A shoddy summary
|Let me note here that this is possibly the only component
of my web page (save the character descriptions) that is actually factual.
So if you are going to take heed of anything I say, this should be it. And
make sure that you know that this play is not considered a history but a
tragedy because it is not based on any known British King. For really want good summaries/cheats you should check
out these Cliffs Notes sites too:
Study Works- This one has a number of different summaries and analyses on King Lear
|Free Booknotes- Another study guide type place. You have to register for a couple of them, I'm not sure if money is involved, so just be warned.|
|Cliffs Notes- The Original and the Best, but I think you may be limited to purchasing the Cliffs Notes here...|
King Lear is getting old and decides that he is going to retire and divide his kingdom (Great Britain) between his three daughters. However first he demands that they publicly profess their love for him. Cordelia, his youngest daughter feels she cannot adequately describe her love for Lear in words, but mistaking this for an outright refusal of love, Lear strips her of her dowry, banishes her and divides Britain between Goneril and Regan. The King of France, Cordelia's suitor (along with the Duke of Burgandy) decides to marry her regardless, and they leave for France. Meanwhile the Earl of Kent, one of Lear's most trusted advisers and close friend protests Lear's harsh course of action and is subsequently banished himself. Lear then tells his remaining daughters and their husbands to divide his revenues and powers among them and informs them that he will keep one hundred soldiers at his disposal and will take turns living with Regan and Goneril.
|Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester's illegitimate son, plots to
displace his legitimate brother Edgar as Gloucester's heir by tricking
Gloucester into believing Edgar plans to kill him by showing Gloucester a
forged letter from Edgar. Later he tells Edgar to watch himself, for
Gloucester is angry with him.
|Lear and his rowdy knights are living with Goneril and her
husband the Duke of Albany, and Goneril expresses her discontent with Lear
and his knight's behavior. She then orders Oswald, her Steward, to inform
Lear that she will not see him and to treat him coldly.
|The Earl of Kent returns in disguise. "If but as well
I other accents borrow/That can my speech diffuse, my good intent/May
carry through itself to that full issue for which I razed my
likeness" (I, iv, 1-3). He then offers his services to Lear, who
accepts. Oswald comes to deliver Goneril's message and is struck by Lear
and his knights. Goneril then reprimands Lear for his knights' rowdiness
and insists that he dismiss at least half of them. After insulting Goneril
for her ingratitude, Lear prepares to leave for Regan's, who is staying at
the Earl of Gloucester's castle.
|Lear, on his way to Gloucester's, sends the disguised Kent
ahead with a letter for Regan. Lear and his Fool then trade quips and
tomfoolery, which brings us to...
|Edmund the Bastard tricks Edgar into fleeing from
Gloucester's castle, alluding to fictional rumors that Edgar has been
heard slandering Albany and Cornwall, and his life is now sought. After
Edgar has gone Edmund wounds himself, blaming Edgar, and Gloucester
condemns Edgar to death for real, then appoints Edmund his rightful heir.
Cornwall and Regan then arrive at the castle and are told the stories
about Edgar. They then accept Edmund into their service.
|Kent, whom Lear has sent and Oswald, who Goneril has sent
meet outside Gloucester's castle with their respective letters to Regan.
The feisty Kent challenges Oswald to a fight, and the outbreak provokes
Cornwall to place Kent in shackles.
|Edgar addresses his new role as an outlaw and his
plan to disguise himself as a madman-beggar to escape his death sentence.
|Back at Gloucester's castle, Lear arrives and is angered
that Kent has been "stocked" and further angered that Regan and
Cornwall refuse to see him either (because of Goneril's letter describing
his actions). Goneril then arrives and she and Lear quarrel bitterly, then
Regan joins the argument and both reiterate that Lear needs to get rid of
his knights, pointing out that their servants are at his disposal and he
needs none of his own. When Lear refuses both Goneril and Regan refuse
Lear shelter with either of them until he dismisses his knights. An
enraged Lear and his Fool then rush out into a massive storm, while
Goneril, Regan and Cornwall order Gloucester's castle off limits to Lear.
|The disguised Kent, searching for Lear, meets a Gentleman
who tells him that Lear and the Fool are alone in the storm. Kent in
return informs the Gentleman that French forces are preparing to invade
|An increasingly mad Lear rages against the storm and his
fate while his Fool begs him to return to Gloucester for shelter.
Eventually Kent finds them and leads them off to a nearby hovel for
|Gloucester, who has been told not to speak to or aid Lear
in any way confides in Edmund the Bastard that he does not agree with
Lear's daughter's punishment of their father and is going to help him. He
then speaks of the growing division between the Dukes of Cornwall and
Albany, and also that he has learned about the coming French invasion
through a letter he was sent. After Gloucester leaves, the Bastard
announces his plan to betray his father to Cornwall...
|Lear, Kent and the Fool reach their hospice in the hovel,
but not before Edgar, still disguised as "Poor Tom the Beggar"
scares the be-Jesus out of Lear with his rants about the devil and other
madman type things. Soon Gloucester arrives and brings them (including
disguised Edgar, whom the crazy Lear has decided is a philosopher) to a
|Edmund tells Cornwall that Gloucester is aiding Lear and
also about the letter Gloucester has received about the French invasion,
but incriminates Gloucester as a traitor who is also aiding the French.
Cornwall then renounces Gloucester and makes Edmund the new Earl of
|Lear, completely losing it now, imagines that Goneril and
Regan are on trial before a council made up of Edgar, the Fool, Kent and
himself. Gloucester returns to the house to announce that Lear's death is
being plotted and urges Kent to rush Lear to Cordelia at Dover, where she
is waiting with the French Army.
|Cornwall sends out men to capture Gloucester whom he labels
a traitor. He also sends Edmund the Bastard and Goneril back to Albany in
order to update him on the landing of the French. When Gloucester returns
Regan tortures him, plucking hairs from his beard, then Cornwall
gouges out both of his eyes. One of Gloucester's loyal servants, however,
comes to save his master and mortally wounds Cornwall as a result.
|Edgar the Beggar runs into his blind father who is being
led by an old man. Gloucester, not knowing it is his son, pleads with
Edgar to lead him to Dover and Cordelia.
|Goneril and Edmund, who have begun to get a bit frisky with
each other, arrive at Albany's castle. Goneril sends Edmund back to
Cornwall, not knowing he is dead, to try and help organize their army.
Albany then rails on Goneril for her actions against her father. A
messenger soon enters and lets Goneril and Albany know of Gloucester's
blinding and Cornwall's death.
|In the French camp Kent and a Gentleman discuss Cordelia's
love for her father Lear, which is what has brought her to the imminent
battle's front lines. Kent also mentions that although Lear is quite
bonkers, he believes the real reason why Lear refuses to see Cordelia is
because he is ashamed of banishing her and his actions toward her.
|In another part of the French camp Cordelia orders a search
for Lear, who has not made it to Dover along with the others.
|Regan, we now find, is also in love with Edmund and
questions Oswald about Goneril's relationship with the Bastard, states her
intention to marry him (now that Cornwall is dead) and asks Oswald to
dissuade Goneril from pursuing Edmund. She also admits that allowing
Gloucester to live was a severe folly committed by her late husband, as
now sympathy may cause Gloucester's subjects to revolt against them.
|Gloucester, still being led by Edgar in disguise, is
miserable and seeks to end his own life. Edgar pretends to lead him to the
top of Dover Cliff. Gloucester then falls, and believing that he is
falling from a cliff, faints. When he awakes, Edgar, now dressed as a
peasant, tells him that the gods intervened to save his life. Gloucester
and son then encounter the raving Lear who rambles about lechery, abuses
of power and other vices and follies. When Cordelia's search party comes
upon the group Lear runs off, daring them to follow. Oswald then appears
and attempts to kill Gloucester per Regan's request but Edgar kills Oswald
first. On his dead body Edgar finds a love letter from Goneril to Edmund
that also discusses their plot to assassinate the Duke of Albany...
|Lear has been captured and brought to the French camp,
where he is treated by a doctor and happily reunited with Cordelia.
|Albany joins his forces with Regan's (now led by Edmund) to
oppose the French invasion. Goneril makes it known that the battle is to
be over territory, not over the fate of Lear and Cordelia. Edgar, still
disguised as a peasant, approaches Albany with the letter plotting
Albany's death and promises to produce a "champion" to maintain
the letter's authenticity in a trial by combat. Edmund arrives before
Albany has read the letter but after Edgar has left and informs Albany of
the status of the French Army. When Albany leaves Edmund considers his
marriage opportunities and declares that he intends to have Lear and
Cordelia killed if the British forces are victorious.
|We find that Cordelia's French Army has been defeated.
Edgar leads Gloucester away before he is captured as well.
|Edmund the Bastard sends Lear and Cordelia away to prison and secretly commissions a soldier to kill them. Albany, now wise to the letters' contents, confronts Goneril and Edmund with their intended treachery and calls for trumpets to hail the champion which Edgar promised earlier. Edgar himself, dressed to the hilt in full armor appears to accuse Edmund the Bastard of treachery. In the ensuing fight Edgar mortally wounds Edmund and a distraught Goneril flees the scene. Edgar then reveals his true identity to everyone, describes his life as a madman-beggar and reveals that Gloucester has just died in his arms upon learning the truth about his identity and Edmund's deceit. Edgar then reveals Kent's identity but is interrupted by a messenger who has found Regan dead, poisoned by Goneril, who has subsequently stabbed herself to death. Kent, no longer in disguise, arrives in search of Lear, and Edmund, in a last minute repentance, confesses to ordering the assassinations of Cordelia and Lear. A messenger is immediately dispatched to save them, but Lear has already gotten to them, carrying the dead Cordelia. As Albany renounces his rule and attempts to restore Lear to the throne, Lear himself finally dies, thus concluding the tragedy of King Lear.|