22nd February 2018

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 Lears 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. 

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  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.


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