22nd February 2018

L3 English, King Lear

The Plot Timeline

  • We are introduced to Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester 
  • Lear wants to divide the kingdom between his three daughters and their husband
  • King Lear still wants to be king but doesn’t want to do all the work 
  • He will decide who to give the most to by whichever daughter loves him the most through a speech
  • Regan and Goneril make speeches about how much they love him, but Cordelia doesn’t want to play Lear’s game because she cannot put into words how much she loves him and doesn’t believe she has to 
  • Lear is furious at Cordelia, his favourite child, and he banishes her and claims he thinks of her as fondly as he thinks of people who eat their own children 
  • Kent attempts to reason with Lear because banishing Cordelia is such an irrational decision, so Lear banishes Kent as well
  • Lear decides that he will spend time with both daughters, Goneril and Regan, equally  
  • The King of France wants to marry Cordelia. Burgundy doesn’t want Cordelia now that she doesn’t come with a dowry 
  • Goneril and Regan come up with a plan to deal with their father.
  • Edmund makes a soliloquy because his older, legitimate brother will be more than him just because Edmund is bastard and he doesn’t think this is fair.
  • Edmund devises a plan to get his older brothers land by devising a plan to make it look like Edgar wants to kill his father, Gloucester.
  • Gloucester believes him and says it is up to Edmund to sort out Edgar which he is happy about.
  • It is now Edmunds goal to get the land
  • Lear is at Gonerials castle and is being a bad house guest and acting like he is still king even though he gave his kingship up
  • Goneril wants to confront her dad so she can have a stern talk with him 
  • Kent enters Goneril’s castle in a disguise after previously being exiled
  • Kent convinces Lear to let him follow his entourage of knights
  • The fool enters and starts saying whatever he wants to Lear, which ends up being really wise. 
  • Goneril and Lear have a fight
  • Goneril sends Oswald to Regand castle, where Lear is off to next, to tell Regan about the fight and not to take very good care of him so Goneril doesn’t look like a bad daughter. 
  • Lear sends Kent to Regan’s castle as well to let her know that he is coming
  • Lear suddenly realises that banishing Cordelia was a bad idea
  • Lear is afraid he’s getting senile and says, “O let me not be mad, not mad sweet heaven! I would not be mad,” which is a really subtle hint from Shakespeare that just maybe, Lear might be driven to madness.
  • Edmunds plan works, he gets the inheritance
  • Glouster is going to give Edmund his inheritance
  • Cornwall and Regan have a power struggle
  • Kent gets locked in the stocks by Regan and Cornwall which is a worse sin than committing murder
  • Lear’s daughters are disrespecting him by not letting him into their houses and he is in disbelief
  • Lear exits Regan’s castle and walks into the storm 

Dramatic Irony 

In Act 1, Scene 1 Cordelia says an aside to the audience explaining; “What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.” At the conclusion of the scene, King Lear banishes Cordelia for loving him the least. However, as the audience, we know that Cordelia loves her father more than she can put into words because of this quote, therefore because we know this and King Lear does not, this is an example of dramatic irony. When the Lear leaves Goneril’s castle in disbelief at her behaviour and believes Regan will take him in is another example of dramatic irony because as the reader we know that Regan is just the same as Goneril, even the Fool says so.

Keeping Track of the Action

  1. At the end of scene 1, Goneril and Regan discuss their father’s behaviour. What does this dialogue add to our knowledge of the two sisters, their father and the relationships in the family?
  2. How does Edmund set his trap for Gloucester and Edgar? Is there anything in particular that ensures it is successful?
  3. How does Goneril believe Lear is behaving now he has abdicated his power? What does she intend to do about it (scene 3)?
  4. Explain the situation in scene 4. What is making Goneril so angry with her father? Do you think that Lear is the victim in this scene? Why/why not?
  5. What is the fool trying to tell Lear in scene 5?

Language Devices 

The metaphor of people as nature itself is used by Edmund “we make guilty of our disasters of the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knave, thieves and treacherers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liar, and adulters by an enforced obedience of planetary influence…” This reveals Edmunds connection with nature and his belief in forces in his life and the control mother nature has over everyone. King Lear also does this when insulting his daughter Goneril. 

When the two lords Burgundy and France enter the castle in hops to marry Cordelia, King Lear says “The vines of France and milk of Burgundy Strive to be interest…” France and Burgundy, a region of France, are known for their wines, cheese, and milk, which is why Lear chooses such a metaphor to refer to the lords.

Close Reading; Act 1 Scene 1 


In the opening of the play, we meet Kent and Glouster. In this section, King Lear’s plan of dividing the kingdom between his three sisters is introduced. Kent talks about Albany and Cornwall holding power. This suggests that the sisters will have no authority when the kingdom is split because they are girls (classic). This idea is also relevant for the time era the play is in and foreshadows many key events that are triggered by the Goneril and Regan even though they are female. 

Edmund is Glousters bastard only child. Edmund won’t get any of Glousters inheritance and wants to sabotage his brother Edgar so he does. Edmund is angry because of the way Glouster treats him and it is clear he is not a nice father from this example. 

Close Reading; Act 2 Scene 4

Lear is saying that they wouldn’t dear do this because it is worse than committing the worst sin (murder). King is selected by God, doing this is the same as disrespecting God. (the divine power of the King). Doing this is the worst possible thing they could’ve done. 

Lear is in disbelief that his daughters have refused him for no reason. It brings to his mind the thought of a revolution against him. King Lear is not impressed and doesn’t expect this to happen to him because he is used to having such a strong leadership. 

Lear leaves Regan’s castle, and in the last sentence of his speech, he says that if his daughters continue to treat him like this he will go mad. 

“I am a man more sinned against than sinning”

In classical terms, accounting for the great chain of being that was established during the time of the play, this is a true statement made by Lear. This quote is saying that Lear believes that more wrong has been done to him than the wrong that he has done. Lear has been an irrational father and bad friend but as King, he has maintained his lead. The fact that his daughters Goneril and Regan have betrayed him and the great chain of being, locked Kent in the stocks and kicked him out from their homes is worse than anything that Kent has done because he is King and that is going against everything everyone believed in during that time.  

Act 3 Scene 4

At the beginning of the scene, Lear speaks of a “Tempest” in his mind. Find the 2 quotes where he talks about this tempest. Explain what he is saying. Analyse the use of the word “tempest” – why would Shakespeare use this particular word to describe what is going on in Lear’s head. 

“The tempest in my mind Doth from my senses take all feeling else Save what beats there.”
“This tempest will not give me leave to ponder On things would hurt me more”

A tempest is defined as a violent windstorm. During this scene, there is a storm going on. The storm is dangerous and strong and forcing everyone to stay indoors. Shakespear is using the word tempest to describe what is going on in Lear’s head because his thoughts and ideas are like a storm. Violent and stuck in the wind. Unable to settle and be clear. 

Look at Act 3, Scene 1, lines 4-14
What impression of Lear does the gentleman give? Use evidence to support your answer and explain the specific images he uses to create this impression

Now look at Act 3, Scene 2
What images does Lear use in lines 1-9 to describe the storm? What do they say of his inner mental state? 

Albany’s speech, Act 4, Scene 2, Lines 38-49
Bad people can’t appreciate wisdom or goodness. They only like things as bad as themselves. What have you two sisters done? You’re tigers, not daughters. Barbaric degenerates, you’ve driven insane a kindly old father, whom even an angry bear would treat gently. Could my good brother-in-law—a man to whom the king gave half his kingdom—have allowed you to do it? If the heavens don’t punish these crimes immediately, the end will come. Human beings will become cannibals, like ravenous sea fishes.

Albany uses the word tigers to describe the two sisters because no human would treat their father the way they have, only ravenous beasts would (tigers). Albany also paints a picture of Lear as a weak old man that you must treat gently and with respect. The language used to describe him is different from the langue used to describe him at the start of the play. 

4 Speeches from Lear 

Act 2, Scene 4, 272-277: Verse, Latinate, Proposition, in this speech Lear falls out of iambic pentameter in two lines: “to bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger” and “stain my man’s cheeks”. In these two lines, Lear is speaking with the most emotion and talking about his feelings. Because these lines are more personal Lear falls out of iambic pentameter and breaks the rules.
Act 3, Scene 4, 103-108: Prose, Germanic, refers to lots of animals. This speech has lots of short sentences which is different compared to his previous speeches where he has very few long sentences. These short sentences mirror what is going on in Lear’s brain. It is all jumbled and broken, compared to previously where he was thinking straight and with structure.
Act 4, Scene 6, 108-177: Verse, Germanic, sloppy, not king like language, asks a lot of questions. This speech also has a lot of short sentences because of the fact that Lear is asking a lot of questions. He falls out of iambic pentameter three times: “Adultery?” “does Lecher in my sight” “Got ‘tween lawful sheets.” These three sentences address the sins committed and Lear falls out of iambic pentameter to emphasise his anger as a feeling of betrayal. He wants everyone to listen to how bad these things are by changing his rhythm.
Act 5, Scene 3, 312-318: Verse, Germanic, a mixture of verse and prose and Germanic and Latinate

During these speeches, Lear loses his mind and doesn’t act like the King he was at the start of the text. This is apparent during these speeches as he starts talking with Germanic language and one of his speeches is in prose. The purpose of changing the way Lear’s speeches are spoken is to let the audience know that the way he is talking and thinking changes as he descendants into insanity and the tragedy of the text approaches. 

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Mel, you have the details and clear timeline.This will be useful when you come to revise the play. It also shows me understood what we have read and discussed in class.

    You look like you’re beginning to understand dramatic irony. Your example about Cordelia is accurate and I like that you have recognised the use of the aside. You’re also beginning to get there with your next example. How is it that we as the audience have more information about Goneril and Reagan’s plan for the father. Once you understand this, you will be well on your way to fully appreciating dramatic irony.

    I do not fully understand your explanation of metaphors used in the play. Remember, people believed (particularly in this time) that the sun, moon and stars really did control a persons fate. In light of this, do you think Edmund is making a literal or figurative reference to these objects? There is a metaphor in that line but you are currently looking in the wrong place. Lear uses some wonderful metaphors when he is ranting and raving at Goneril. I suggest you take a look there and see if you can spot any really effective ones.

  2. Mel, I really like your explanation of the tempest that Lear describes in his mind- but can you take it further? What else can you conclude about Lear’s state of mind from the two quotes you have identified?


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