Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

King Lear


The Tragedy of King Lear (a Later Tragedy). First written in the year 1606, first performed in 1608.

In Britain, King Lear, in old age, chooses to retire and divide up Britain between his three daughters. However, he declares that they must first be wed before being given the land. He asks his daughters the extent of their love for him. The two oldest, Goneril and Regan, both flatter him with praise and are rewarded generously with land and marriage to the Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall, respectively. Lear's youngest and most beloved daughter, Cordelia, refuses to flatter her father, going only so far as to say that she loves him as much as a daughter should. Lear, unjustly enraged, gives her no land. The Earl of Kent tries to convince Lear to reconsider, but Lear refuses then banishes Kent for acting traitorously by supporting Cordelia. Gloucester then brings the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy in and Lear offers Cordelia to Burgundy, though without a dowry of land, contrary to a previous agreement. Burgundy declines, but the French King, impressed by Cordelia's steadfastness, takes her as Queen of France. Next, Lear passes all powers and governance of Britain down to Albany and Cornwall.

Edmund, bastard son of Gloucester, vows to himself to reclaim land his father has given to his "legitimate" son Edgar. Edmund does this by showing his father a letter he (Edmund) forged, which makes it seem that Edgar wants to take over his father's lands and revenues jointly with Edmund. Gloucester is enraged, but Edmund calms him. Later, Edmund warns Edward that he is in trouble with his father, pretending to help him.

Goneril instructs her steward, Oswald, to act coldly to King Lear and his knights, in efforts to chide him since he continues to grow more unruly. Kent arrives, disguised as a servant, and offers his services to Lear, who accepts. However, as a result of the servants' lack of respect for Lear, his own fool's derisions of him, and Goneril's ill respect toward him, Lear storms out of Goneril's home, never to look on her again. Lear goes next to Regan's house. While leaving, the fool again criticizes Lear for giving his lands to his daughters. Lear fears he (himself) is becoming insane.

At Gloucester's castle, Edmund convinces Edgar to flee, then wounds himself to make it look like Edgar attacked him. Gloucester, thankful for Edmund's support of him, vows to capture Edgar and reward Edmund. Regan and Cornwall arrive to discuss with Albany their ensuing war against Lear. Kent arrives at Gloucester's with a message from Lear and meets Oswald (whom Kent dislikes and mistrusts) with a message from Goneril. Kent attacks Oswald, but Cornwall and Regan break up the fight, afterwhich Kent is put in the stocks for 24 hours. Edgar, still running, tells himself he must disguise himself as a beggar. King Lear arrives, finding Kent in the stocks. At first, Regan and Cornwall refuse to see Lear, further enraging him, but then they allow him to enter. Oswald and Goneril arrive, and Lear becomes further enraged. After Regan and Goneril chide Lear to the brink, he leaves Gloucester's castle, entering a storm. The daughters and Cornwall are glad he leaves, though Gloucester is privately concerned for his health.

In the storm, Kent sends a man to Dover to get Cordelia and her French forces to rescue Lear and help him fight Albany and Cornwall. Lear stands in the storm swearing at it and his daughters, but Kent convinces him to hide in a cave. Gloucester tells Edmund of the French forces and departs for Lear, but Edmund plans to betray his father and inform Cornwall of the proceedings. Kent finds Lear, nearly delirious, in the storm, and tries to take him into the cave. Just then, Edgar emerges from the cave, pretending to be a madman. Lear likes him and refuses to go into the cave. Gloucester arrives (not recognizing Edgar), and convinces them all to go to a farmhouse of his. Edmund, as promised, informs Cornwall of Gloucester's dealings with the French army. Cornwall vows to arrest Gloucester and name Edmund the new Duke of Gloucester.

At the farmhouse, Lear, growing more insane, pretends his two eldest daughters are on trial for betraying him. Edgar laments that the King's predicament makes it difficult to keep up his (Edgar's) charade, out of sympathy for the King's madness. Gloucester returns and convinces Lear, Kent, and the fool to flee because Cornwall plans to kill him. Cornwall captures Gloucester and with Regan cheering him on, plucks out Gloucester's eyeballs with his bare fingers. During the torture, Gloucester's servant rescues his master from Cornwall and they flee to Dover to meet the French. On the way there, Gloucester and the servant meet Edgar (still a madman, named Poor Tom), who leads his father (Gloucester) the rest of the way.

At Albany's palace, Goneril promises her love to Edmund, since her husband (Albany) refuses to fight the French. Albany believes that the daughters mistreated their father (Lear). A messenger brings news that Cornwall is dead, from a fatal jab he received when a servant attacked him while he was plucking out Gloucester's eyeballs. Albany, feeling sorry for Gloucester and learning of Edmund's treachery with his wife, vows revenge.

At Dover, Cordelia sends a sentry out to find her estranged father. Regan instructs Oswald (Goneril's servant) to tell Edmund that she (Regan wants to marry him, since Cornwall is dead. Edgar pretends to let Gloucester jump off a cliff (Gloucester believes it truly happened), then Edgar pretends to be a different man and continues to help his father. Lear, fully mad now, approaches and speaks to them. Cordelia's men arrive and take Lear to her. Oswald comes across Edgar and Gloucester, threatening to kill them. Edgar, though, kills Oswald, and discovers by letter that Goneril plant to murder Albany and marry Edmund. At Cordelia's camp, King Lear awakes, more sane than before, and recognizes Cordelia.

At her camp, Goneril, while arguing with Albany, states to herself that she would rather lose the battle than let Regan marry Edmund. Edgar, disguised, brings warning of ill plots (by Goneril) to Albany. Lear and Cordelia are captured in battle by Edmund. Edmund sends them to jail and instructs a Captain to kill them. Edgar arrives and fights and wounds Edmund, who admits his treacheries to all. Goneril mortally poisons Regan, then stabs herself. Edmund reveals that he and Regan ordered the Captain to hang Cordelia and kill Lear. Lear then emerges with dead Cordelia, and tells all he killed the Captain that hung her. Edmund dies and King Lear, in grief over Cordelia, dies.


A prideful king. 3 daughters, 2 bad, 1 good. READ!--Submitted by BamBam.


King Lear is a legend.--Submitted by Anonymous.


Fan of this book? Help us introduce it to others by writing a better introduction for it. It's quick and easy, click here.

Recent Forum Posts on King Lear

King Lear in film I found Peter Brook's once-famous film version of King Lear (starring Paul Scofield as Lear) hiding among nothing in particular on YouTube. (Don't worry, the logo goes away after a few minutes). Like Lear himself, the movie seemed to have fallen on hard times, although a quick Google search found it still heralded as a masterpiece. In 1971, about seven years before I first saw it, Brook's Lear had received mixed reviews. One critic compared it to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (not then a compliment). Another approvingly noted its commonality with Samuel Beckett's theater of the absurd. Although set in a mythic Britain (Lear is a legendary figure who is said to have reigned about the time of the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah), Brook's film is steeped in the political violence of its own day. It is is bleak, hopeless, and cruel. And it never lets up. Brook, for starters, was breaking the rules. Everyone knew that King Lear begins in the lush splendor of a (supposedly) Medieval court and descends into a living hell where political loyalty, family love, and even language fall apart. But in Brook's film, Lear's court is itself a sort of hell--cold, brooding, and fearful. It is a place of stone where Lear sits within an enormous lithic throne. His voice is a harsh, self controlled whisper, almost a hiss, suggestive of the cruelty that will soon be visited upon him. His fatal flaw is not the folly of vanity (as your High School English teacher promised you) but cruelty itself, even and especially towards those he loves--those he thinks love him. Perhaps this Lear simply wants it to stop. Maybe that is why he is stepping down--to be rid of the man in the chair. All this makes for a credible opening scene. The estrangement of Cordelia is not out of character for this Lear. He doesn't really even really blow his stack at her. He just gets pissed she won't play his game and tells her to get the f*ck out. Scofield balances the genuine anger and implied menace masterfully. There is no sentimental blubbering over his hurt feelings. Brook must have assumed that no one would buy that in 1971. But the problem with Brook's approach and Scofield's characterization is that they risk losing the dramatic force of Shakespeare's narrative: if Lear is already in hell, then where is there for him to fall? Brook addresses the problem cinematically, that is to say, visually, by diminishing of the illusion of size. Lear's throne is a massive and improbably phallic affair that doubles for the king during the opening sequence. He sits within it and, when facing away, the great mass is all there is of him. His crowned head is enormous on the screen. When Lear goes among his people, he wears a piled fur that gives him exaggerated bulk and a peculiar, animalistic hump. He looks like what he is: a dominant beast bristling up to give himself an intimidating physical appearance. This illusion of size is precisely what Lear loses as his position deteriorates. It is what Brook takes from him. What dwarfs the fallen Lear is the landscape into which he is thrown. The harsh, white and black terrain (filmed in Denmark in dead winter) evokes a apocalyptic wasteland more than Shakespeare's English countryside. It seems above all a psychological landscape: a world without God or morality or compassion. Apart from Lear's stronghold (and a few standing stones), its only features are a few scattered fortresses. Filmed at a distance, they seem like living things buttressed against the very cruelty they cultivate within. Lear's artificial might cannot endure the unforgiving truth of this world, and he is quickly reduced from the illusion of a man to what Shakespeare calls the thing itself. But Brook's cinematic expression of the king's disintegration has its limits. He takes one dare too many with Lear's famous soliloquy on the heath ("Blow winds and crack your cheeks,", etc.). This must be an active affair, a last grasp at dignity, a wild raging at the storm, for here indeed Lear's world and mind come apart at the seams. Yet Schofield's Lear presents much of the speech flat on his back--like a great, felled tree. And though he eventually rises, he seems more drunk than mad. Once again, Brook attempts to express the internal visually, here through the wildness of the storm itself. Unfortunately this sequence is rather crudely made in cinematic terms and the results are more confusing than moving. (Granted the special effects are almost 50 years old--but remember 2001: A Space Odyssey had been released three years earlier). In the end, the all-important scene is disappointing--and this is the film's single greatest flaw. But the dropped ball is quickly retrieved by Jack MacGowran, a stage actor famous for performances in Samuel Beckett's plays (Waiting for Godot, Endgame, etc.). MacGowan brings a 20th century absurdist reading to the part of Lear's fool. The casting was brilliant and even foreshadowed even by Shakespeare; the Bard's fool mixes absurdities and insights so deftly they are hard to tell apart--much as Beckett's clowns later came to do. The effect of the fool's bizarre, chummy, and far from funny banter is to further crumble Lear's reality--but now from within. MacGowan's fool is an uncomfortable mirror of his master--what would eventually be called an unconscious mind. His unexpected importance to the narrative reaches its apex on the heath and immediately afterwards in a ruined hovel. The fool's total and unexplained absence from the rest of the play is an often debated Shakespearean mystery. Brook seems to follow the psychological theory that after Lear's madness, the fool becomes redundant; in effect the fool becomes Lear or becomes integrated into his personality in any case. Brook has him stay with Lear longer than Shakespeare does. The fool accompanies the king all the way to Dover before their mysterious farewell: "I'll go to supper in the morning", says Lear. "And I'll go to bed at noon", replies the fool. In the Brook's film, a cloth barrier, symbolic at least of a stage a curtain, falls between them. But somehow they seem to be talking about death. The remainder of the plot is well known, and I will not repeat it here. Brook's film does not stray far from it. Judith Worth's performance as Goneril is competent (in fact rather good) but wholly conventional. Barry Stanton's Oswald is discreetly unsettling. He maintains the detached affect of a psychopath who betrays no scruple at the ghastly violence he makes possible (and enjoys). Creepiest of all--and still upsetting after all these years--are the voyeuristic/sadistic qualities of Susan Engel's Regan and Patrick McGee's Cornwall. While Engel is clearly not as versatile an actress as Worth, her wicked princess outdoes Worth's cinematically because she is physically more appealing and seems like she might be merciful at first; but of course, she is not. It is genuinely chilling to watch her curled on a couch, curiously watching Gloucester's bound interrogation if it were a kinky amusement. And all the more so when her husband, whose trimmed facial hair and detached expression make him look like something from a Velvet Underground album cover, carve his prisoner's eyes from their sockets with a tablespoon. The gorey image is brief, but the agonized cries persist. The level of violence would not have been shocking for Shakespeare's stage, but it was almost unheard of in the cinema 47 years ago. There is that authenticity to this uncomfortable and cruel version of King Lear. Shakespeare was trying to be upsetting, too. I have finally a personal anecdote touching on the end of this film. I fist saw Peter Brook's King Lear during a freshman college film festival. That stupid boy (me) had the play on his English literature syllabus but had not yet read it. Consequently he had no idea about the resolution of Cordelia's story, a moment Brook dispatches with a short, sharp shock. I can still feel the bottom falling out of my heart. Thank you, Peter Brook, for bringing me the moment as Shakespeare intended me to have it--unanticipated and irrecoverable. I have never forgotten it.

Which version of King Lear?

I've never read it before, and my complete Shakespeare (the Pelican) includes three versions; the 1608 Quarto, the 1623 Folio, and a conflated text. Which one should I read? Is any of them generally considered the best?

Stone the crows

Greetings folks, I wonder if any kind person can help with a passage from King Lear (Act 5, scene 3): Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stone. * Had I your tongues and eyes, I'ld use them so That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever! I know when one is dead, and when one lives. She's dead as earth. Lend me a looking glass. If that her breath will mist* or stain the stone, ** Why, then she lives. The "stone" in the first line* is clear, but not the second mention**. "stain the stone"? What stone? Thanks very much in advance for any help in the matter. best regards to all.

Shakespeare's Lear compared to Edward Bond's Lear

Greetings everyone! I would like to ask you all one thing and I have a feeling that I am in the right place. I need help with my master thesis which deals with connection between Shakespeare, Edward Bond and Tom Stoppard. Since I made this topic in King Lear's section I will exclude Tom Stoppard part for now. To be precise, my mentor suggested me to compare Shakespeare's ''King Lear'' with Edward Bond's ''Lear''. Anyway I've been browsing the web and found couple comparisons between the two plays but I am curious. Having in mind the fact that both plays deal with the Lear character there must be a reason why Bond wrote modern version of Shakespeare's classic play. Could you give me any suggestions or opinions or even suggest me some free material which I can use in writing my thesis ? Thanks in advance. If I need to paraphrase any part of my question let me know.

king lear question

sorry if this is the wrong area to post this, but why does albany stay on edmund, regan, and goneril's side even though he despises their actions? thanks

Why did King Lear give up his kingdom in the first place?

Hello everyone, Sorry if this is a novice question, but I was watching Lear today and I just can't pin down why the heck he gave up his kingdom in the first place. We know he must not have been a "philosopher king" due to his actions after giving up his crown, in the Marcus Aurelius sense of a King at least. Could it be as simple that he just wanted to retire so he could fart around with his friends? I wouldn't think a king like that would have a grand kingdom to give away in the first place. If anyone can give me some insight it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Keif


Hey guys, Can someone help me out. What are some morals that are broken throughout King Lear? Can you please give me a few for The Love Test so i can get the idea. And if you may list some language techniques used i would be forever grateful. Thank You :lol:

King Lear

Hello everyone! I'm actually preparing an entrance exam and we have King Lear in the syllabus. I'd like someone to shine some light on me as I have different themes to write about. The first one is "Serving and deserving in King Lear" which I 'm not quite sure that I fully understand the word "deserving ",although I looked it up in a dictionary. It's quite tough on me and I'm a bit lost. Thank -you for your help.

gaps and silences

I am struggling with an english assignment at the moment regarding this play and was wondering what a good gap or silence would be so that i could insert a soliloquiy into the play. Any ideas would be gratefully accepted.

Can Someone help me on this Paper???!!!??

I have this thematic analysis paper due and i wanted to talk about the relationships in King Lear and how they affect the power shifts or who is in control. i really need help maybe someone could send me links to where i could find information on that??? please

Post a New Comment/Question on King Lear

Related links for William Shakespeare