by William Shakespeare
King Lear
Set in ancient Britain
King Lear’s kingdom is to be divided among
his 3 daughters:
1. Goneril- who becomes wife to an
Albanian duke
2. Regan- wife to the Duke of Cornwall
3. Cordelia- soon to be married to a French
(Chute 207 and Magill 442-3)
• A self-centered Lear puts his daughters to a
test to see who loves him the most (that
daughter will inherit the best 1/3 of the realm)
• Lear asks his daughters to express their
affections for him. Appealing to his vanity, the
two oldest cajole him with pretexts of
affection. Each get one third of his kingdom.
• Though she loves her father, the youngest
refuses to cajole her father into getting the
last third of his possessions “then let truth
alone be your dowery” (2.1).
• King Lear disowns his youngest daughter and
gives the rest of the land to the other two (which
means1/3 of land is divided into 2 and added to
the 1/3 already received) What does this equal?
½ the land
• His subject, Kent, disagrees with the king’s
decision and is consequently banished. But
being the dear friend, he disguises himself to
care for the aging king.
• Because she has no dowery, the Duke no
longer wants Cordelia as his bride, but the
French king does (whether for political reasons
or because he respects her integrity ??).
• King Lear plans to stay with each of his
eldest daughters for a month
somewhat to test them
somewhat to stroke his ego
• This displeases the two daughters:
neither wants to deal with the old man,
but both are blatant cajolers, typical of
courtiers of the time.
Cordelia to her father:
“My love’s more rich than my tongue.” (1.1)
Lear to Cordelia:
“Nothing will come of nothing.” (1.1)
Lear’s soliloquy:
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a
thankless child!” (1.4)
Lear to all:
“Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou
knowest, lend less than thou owest.” (1.4)
• The Earl of Gloucester is also conflicted, but
with his sons
• Edmund- illegitimate son, cunning villain
• Edgar- legitimate son, good, betrayed by bro
• Edmund makes his father believe that Edgar
is trying to kill him in order to acquire the
• Edmund does this in order to gain exclusive
control of his father’s land.
• King Lear visits Goneril first
• She hates her father’s presence and tries to
control her father. This only enrages him and
hastens his senility.
• Her husband tries to calm King Lear fearing
retribution, but Lear leaves to visit the second
• The banished Earl of Kent
(sympathetic to Cordelia) disguises himself
and becomes King Lear’s
new servant in order to
protect his king/friend
from his own daughters.
• King Lear sends a servant (his good friend)
with a letter to Regan.
• Goneril also sends a servant with
a letter to Regan.
• Edmund convinces his father that
Edgar wants both of them dead.
• In order to protect his pretext, Edmund
convinces Edgar to flee, and then Edmund
incriminates him in a conspiracy (treason).
• King Lear still believes Regan will be kind to
him, but he soon finds out otherwise.
• She, too, insults him and ridicules him
driving him further into senility.
• King Lear and his servant (Kent incognito)
escape into a storm.
• Gloucester is worried and urges Lear to find
protection under the French King and
Cordelia’s protection.
• Ironically for his service, Gloucester was
blinded by the servants of Goneril and
Lear to Kent (incognito):
“I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” (3.2)
• The French army led by the French King will
take back Lear’s throne.
• Like Kent, Edgar also has disguised himself
as a fool rather than leave his father
• Upon finding Gloucester blinded,
Edgar promises to help the old
man find his hut.
• Gloucester plans to kill himself and wants
the fool (disguised Edgar) to lead him to
Dover to do so.
• Because Edgar is protecting his father,
Gloucester survives. As a result, he feels
it is a miracle and is determined to carry
• Regan’s husband dies in a battle against the
French king, but she receives the affections of
• Jealous, Goneril vies for his attentions.
• Edgar captures Goneril’s servant, and in his
pocket, Edgar finds a letter to Edmund from
Goneril instructing him to kill her husband and
betroth her.
• King Lear, guided by the disguised Kent,
finds refuge with Cordelia. Cared for with
kindness and tenderness, King Lear
regains his sanity and sees the truth.
• Weeping, he regrets his errors.
• Meanwhile, Gloucester, too, is furnished
with the truth when Edgar reveals himself
to his father just before Gloucester dies in
Edgar’s arms.
• However, a battle is still taking place
between France and England.
• Edmund was arrested for treason against
King Lear, but Regan sides with Edmund and
claims she wants him as her husband.
• Goneril, jealous, poisons her sister.
• Edgar shows up with the letter indicting
Goneril against her husband, so she stabs
• Edmund dies in battle with the satisfaction
that two women died fighting over him.
• With a small bit of remorse, Edmund sends
Edgar to have the order changed, but it is too
late. Cordelia, too, is charged with treason,
but she is hanged.
• Her death breaks Lear’s heart, and he dies.
• Edgar and Goneril’s repentant husband alone
survive to rebuild Britain.
King Lear
• Simple character who learns to see beyond
appearances into the heart of a person
• Tragic hero because despite the tragedies of
his own making, we still feel sympathy for him
………………… . . .wise
Self-centered ……………… fatherly
………………… caring
• Foolish
Other Facts
• King Lear may also be compared to King
Solomon in the way that his kingdom is
also divided.
Machiavellian villain = Edmund
insatiable ambition
without own passion
grim cynical sense of humor
heartless; at his death minor remorse
• “The themes in William Shakespeare's
King Lear are patience, justice, religion,
nature, madness and insight. When this
play is viewed from a feminist perspective,
it is appearant [sic] that the behavior of the
female characters stemmed from the
king's inability to follow the social rules of
Elizabethan England” (McLeish 1103).
• Samuel Taylor Coleridge says of King
Lear: “Of all Shakespeare's plays Macbeth
is the most rapid, Hamlet the slowest in
movement. King Lear combines length
with rapidity,—like the hurricane and the
whirlpool absorbing while it advances. It
begins as a stormy day in summer, with
brightness; but that brightness is lurid, and
anticipates the tempest” (McLeish 1102).
Once judgmental
Lear becomes
Once blinded
Gloucester becomes
Most authors conclude that the king's mental disease is evident from the opening
scene of the tragedy. Brigham[12] plainly states that Lear "was insane . . . from the
beginning of the play, when he gave his kingdom away, and banished as it were
Cordelia and Kent . . . . The ill-usage of his daughters only aggravated the disease
and drove him to raving madness."
According to Ray,[4] healthy and pathologic features of Lear's mind are so "mingled
and assimilated," that "we feel at last as if it were the most natural thing in the world
that Lear should go mad."
Among the most perspicacious comments on King Lear are those of Bucknill.[2] He
wrote: "The willfulness with which critics have refused to see the symptoms of
insanity in Lear, until the reasoning power itself has become undeniably alienated, is
founded upon that view of mental disease . . . that insanity is an affection of the
intellectual, and not the emotional part of man's nature."
A later author, Kellogg[3] in 1866 equated the original mental disorder in Lear to
senile dementia.
In 1929, Somerville[13] reviewed the case of the old king from the positions of
contemporary British psychiatry, with a few psychoanalytical references. The author
remarks that from the very outset of events Lear shows "signs of mental
deterioration due to old age," and that "for all useful purposes his career is finished."
In 1953, Donnelly,[14] a psychiatrist and analyst, described "the type of reaction
from which Lear suffers as either a delirium or an acute schizophrenic-like
episode," but strongly favored the former.
In 1976, Andreasen[5] stated that "Lear's madness can be explained in part as the
development of a psychotic disorganization precipitated by severe stress in an
elderly man already showing some signs of senile organic brain disease."
In his 1983 article, Kail[6] takes an interesting excursion into the history of
psychiatry, as it relates to Shakespeare, and also diagnoses in Lear "a case of
progressive senile dementia" that is "accompanied by attacks of what could be
described today as acute mania, as demonstrated by his faulty judgment,
disorientation and irrational behavior."
Colman[7] established for Lear a diagnosis of brief reactive psychosis with a
background of organic mental disorder, perhaps of a vascular origin, exemplified by
the king's visual hallucinations and an intimation of a stroke just before Lear's death,
Finally, in 1988, we encounter a work by Trethowan,[15] who thinks that Lear was
actually depressed,