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King Lear

By: William Shakespeare

Considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest plays, the tragedy King Lear portrays some of the darkest aspects of human nature that can be found in literature. The helplessness of the human condition, as we fall prey to our destinies, the injustice and random cruelties practiced by people, suffering and humiliation, the lust for power and the greed for wealth are all depicted in this magnificent play. And through it all, runs the golden thread of love and sacrifice, daughterly affection and the true nature of our relationship with our parents. Little is known about the writing of the play. It is thought to have been drafted some time in 1603 but the authorship of Shakespeare was finally attributed to it only in the 1623 First Folio. Early 17th century audiences disliked the gloomy aspects of the play and it was given a happy ending. However, in the 19th century, the original was brought back and with it, Shakespeare's unerring grasp of human nature, love and family values. The almost fairytale quality of the opening scene can beguile the reader into a sense of familiarity. However, this is literally the lull before the storm! King Lear of Britain is aging and he wishes to divide his inheritance and the kingdom among his three daughters. However, he devises a strange test for each, based on which he will give the largest share to the winner. The daughters have to describe how much they love him. The elder two, Goneril and Regan heap praise on their father, layering their speech with fulsome compliments designed to please and flatter the old man. However the youngest, his favorite daughter, Cordelia remains silent, saying she has no words to express her love. Enraged and disappointed, the old king disinherits Cordelia and gives her share to her two sisters. Her lover, the Duke of Kent, objects, but he is banished. Lear then declares that he will spend the rest of his life with his two faithful elder daughters and here begins the kernel of the play. Said to be based on a legendary ruler of ancient Britain, Shakespeare's brilliance turns the bland myth into a towering narrative, filled with wonderful quotations and dramatic elements, creating an immortal portrait of the human condition. Lear's descent into madness and the final tragic aspects of the play make it an unforgettable read

Act I

King Lear of Britain, elderly and wanting to retire from the duties of the monarchy, decides to divide his realm among his three daughters, and declares he will offer the largest share to the one who loves him most. The eldest, Goneril, speaks first, declaring her love for her father in fulsome terms. Moved by her flattery Lear proceeds to grant to Goneril her share as soon as she has finished her declaration, before Regan and Cordelia have a chance to speak. He then awards to Regan her share as soon as she has spoken. When it is finally the turn of his youngest and favourite daughter, Cordelia, at first she refuses to say anything ("Nothing, my Lord") and then declares there is nothing to compare her love to, no words to properly express it; she says honestly but bluntly that she loves him according to her bond, no more and no less, and will reserve half of her love for her future husband. Infuriated, Lear disinherits Cordelia and divides her share between her elder sisters.

The Earl of Gloucester and the Earl of Kent observe that, by dividing his realm between Goneril and Regan, Lear has awarded his realm in equal shares to the peerages of the Duke of Albany (Goneril's husband) and the Duke of Cornwall (Regan's husband). Kent objects to Lear's unfair treatment of Cordelia. Enraged by Kent's protests, Lear banishes him from the country. Lear then summons the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France, who have both proposed marriage to Cordelia. Learning that Cordelia has been disinherited, the Duke of Burgundy withdraws his suit, but the King of France is impressed by her honesty and marries her nonetheless. The King of France is shocked by Lear's decision because up until this time Lear has only praised and favoured Cordelia ("... she whom even but now was your best object, / The argument of your praise, balm of your age, ...").[1] Meanwhile, Gloucester has introduced his illegitimate son Edmund to Kent.

Lear announces he will live alternately with Goneril and Regan, and their husbands. He reserves to himself a retinue of 100 knights, to be supported by his daughters. Goneril and Regan speak privately, revealing that their declarations of love were false and that they view Lear as a foolish old man.

Gloucester's bastard son Edmund resents his illegitimate status and plots to dispose of his legitimate older stepbrother, Edgar. He tricks his father with a forged letter, making him think that Edgar plans to usurp the estate. The Earl of Kent returns from exile in disguise (calling himself Caius), and Lear hires him as a servant. At Albany and Goneril's house, Lear and Kent quarrel with Oswald, Goneril's steward. Lear discovers that now that Goneril has power, she no longer respects him. She orders him to reduce the number of his disorderly retinue. Enraged, Lear departs for Regan's home. The Fool reproaches Lear with his foolishness in giving everything to Regan and Goneril and predicts that Regan will treat him no better.

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

English

Published In

1606

Author

William Shakespeare

United Kingdom

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon. The son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, he was probably educated at the King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford, where he...

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