plain message bluntly;” (Lines 34-36).
Lear asks Oswald for his daughter. The steward (Oswald) ignores Lear infuriating him. Lear sends one of his knights after Oswald to get a straight answer, the particular Knight returning without Oswald and commenting that Lear is not being accorded his normal respect (Lines 56-85).
When Oswald is asked by Lear who he is, Oswald replies “My lady’s father” not the King and Lear hits Oswald in rage (Line 87-104).
Kent earns the infuriated Lear’s respect by tripping the disrespectful Oswald (Lines 86-104).
The Fool now enters and in his first statement, criticizes Lear’s foolishness with his daughters (Line 110-118).
At one point Lear angrily asks, “Dost thou call me fool, boy?” to which the Fool, always wiser than he appears, replies, “All thy [your] other titles thou [you] hast [have] given away; that thou [you] wast [were] born with” (Lines 164-165).
The Fool continues to tell truth in riddle until Goneril arrives (Lines 119-208).
Goneril scolds Lear for the riotous behavior of his knights, “Men so disorder’d, so debosh’d, and bold, / That this our court, infected with their manners, / Shows like a riotous inn:” (men so disordered and bold, that this court, infected by their presence looks like a riotous inn), (Lines 265-267).
Albany arrives, defending his Lady. Calling Goneril a “Detested kite!” (Line 286), Lear realizes his folly in punishing Cordelia, saying to himself, “How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show!” (how ugly and nasty was I to Cordelia), (Line 290).
Lear now makes the famous expression of the pain of thankless children when he exclaims, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / To have a thankless child!” (Act I, Scene IV, Line 312).
Lear curses Goneril, hoping that she will become sterile or worse (Lines 298-313).
Lear later learns that Goneril has dismissed fifty of his followers and decides to go to Regan whom he is sure “is kind and comfortable:” (Line 330).
Goneril fears the power of Lear with one hundred knights and tells Oswald to dispatch a letter to her sister.
Act I. Scene V. – Court before the Same.
Lear instructs Kent to deliver several letters to Gloucester. The Fool teaches Lear several riddles (Lines 8-52).
King Lear Commentary – Act II.
Act II. Scene I. – A Court within the Castle of the Earl of Gloucester.
We learn of possible conflict between evil sisters Regan and Goneril. Edmund further manipulates Edgar. Gloucester learns from Edmund of Edgar’s plan to kill him and believes it…
Edmund speaks with Curan, a Courtier. He learns from Curan that in time there may be possible conflict between the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall. Edgar enters and Edmund advises Edgar to leave, saying “My father watches: O sir! fly this place; [our father watches this place, get out of here, fly!]” (Line 22).
Edmund asks whether Edgar has spoken with either the Duke of Cornwall or The Duke of Albany learning Edgar has not. Seeing his father approach, Edmund tells Edgar to “seem to defend yourself;” (look like your defending yourself) and then tells Edgar to flee (Line 32).
Edmund now draws his own blood with his sword to appear wounded (Line 34).
Gloucester arrives, wondering who the villain was. Edmund explains it was Edgar who was trying to “Persuade me to the murder of your lordship;” (convince or persuade me to kill you), (Line 46).
Enraged, Gloucester wants his traitorous son found (Lines 44-63).
Edmund stokes the fire by suggesting that not only did Edgar want to kill his father, but that if he were exposed, he would explain his intent away as lies (Lines 66-79).
Gloucester now wants all ports barred from his traitorous son: “All ports I’ll bar; the villain shall not ‘scape;” (all ports I’ll bar, the villain, my son will not escape), (Line 82).
Regan and Cornwall arrive and upon learning of Edgar’s “loyalty”, embrace (take) him as one of their own, Gloucester thanking Cornwall (Lines 87-130).
Regan seeks Gloucester’s advise in dealing with the now wayward and difficult Lear who has caused problems for her sister Goneril. Gloucester agrees to do what he can…
Act II. Scene II. – Before Gloucester’s Castle.
Kent and Oswald fight. Kent is placed in stocks emphasizing just how little Lear’s name is now respected by daughters Regan and Goneril…
Kent and Oswald are speaking. It is clear that Kent has little respect for Oswald, a man who had earlier disrespected his King. Kent describes Oswald as “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worst-stocking knave;” (Lines 14-26).
Disgusted with what Oswald is, Kent challenges him to fight, shouting “Draw, you rascal; you come with letters against the king,” (draw you rascal, you come with written letters against King Lear), (Line 39).
Edmund arrives parting the two. Cornwall, Regan and Gloucester arrive and the net result is that despite Kent’s pleas for justice, Cornwall orders that Kent be placed in stocks (large wooden medieval devise that clamps a person down by the feet used for punishment).
Gloucester pleads that this not be done to no avail (success).
He warns that Lear will not be happy to see his servant so punished. We learn from Kent that Cordelia is being kept abreast (aware) of current developments in England (Line 173).
Act II. Scene III. – A Part of the Heath.
Edgar now alone and disguised, describes his fate of living in hiding.
Act II. Scene IV. – Before Gloucester’s Castle. Kent in the stocks.
King Lear: “this heart / Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws / Or ere I’ll weep.”
Showing complete disregard for King Lear’s authority, Kent remains in stocks. Lear tells Regan how much Goneril has hurt him. Regan in consultation with Goneril allows Lear to stay but without a single follower. Lear decides not to stay with either daughter…
Arriving at Gloucester’s castle, Lear is surprised that his messenger has not arrived (Kent) and that both Regan and Goneril have departed. Kent calls out to Lear, the Fool explaining that Kent “wears cruel garters” (wears cruel, heavy garters, a reference to Kent being in stocks), (Line 6).
The Fool then goes on to explain several different punishments. Kent explains what happened and now an enraged Lear demands to see Regan. Gloucester warns of the temper of the Duke, but Lear is not dissuaded (talked out of his fury).
Cornwall and Regan arrive. Kent is now set free. Lear makes clear his feelings about Goneril’s actions, describing her as “Sharp-tooth’d unkindness, like a vulture,” (sharp-toothed unkindness, like that of a vulture), (Line 137).
Regan explains that she cannot forget her duties.
Regan tells Lear to ask for Goneril’s forgiveness. This enrages Lear. He places a curse on Goneril, and in mock beggary, explains that he cannot seek the forgiveness of one who took away half his train. Trusting Regan, he says that “thou shalt never have my curse:” (you will never be cursed by me), (Line 173).
Lear now asks who placed his servant in stocks.
Goneril arrives before Lear is answered and Regan sides with her sister. Regan suggests that Lear return to Goneril since she needs time to prepare for him and to return to Regan with half his train.
Lear explains that he would rather be in open country or worse, beg at King France’s throne (Lines 210-220).
Lear asks her to reconsider, “I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad:” (I ask you daughter, do not make me mad), (Line 221).
Lear decides he will stay with Regan with his one hundred knights. Regan replies “Not altogether so: / I look’d not for you yet, nor am I provided / For your fit welcome” (not with all your knights yet; I was not expecting you yet, nor am I ready to welcome and host you properly), (Line 234).
Following a conversation with Goneril and Regan, Lear is allowed not one follower (Lines 239-268).
Lear now despairs, asking the gods for patience towards “a poor old man,” such as himself (Line 275).
Lear exclaims that he will not weep, “You think I’ll weep; / No, I’ll not weep: / I have full cause of weeping, but this heart / Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws / Or ere I’ll weep. O fool! I shall go mad” (you think I’ll weep; no I’ll not weep. Though I have full cause or every reason to weep, this heart of mine will break into a hundred thousand pieces or flaws before you’ll see me weep. O what a fool I was, I will go mad!), (Line 285).
Gloucester arrives informing the two daughters that Lear has nowhere to sleep. The daughters try to convince themselves that this is Lear’s own fault.
King Lear Commentary – Act III.
Act III. Scene I. – A Heath.
The King of France may well invade England. Kent sends a messenger to Cordelia to keep her aware of King Lear’s plight…
Amid lightning and storms, Kent and a Gentleman discuss Lear’s situation. We learn that the King of France is planning to invade. We also learn of the growing conflict between the Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall.
Kent entrusts the Gentlemen to head for Dover where he is to report on Lear’s suffering to allies and subjects of France already in England. Should he see Cordelia, a ring given by Kent will let Cordelia tell the Gentlemen who Kent is.
Act III. Scene II. – Another Part of the Heath. Storm still.
King Lear: “a man / More sinn’d against than sinning.”
Lear braves the elements against a storm, no doubt symbolic of his tortured soul…
Lear cries out to the elements, “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” (Line 1).
The Fool suggests by riddle that Lear seek shelter. Kent enters and Lear continues to torture himself to the elements, famously saying “I am a man / More sinn’d [sinned / wronged] against than sinning” (Line 58).
Kent announces that he has found a nearby hovel that will serve as shelter. They enter and the Fool ends the scene in riddle.
Act III. Scene III. – A Room in Gloucester’s Castle.
Edmund: “The younger rises when the old doth fall.”
Gloucester lets slip to his traitorous son Edmund that the army of France is poised to invade, guaranteeing Gloucester’s own future suffering. We learn more of a potential conflict between Regan and Goneril, centering on their husbands…
Gloucester and Edmund talk. Gloucester reaffirms the growing animosity (hatred) between the two Dukes. Gloucester is not happy that when he wanted to leave Goneril and Regan to mourn Lear’s plight, they denied him use of his house, and told him not to in any way help Lear (Lines 1-7).
We learn that “There is division between the Dukes,” signaling further potential division between Regan and Goneril (Line 8).
Gloucester now makes the mistake of trusting Edmund, telling him of a letter locked in his closet. They explain that Lear’s suffering will be avenged by a foreign power (France) already on English soil.
Gloucester tells Edmund to speak with the Duke to distract him, telling Edmund to say he is sick if called upon. Edmund now alone, realizes he has an opportunity to betray his father for personal gain when he says “The younger rises when the old doth [does] fall” (the younger himself rises, when the older, his father Gloucester falls), (Line 26).
Act III. Scene IV. – The Heath. Before a Hovel.
King Lear: “Is man no more than this?”
Lear is eventually brought out of the elements. Lear explains that its physical torment upon him distracted him from the pain his daughters have given him. Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son, makes his appearance, disguised as “poor Tom.”
Battled by the elements, Lear is troubled by his daughters: “This tempest will not give me leave to ponder / On things would hurt me more” (this storm will not give me leave or allow me to be distracted, to think about things like my daughters that would hurt me more), (Line 25).
The Fool enters the hovel. Lear decides to stay out to pray: “I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep” (Line 27).
Again showing that he has gained true insight from his suffering, Lear laments that he has not cared enough for those “Poor naked wretches,” (his less fortunate subjects), who must endure this storm (Line 28).
Lear says he has “ta’en [taken] / Too little care of this” (Line 32).
Edgar makes his appearance at the hovel as a seeming madman and the Fool is reluctant to let him in. Kent tells the Fool to let “poor Tom” as he is known in. He describes the “foul fiend” pursuing him (Lines 43-62).
Hearing Edgar’s (disguised as poor Tom) tortured murmuring, Lear asks if Tom has been brought to this by his daughters: “What! have his daughters brought him to this pass? Couldst thou save nothing? Didst thou give them all? (did you give them all), (Line 62).
The Fool explains that Edgar reserved or at least kept a blanket, “else we had been all shamed” or else Edgar would be completely naked (Line 65).
Lear asks Edgar “What hast thou been?” (what were you) to which Edgar replies that he was once “A servingman, proud in heart and mind;” a reference to Edgar’s earlier status before Edmund reduced him to a criminal on the run (Line 84).
Lear now famously asks, “Is man no more than this?” (Line 100) later tearing off his clothes to brave the elements completely naked (Line 112).
Gloucester enters and is dismayed at the poor quality of the King’s company (Line 146).
Kent fears Lear is losing his mind to which Gloucester responds that given Lear’s daughters betrayal this is not surprising. Gloucester then describes the pain his own child (Edgar) has given him. Lear agrees to enter the hovel only if his philosopher (Edgar) joins him, finally leaving the cruel elements…
Act III. Scene V. – A Room in Gloucester’s Castle.
Cornwall and Edmund speak. After implicating his father Gloucester as a traitor against Cornwall, Edmund is rewarded for his family disloyalty by receiving his father’s title as the new Earl of Gloucester. Cornwall tells Edmund to seek out his father saying “he may be ready for our apprehension” or punishment (Line 20).
Act III. Scene VI. – A Chamber in a Farmhouse adjoining the Castle.
Lear and company find solace and safety in a farmhouse. Lear showing signs of madness, holds a mock trial to punish his daughters. Kent leads Lear to Dover where he will be safe…
Gloucester leads Lear, Kent, the Fool and the disguised Edgar to a farmhouse. Gloucester leaves to get provisions. Lear seeking justice, arranges a mock trial for his absent daughters, saying that “I will arraign [arrange / set] them [Goneril and Regan] straight” or bring his daughters to justice (Line 23).
Edgar and the Fool are to be the judges. Edgar in an aside (private speech) has difficulty in his role, such is his sadness (Lines 63-64).
Goneril and Regan are addressed in absence or rather as the accepting Fool says as joint-stools (these joint-stools actually substitute for Regan and Goneril), (Line 55) and Gloucester arrives again. Kent warns him that Lear’s wits are all but gone (Line 96).
Gloucester tells Kent that Lear’s life is in danger and that Kent should take Lear to Dover where he will be safe (Line 98).
Edgar now alone, philosophizes on his situation: “When we our betters see bearing our woes, / We scarcely think our miseries our foes” (when we see our betters or superiors bearing our problems, we rarely think our miseries to be our enemies), (Line 111).
Act III. Scene VII. – A Room in Gloucester’s Castle.
Gloucester is captured and tortured first having his beard ripped away and later being made blind. Unable to bear Cornwall’s brutality any longer, a slave wounds Cornwall…
Cornwall, Regan, Goneril and Edmund are discussing the traitorous Gloucester. Regan wants him hanged immediately (Line 4).
Goneril suggests that his eyes be plucked out (Line 5).
Cornwall advises them to leave Gloucester to him. Oswald enters reporting that Gloucester has sent King Lear to some well-armed friends near Dover.
Gloucester is captured and as Cornwall insults him, Regan tears off his beard (Line 34) Gloucester reminds his captors of the wrong they do him when he is their host. Cornwall asks Gloucester about the letters he has received from France. Gloucester is silent.
Gloucester tells him that he sent Lear to Dover because he could not bear to see “thy [your] cruel nails / Pluck out his poor old eyes; nor thy fierce sister / In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs” (your nails pluck out Lear’s eyes nor your fierce sister stick or sink her boarish fangs into his flesh), (Line 57).
Shortly after these words are made, Cornwall takes out one of Gloucester’s eyes, telling Gloucester that “Upon these eyes of thine [yours] I’ll set my foot” by which Cornwall means he will crush Gloucester’s eyes under his foot (Line 68).
Regan tells Cornwall to remove the second eye when a servant suddenly wounds Cornwall in a fight; the First Servant could no longer bear his master’s cruelty (Line 70).
Despite the First Servant’s death, Cornwall completes his gruesome task. Now blind, Gloucester asks for his son Edmund. Regan explains to him that Edmund hates him and that “it was he [Edmund] / That made the overture of thy treasons to us,” (Line 89) or told Cornwall and Regan of Gloucester’s support for Lear and now Gloucester realizes that Edgar was his good son, not Edmund (Line 85-90).
Gloucester is thrown out of the castle to smell his way to Dover. The remaining servants decide to follow Gloucester and tend to his bleeding face, the Second Servant fetching the “Bedlam” (Edgar) to lead Gloucester where he wishes (Line 104).
King Lear Commentary – Act IV.
Act IV. Scene I. – The Heath.
Gloucester: “I stumbled when I saw.”
Gloucester now blind, realizes in his suffering his mistakes, especially about his son Edgar. Gloucester meets “poor Tom” not realizing it is Edgar in disguise. Edgar leads his father to the cliffs of Dover where his father wishes to commit suicide.
Edgar, alone reassures himself that since the worst has happened, all further change can only be positive. Shortly after, a blind Gloucester arrives. Gloucester does not want the help of the Old Man who is leading him, famously explaining that “I stumbled when I saw” meaning Gloucester made mistakes when he could see, a metaphor for Gloucester saying he was wrong about Edmund, when with all his senses, he had little reason to be (Line 19).
Gloucester hears another man who is introduced by the Old Man as “poor mad Tom” (Line 26).
Gloucester explains that he saw this man earlier in the rain, thinking him a worm and then he thought of his son (Line 33).
Edgar in aside (private speech revealing his innermost thoughts), realizes he has not seen the worst (Line 27).
Edgar is saddened that he must still hide his true identity from his father. The scene ends with Edgar agreeing to lead Gloucester to the cliffs of Dover where we presume Gloucester wishes to commit suicide. “Give me thy [your] arm: / Poor Tom shall lead thee [you]” Edgar exclaims. (Line 80)
Act IV. Scene II. – Before the Duke of Albany’s Palace.
The Duke of Albany on Regan and Goneril: “Tigers, not daughters, what have you perform’d?”
The Duke of Albany renounces (disowns) his wife Goneril, realizing that he has been on the wrong side… The Duke of Cornwall (Regan’s husband) is now dead. The rivalry for Edmund by Regan and Goneril intensifies.
Goneril and Edmund are present. Goneril is glad that her husband (The Duke of Albany) did not see them. Oswald enters and we learn that The Duke of Albany is not himself. Upon hearing reports of the French landing an army, he simply smiled at the news (Line 5).
When told that Goneril was coming, he replied “‘The worse:'” (Line 6).
The Duke of Albany even called Oswald a “sot,” when Oswald told Albany of Gloucester’s supposed treachery and the loyalty of Edmund. Goneril, now angry, remarks that “It is the cowish terror of his spirit / That dares not undertake;” (Line 13).
Goneril sends Edmund back to Cornwall, “to my brother;” (Line 15) to help him prepare to fight the French. Goneril will take command since she no longer trusts her husband. She secures Edmund’s trust with a kiss, signaling a change of relationship (Lines 20-24).
Albany arrives, cursing Goneril as “not worth the dust which the rude wind / Blows in your face” (Line 31).
He fears her disposition adding that “Wisdom and goodness to the vile [evil] seem vile [evil];” (Line 38) adding that combined, Goneril and sister Regan are “Tigers, not daughters,” asking them “what have you perform’d?” (what have you done?), (Line 40).
Goneril replies that Albany is a “Milk-liver’d man! That bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs; / Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning / Thine honour from thy suffering;” (Line 50).
Albany’s words clearly show his disgust for his wife (Lines 62-68).
A Messenger enters. He tells us that the Duke of Cornwall is now dead. He was “Slain [killed] by his servant, going to put out / The other eye of Gloucester” (Line 70).
Albany remarks that this shows a higher justice at work (Lines 78-80).
In an aside, Goneril remarks “One way I like this well;” but then comments that Regan being a widow makes her more available to Edmund who she calls “my Gloucester”, something she does not particularly like (Lines 83-86).
Act IV. Scene III. – The French Camp, near Dover.
Kent wonders how Cordelia can be good and her sisters so evil. The King of France will not oversee the battle about to start. Cordelia is saddened by what she learns of King Lear’s plight…
Kent and a Gentlemen discuss recent events. The King of France will not personally oversee the battle; his attention is required elsewhere. We also learn of Cordelia’s distress at hearing news of her father’s plight, and how she “shook / The holy water from her heavenly eyes,” in order to be strong for the battle ahead (Line 31).
Kent comments that perhaps the stars are responsible for the difference of character between Cordelia and her sisters (Lines 34-37).
Kent also adds that “Lear’s i’ [is in] the town,” or is nearby but will not “yield to see his daughter” so ashamed is he of his treatment of Cordelia (Lines 44-49).
Kent and the Gentleman remark that Albany’s and Cornwall’s forces are “afoot” or on the move (Line 51).
Kent tells the Gentleman that he will bring him to Lear to shed his disguised identity at a future time.
Act IV. Scene IV. – The Same. A Tent.
Cordelia has her men search for her father…
Cordelia commands her men to “Search every acre in the high-grown field,” for her father who she knows to be near and disguised with ” burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers,” and other assorted weeds.
A Physician or doctor assures Cordelia that there is a means by which Lear’s sanity may be restored. A Messenger enters, announcing that “The British powers [army, forces] are marching hitherward [near]”, (Line 21).
Cordelia hopes to soon see her father again (Line 26).
Act IV. Scene V. – A Room in Gloucester’s Castle.
With the battle almost about to start, we learn Albany has switched sides again, supporting Goneril and Regan’s forces. Regan worries more about her sister’s intentions for Edmund than the battle that lies ahead…
Regan and Oswald discuss the coming battle. We learn that Albany, Regan’s brother is supporting the sisters against the invading French (Cordelia’s army).
Regan worries about Goneril’s letter to Edmund.
Regan believes that Edmund has departed to kill his father Gloucester, thus killing an important symbol against the rule of the two sisters (Lines 10-12).
Regan tells Oswald to stay with her and her troops who depart tomorrow. Oswald will not. He must deliver a message to Edmund. Regan is worried about what kind of relationship such letters may support. She succeeds in taking and reading her sister’s letter from Oswald.
She instructs Oswald to give Edmund what presumably is a letter and explains to him that she is a much more fitting bride for Edmund than her sister is, telling Oswald to talk some sense into her sister and to talk Goneril out of such silly notions (a romance with Edmund).
She also instructs Oswald to kill Gloucester should he find him and wishes Oswald well.
Act IV. Scene VI. – The Country near Dover.
Lear: “A man may see how this world goes with no eyes.”
Edgar continues to lead his father to the cliffs of Dover where he tricks him that he has miraculously survived his fall. Lear learns of Gloucester’s blindness. Edgar kills Oswald when he attempts to kill Gloucester. Oswald’s letter, which comes from Goneril, reveals instructions for Edmund to kill her husband, The Duke of Albany.
Edgar, still disguised to his father, continues to lead his father to the cliffs of Dover (Lines 1-40).
Edgar tells his father that he hears the sea when it is obvious to the audience, that Gloucester is not being led up a steep hill, as Edgar suggests. At line 35, Gloucester bids farewell to the world, mentioning Edgar.
“If Edgar live, O, bless him!” (If Edgar, my true son still lives, bless him!), says Gloucester before falling off the cliff, so to speak (Line 41).
Edgar in an aside(private speech) is still tortured by the fact that he has not made his identity obvious to his blind father. Edgar tells his father that he survived the fall, in what clearly was a miracle (Lines 50-65).
Lear enters, dressed fantastically in flowers. He is described by Edgar, as a “side-piercing sight!” (shocking sight), (Line 86).
Lear now riddles like the Fool (Lines 87-94) and goes on to criticize his own folly with his daughters and later makes a case for adultery (Lines 97-136).
When Gloucester wishes to kiss the hand of his King, Lear exclaims “Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality” (Line 136).
Gloucester then describes his King as a “ruin’d piece of nature!”, fearing that the world will ground them both to nothing (Line 138).
Lear learns of Gloucester’s blindness and Lear in a line suggesting he has reached true wisdom, explains that “A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond justice rails upon yon simple thief” (a man can see how the world really works with no eyes. Look with your ears, see how justice rails upon a simple thief), (Lines 153-160).
Upon hearing more of Lear’s insights, Edgar exclaims “O! matter and impertinency mix’d; / Reason in madness!” (Line 180).
A Gentleman with Attendants now find Lear and announce that his daughter has been searching for him (Lines 193-209).
The Gentleman leaves and speaks with Edgar.
We learn that the other army (Goneril’s and Regan’s forces) are “Near, and on speedy foot;” (Line 218).
We learn also that “Though that the queen on special cause [finding her father] is here, / Her army is mov’d on” (her army has moved on), (Line 220).
Gloucester wishes to the gods: “You ever-gentle gods, take my breath from me: / Let not my worser spirit tempt me again / To die before you please!” (kill me should I ever be tempted again to suicide), (Line 223).
Oswald finds Gloucester and delightedly draws his sword to kill him. Unfortunately, Edgar “interposes [intervenes]” killing Oswald (Line 257).
Before he dies, Oswald asks his murderer whom he calls “Villain,” to deliver his letters to Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester. Edgar reads the letter. From Goneril, it advises Edmund to kill the Duke of Albany to win her hand. Upon hearing drums, Edgar again leads his father away.
Act IV. Scene VII. – A Tent in the French Camp.
Lear: “I am a very foolish fond old man….”
Cordelia finds her father Lear who deeply regrets how he treated her…
Cordelia is grateful to Kent for his loyal work: “O thou good Kent! how shall I live and work / To match thy [your] goodness? My life will be too short, / And every measure fail me” (Line 1).
The attendant Doctor tells Cordelia that Lear sleeps deeply, and upon her instruction, wakes him with music.
Cordelia speaks of her love for her father (Lines 26-28 and 29-42).
Lear awakening, believes himself to be in his grave but soon realizes this is not the case (Line 45).
Confused, Cordelia introduces herself to him, Cordelia telling Lear not to kneel.
Lear asks that he not be mocked for “I am a very foolish fond old man,” (Line 60) adding “I fear I am not in my perfect mind” (Line 63), explaining that “For, as I am a man, I think this lady / To be my child Cordelia” (Line 70).
Lear remorseful tells Cordelia that should she have poison for him, he will gladly drink it. Lear asks if he is in France. The Doctor advises Cordelia not to distress Lear further. Lear exclaims to Cordelia that “You must bear with me. Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish” (Line 85).
The Gentleman and Kent speak of the coming battle; the bastard son of Gloucester (Edmund) leads their enemy’s forces. The war will be bloody.
King Lear Commentary – Act V.
Act V. Scene I. – The British Camp near Dover.
Goneril: “I had rather lose the battle than that sister / Should loosen him and me.”
Regan and Goneril put Edmund on the spot by demanding he choose which one of them he loves. Albany decides to fight on Regan and Goneril’s side but only to fight an invading power (France).
Edmund, Regan and various “Officers, Soldiers and Others” enter. Unsure of Albany’s loyalties, Edmund dispatches an officer to find out.
Regan fears that Oswald may have met some harm and fearing her sister, both declares her love for Edmund and interrogates him on his feelings for her sister. Regan makes this clear when she says that “I never shall endure her: dear my lord, / Be not familiar [intimately familiar] with her” (Line 15).
Edmund tells her to “Fear me not [trust me]” (Line 16).
Goneril and Albany arrive.
Curiously, Goneril in an aside exclaims that “I had rather lose the battle than that sister / Should loosen him [Edmund] and me” (Line 17).
Albany will fight on the side of Regan and Goneril but only because “France invades our land,” (Line 25).Goneril and Regan support this move, Goneril remarking that now is not the time to ponder over “domestic and particular broils” (Line 29).
Edgar, disguised, delivers a letter to Albany which proves Goneril’s intention to have Edmund kill her husband, The Duke of Albany so she can live with Edmund (first mentioned in Act IV Scene VII), (Lines 40-49).
Edmund and Albany make plans to meet the enemy. In an aside, Edmund mulls over the competition for his love by Regan and Goneril and the delicate balancing act he is being forced to make (Lines 550-69) whilst commenting that once the battle is over, Lear and Cordelia will be dealt with, adding that they “Shall never see his pardon;” (Line 68).
Act V. Scene II. – A Field between the two Camps.
Edgar: “King Lear hast lost, he and his daughter ta’en.”
Cordelia’s forces lose to Goneril’s and Regan’s army and Cordelia and Lear are taken prisoner.
Lear, Cordelia and her forces are all present. Both forces are soon to be locked in battle. Edgar leads his father to the safety of a nearby tree and vows to return soon.
Edgar returns and the news is not good; “King Lear hast [has] lost, he and his daughter ta’en” (King Lear has lost, both he and Cordelia have been taken or captured), (Line 6).
Gloucester despairs but with support from Edgar, finds the strength to go on.
Act V. Scene III. – The British Camp, near Dover.
King Lear: “She’s dead as earth.”
Captured, King Lear tries to comfort Cordelia. Albany congratulates his allies but now turns on them. Edgar fights his brother Edmund, mortally wounding him. Goneril kills herself and poisons sister Regan. Edgar reveals his true identity to Gloucester who dies from a heart unable to take both grief and joy. Albany and the dying Edmund try to prevent Lear and Cordelia being hanged but are too late for Cordelia. Lear howls with pain at his loss of Cordelia. Kent is finally recognized for his loyalty by Lear. Lear, unable to take further pain, dies. Albany is left to restore order following this tragedy…
Edmund orders some officers to take Lear and Cordelia away to await their fate as prisoners of the failed invasion (Lines 1-3).
Lear tries to cheer Cordelia up, telling her to “Wipe thine eyes; / The goujeres shall devour them, flesh and fell, / Ere they shall make us weep: we’ll see ’em [them] starve first” (don’t weep Cordelia, these goujeres, a French disease will devour them. We’ll see them starve first than weep), (Lines 23-26).
Edmund instructs an officer to do an unspecified task (kill Lear and Cordelia) for him, contained within a paper given to the officer. Success will bring the officer great fortune Edmund tells him; the officer accepts (Lines 27-32).
Albany, Goneril and Regan are in discussion. Albany comments that “fortune led you well;” (Line 42) in discussing the success of the sister’s forces. Edmund informs them that he has placed Lear and Cordelia under guard to await further action. Albany now begins to turn on his allies, telling Edmund that “Sir, by your patience, I hold you but a subject of this war, / Not as a brother” (Lines 60-62).
Regan stands up for Edmund, but Albany will not change his mind. Regan and Goneril exchange barbs over their love for Edmund (Lines 68-78).
Edmund explains to Albany that there is little he can do to create peace on this issue.
Presently, Albany announces his intention to arrest Edmund for capital treason (Line 84) “and, in thy [your] arrest, / This guilded serpent” pointing to Goneril. (Line 85).
Albany now informs Regan that since his wife Goneril appears to be involved with Edmund, Regan may now consider him as a husband (Lines 86-88).
Albany now challenges Edmund to fight and Regan departs exclaiming “My sickness grows upon me” (Line 106).
A Herald enters and to the sound of a trumpet, reads aloud a statement. It asks for anyone who challenges the claim that Edmund “supposed Earl of Gloucester,” (Line 114) is a traitor to speak before the third sounding of the trumpet. Edgar enters and draws his sword. Edmund refuses to fight such a dirty person who “looks so fair and war-like,” (Line 143).
They fight, and Edmund who did not ask for Edgar’s name falls. Tellingly, Albany wishes that Edmund will be safe.
Goneril explains that Edmund should not have accepted the fight as by the law of arms, he was not bound to answer him. Angry, Albany rudely exclaims “Shut your mouth, dame, / Or with this paper shall I stop it” (shut your mouth or with this paper I will shut it), (Line 156).
Albany now knows of Goneril’s subterfuge, describing her as “worse than any name,” (Line 157).
Goneril tries to assert that she decides the law, earning further spite from Albany. Albany gives the letter he has obtained to Edmund. Edmund knowing it will implicate him, asks not be questioned on it.
Albany tells Edmund to go after Goneril, but knowing the end is near, Edmund asks who his assailant was (Line 167).
Edgar reveals his true identity now and Albany embraces Edgar as a noble brother. Edmund explains his suffering and that of his father (Lines 182-200).
Edgar explains to Albany how he disguised himself and protected his father, The Earl of Gloucester. He also explains that when he revealed his true identity to his father, it was too great a strain for his “flaw’d heart,” (flawed, weak heart) which “‘Twixt [between] two extremes of passion, joy and grief, / Burst smilingly” (Gloucester, his heart torn between both grief and joy has died smiling), (Lines 198-199).
The loyalty of Kent is also mentioned. A Gentleman carrying a bloody knife arrives. He announces that Albany’s lady (Goneril) is dead by her own hands (a bloody knife), her sister Regan was poisoned by her. Edmund remarks that all three of them (Regan, Edmund and Goneril) “Now marry in an instant” (we are now all married or joined together instantly by our deaths), (Line 230).
Kent enters to bid his King and master good night. Albany now realizes that they have forgotten someone: “Great thing of us forgot! Speak, Edmund, where’s the king? and where’s Cordelia?” (Lines 238-239).
The bodies of Goneril and Regan are brought in. Edmund remarks on the fact that one killed the other for him. Edmund now near death, decides to do some good though he knows it’s against his nature.
He tells Albany, Edgar and Kent to “Quickly send, / Be brief in it, to the castle; for my writ / Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia” (go to the castle with this sword as proof of his identity, to stop Lear and Cordelia being killed), (Line 248).
Edmund explains that an officer has the commission from both himself and his wife to hang Cordelia in prison, and to lay the blame for this on Cordelia’s own despair since it will look like suicide. Edgar leaves at once with Edmund’s sword before it is too late… Edmund is borne off or carried away.
Lear enters with the dead Cordelia in his arms. Howling with pain, he wishes his daughter alive to no avail. He makes it clear that he is not completely mad, knowing when one is dead or not. “She’s dead as earth” he says (Line 263).
Lear explains that he “kill’d the slave” that was hanging Cordelia (Lines 276-290).
Lear recognizes Kent and welcomes him, finally realizing Kent’s true loyalty. An Officer enters announcing Edmund’s death. Albany remarks that this news is “but a trifle here” (Line 298), and Albany acknowledges Lear as the true ruler of his kingdom, pledging his service to him. Those who supported Lear, namely Edgar and Kent will be rewarded, Albany explains.
Devastated and now completely broken, the long suffering Lear finally breathes his last breaths and dies, still hoping to find life in his beloved Cordelia.
Albany, Kent and Edgar remain. Albany explains that they must now restore order to their land. Kent explains that he cannot help in this task, for “I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; / My master calls me, I must not say no” (Line 324).
Albany ends this tragedy with insight:
“The weight of this sad time we must obey; / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath [has] borne [suffered] most: we that are young, / Shall never see so much, nor live so long” (Line 328).
No Fear Shakespeare
This site has the original text with a modern paraphrase to the right. Here is an example:
Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear King Lear.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2003. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.
Questions for Discussion
1.) Family Structures
One of the themes in King Lear is family. There are many different
family structures within the play. Can you identify the different families
in the play? How does each family member relate with their other
members? What are the relationships like? How are these relationships
similar or different to your own experiences with family? How do these
relationships compare with any other family structures you have seen? In
your own life? In movies or on television? In your friends lives?
Another major theme in King Lear is deception. What forms does
deception take? What characters use deception and do you consider their
causes good or evil?
King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s Tragedies. What is tragic about the
story? What elements make it a tragedy? Which characters are most
tragic? What do you think is the overall, great tragedy within the story?
1. Why does Lear favor Goneril’s and Regan’s professions of love over Cordelia’s? (I, i)
2. How is this favoritism related to the exiling of Kent? (varied opinions)
3. Why does Edmund wish to overthrow Edgar’s claim to his father’s title? (I, ii)
4. In what manner has Lear offended Goneril and her household? (I, iii)
5. How is she justified in her anger? (varied opinions)
6. According to the Fool’s arguments, how has Lear “deserved” this poor treatment from Goneril? (I, iv)
1. How does Edmund make himself appear to be the better son in Gloucester’s eyes? (II, i)
2. Why should the reader not be surprised at Regan’s decision to side with her sister rather than her father? (II, ii)
3. List and discuss Edgar’s reasons for playing the part of Poor Tom. (II, iii)
4. How do Goneril and Regan assert power over their father, thus driving him into a raging storm? (II, iv)
1. How does the information that France sends troops impact the political strife that is beginning in England? (III, i—varied opinions)
2. In what manner has Lear caused all the strife that occurs between himself and his daughters? (III, ii)
3. In what sense are the Fool’s assertions true? (III, ii)
4. In what sense are the Fool’s assertions false? (III, ii)
5. In what sense is it ironic that Gloucester confides his good intentions in his illegitimate son, Edmund? (III, iii)
6. Compare the madness of Lear to the madness of Poor Tom (Edgar).
7. How is Edmund rewarded for his treachery? (III, v)
A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of William Shakespeare’s King Lear 9
8. What are the judgments of mankind issued against Goneril and Regan in Lear’s court? (III, vi)
9. How is the blindness of Gloucester symbolic to the blindness of Lear? (III, vii —varied opinions)
1. Why would Gloucester prefer to be led by the madman (Edgar) rather than by a faithful retainer? (IV, i)
2. How does Goneril compound her sins against her family? (IV, ii)
3. How does Albany perceive his wife? (IV, ii)
4. Why is it natural that Lear would not wish to see his daughter Cordelia? (IV, iii)
5. How does Regan compound her sins against her family? (IV, v)
6. How does Edgar begin the process of righting the unnatural events that have occurred? (IV, vi)
7. How does Cordelia react to her father’s words? (IV, vii)
1. How is the division between Goneril and Regan furthered? (V, i)
2. Why does it seem that Edmund has more power than any other character? (V, iii)
3. In what manner and under what authority does Albany reclaim any power that Edmund may have? (V, iii)
4. Under what circumstance may Edgar answer Edmund’s challenge? (V, iii)
5. How does Edmund justify or reconcile himself with his fall from grace? (V, iii)
6. What one act would provide possible redemption for Edmund, and why is Edmund compelled to perform that act? (V, iii)
7. How is the power of the realm realigned at the end of the play, and why do we not have a feeling of completion or
satisfaction from this realignment? (V, iii)
From Virginia Commonwealth University
KING LEAR STUDY QUESTIONS
Who are the two nobles in the opening scene and what are they talking about?
How do you think that Edmund must be feeling at this moment?
See if you can discern any hint of his feelings on his face as we watch the film.
What does Old King Lear plan to do with his kingdom? What is the test that he proposes to the daughters?
How do each of the first two daughters answer the old man?
What is Cordelia’s answer and why does she answer as she does? What does her reference to “nothing” suggest about the use of this motif in the rest of the play?
Do you think that Cordelia is being cruel in refusing to play her father’s game? Why?
How does Lear react to Cordelia’s response? How does Lord Kent react to Lear’s response?
How might the references to sight and blindness become important for the rest of the play?
How do France and Burgandy each react to the news that Cordelia will not receive any dower and what does their reaction tell us about their characters?
What does Cordelia mean when she says to her sisters, “I know you what you are.” What do the sisters say about their father near the end of the scene?
What are the two views of nature contrasted in the action and dialogue of this scene?
What parallels do you see between this scene and the first one?
A couple of months have now passed; what is bothering Goneril at this point and what does she instruct her servant Oswald to do about it?
Why does Kent wish to serve Lear? What does he discern in Lear’s countenance and how is this ironic?
What is Kent’s reaction to what Oswald’s servant does to Lear?
Why is what the knight says about the Fool’s pining away “since my young lady’s going into France” important?
What is the Fool’s function in this part of the play and what are at least three examples of how he fulfills this function?
How does Edmund trick his brother Edgar into fleeing?
How do Kent’s actions with Oswald characterize him as a “plain dealer”?
How might Kent’s line “Nothing almost seems miracles/But misery” serve as a motto for the play?
How is Edgar’s disguising himself as a bedlam beggar an example of social criticism in the play? Why is Edgar’s comment, “Edgar, I nothing am” important to the meaning of the play?
Why is Lear so angry that his servant Kent has been put in the stocks by Regan and Cornwall?
What is Regan’s first response when Lear complains of his treatment at the hands of her sister?
Before this scene is over, what have the two sisters stripped Lear of?
How does the storm that Lear endures on the outside mirror his emotional state?
What is Lear’s comment about people who have suffered social injustice in his kingdom and why might it signal the beginning of his transformation?
What does Lear say to the Fool that suggests a further step in his transformation?
What mistake does Gloucester make with his son Edmund, and what significant word does he use?
Why are Lear’s lines about the “poor naked wretches” in his kingdom important?
When Lear encounters Edgar, how does Edgar’s condition mirror his own?
What does Lear mean when he calls Edgar, “unaccommodated man,” and how does he now actualize the nothing motif of the play?
What does Lear do now to his three daughters in the hovel that indicates how mad he has become?
How might this scene be asking the question: “Just exactly where are the really mad people in this play, on the inside or the outside?”
What does Gloucester mean when he says in this scene: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods/They kill us for their sport”?
What transformation seems to result from Gloucester’s attempt at suicide? What does Edgar mean when he tells his father, “Thy life’s a miracle.”
How is the stage direction, “Enter Lear, fantastically dressed with wild flowers” related to his transformation?
When King Lear recovers in Cordelia’s arms, what does he mean when he says, “I am a very foolish fond old man”?
In the midst of the battle, when Cordelia’s forces are losing, Edgar comments: “Men must endure/Their going hence, even as their coming hither: /Ripeness is all.” How is this comment important to the meaning(s) of the play?
What does Lear say to Cordelia that might indicate that he has not experienced a complete transformation?
Just before he dies, King Lear tells those gathered to “look on her, look, her lips”: Does this mean that he dies in exultation, thinking that his daughter is breathing? If so, is he not still a blind, gullible old man?