King Lear


Plot Summary

The elderly King Lear, weary of his duties as a monarch, has decided to give up the throne and leave the kingdom to his three daughters. To determine which portion of the divided kingdom each shall receive, Lear asks each daughter in turn to express how much she loves him. The elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, declare their love in exaggerated, flattering, poetic terms, seeking to outdo one another. Cordelia—Lear’s youngest and, by his own admission, favorite daughter—refuses to flatter her father. Instead, she points out her sister’s insincerity and says that she loves her father exactly as much as a daughter should, neither more nor less. Cordelia’s honesty enrages Lear. He disowns her and banishes her, giving Goneril and Regan each one half of the kingdom. When the Earl of Kent protests, attempting to intercede on Cordelia’s behalf, Lear banishes him, as well.

Cordelia’s suitors, the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France, enter the scene to negotiate with Lear for his youngest daughter’s hand. When informed that Cordelia has been disowned and now has no land or wealth to offer, the Duke of Burgundy takes back his marriage proposal. The King of France, however, is touched by Cordelia’s honesty and strength of character, and wants to marry her anyway. She departs with him for France, though Lear refuses to give her his blessing.

Behind Lear’s back, Goneril and Regan begin plotting to render Lear completely powerless. Now that he has given away his throne and wealth, Lear is dependent on his daughters for everything, including food and shelter. Treated disrespectfully at Goneril’s house, Lear disavows her and goes to Regan’s house, where he meets with the same poor treatment. In his disbelief and sorrow, Lear begins to lose his mind and ends up wandering like a beggar out on the heath in the midst of a storm. Now divested of his servants and soldiers, Lear is cared for only by his Fool and the Earl of Kent who, because of his loyalty to Lear, has disguised himself as a servant in order to...

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Essays About King Lear