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- Plot summary
The play opens with a glimpse of the subplot that mirrors the main action, as Gloucester explains that he has two sons, one legitimate and one illegitimate, but he tries to love them equally. They discuss Lears plans to divide his kingdom, suggesting that he has already decided to share equally among his daughters, and his love test will be just a show, and actually wont decide anything. Lear then announces his intention to divide his kingdom, admitting that Cordelia is his favorite. He clearly expects all three daughters to try to outdo each other with declarations of their love, for which he will reward them with portions of land. But Cordelia refuses to flatter him, and humiliates him publicly with her disobedience. Enraged by Cordelias stubbornness, Lear disowns her, and divides the kingdom between the remaining two daughters. Lears inability to understand that despite Cordelias reluctance to publicly flatter her father she actually loves him best is the tragic mistake that incites the action of the rest of the play.
The audience understands that Lears other two daughters, the deceitful Goneril and Reagan, are the antagonists to Lears desire to hold onto his power, and the rising action of the play see these two characters actively thwarting their father and hastening his downfall. After dividing his kingdom between Goneril and Reagan Lear continues to demand that his daughters care for him, expecting to retain the privileges of the crown without the responsibilities. Lear has never recognised the role power plays in his family, so he expects his daughters to treat him exactly as they did when he was their king. Instead, Regan and Goneril treat Lear according to his new status as a powerless old man. Lear is deprived not only of the loving care he expected from his daughters, but also of his attendant knights, and finally even the shelter of their roofs. Meanwhile, the subplot reverses the structure of the main plot: while Lear mistakenly believes that power plays no role in his family, Edmund is all too aware of the role power plays in his. Angry that his illegitimate status makes him powerless, Edmund schemes to banish Edgar and take his place as Gloucesters heir.
In keeping with its mirrored plot and subplot, King Lear has two simultaneous climaxes where a protagonist comes in direct conflict with an antagonist. For Lear, this moment comes when he is denied shelter by his daughters and forced to wander in the storm, a reversal of fortune that drives him mad. He tries to make the storm obey him, and the result is that he is deprived of the few comforts he has left. Lear spends much of the storm talking with Edgar, who is disguised as a mad beggar called Poor Tom, and helps Lear see that as king he failed to care enough for the poor and downtrodden wretches of his kingdom. Meanwhile, Edmund triggers the climax of the subplot when he reveals to Cornwall that Gloucester has tried to help Lear. As a result, Gloucester is blinded, stripped of his title and banished from his home. The climax of the subplot confirms the vision of the main plot: raw, violent power is a greater force than even the love of families. Edmund has achieved his goal because he understands this truth and is prepared to act on it.
King Lear: analysis King Lear is a bleak play, but like all great tragedies, a measure of catharsis or healing is achieved through Lear’s suffering, as well as that of the other characters.
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King Lear Lear, the aging king of Britain, decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters. First, however, he puts his daughters through a test, asking each to tell him how much she loves him. Goneril and Regan, Lear’s older daughters, give their father flattering answers.
King Lear Shakespeare’s story of a king who divides his realm between his three daughters probes the depths of human suffering and despair. First staged in 1606, for centuries King Lear was thought too bleak to perform, but its nihilism has heavily influenced modern drama. Read a character analysis of Lear, plot summary, and important quotes.
King Lear is a play written around 1606 by the English playwright William Shakespeare. Widely considered one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, King Lear tells the story of a king who goes mad after bequeathing his fortune and power to his daughters.
King Lear study guide contains a biography of William Shakespeare, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
Play Summary King Lear opens with a conversation between the earls of Kent and Gloucester, in which the audience learns that Gloucester has two sons: Edgar, who is his legitimate heir, and Edmund, his younger illegitimate son. This information will provide the secondary or subplot.
Historical Context of King Lear In the period in which King Lear was written—from 1604 to 1607—King James VI, King of Scotland and England, was trying to persuade English Parliament to approve the union of the two countries into one nation.