A tragedy by Shakespeare, dating from 1604–5, performed 1606. The quarto printed in 1608 (reprinted 1619) is now thought to have been badly printed from Shakespeare's original manuscript, and the text of the First Folio (1623) appears to represent a revision from a few years earlier. The play's sources include a chronicle play, King Leir (perf. 1594, printed 1605), the chronicles of Holinshed, and the Mirror for Magistrates. The Gloucester sub‐plot derives from Sidney's Arcadia.
Lear, king of Britain, a petulant and unwise old man, has three daughters: Goneril, wife of the duke of Albany; Regan, wife of the duke of Cornwall; and Cordelia, for whom the king of France and duke of Burgundy are suitors. Intending to divide his kingdom among his daughters according to their affection for him, he bids them say which loves him most. Goneril and Regan make profession of extreme affection, and each receives one‐third of the kingdom. Cordelia, self‐willed, and disgusted with their hollow flattery, says she loves him according to her duty, not more nor less. Infuriated with this reply, Lear divides her portion between his other daughters, with the condition that himself with 100 knights shall be maintained by each daughter in turn. Burgundy withdraws his suit for Cordelia, and the king of France accepts her without dowry. The earl of Kent, taking her part, is banished. Goneril and Regan reveal their heartless character by grudging their father the maintenance that he had stipulated for, and finally turning him out of doors in a storm. The earl of Gloucester shows pity for the old king, and is suspected of complicity with the French, who have landed in England. His eyes are put out by Cornwall, who receives a death‐wound in the affray. Gloucester's son Edgar, who has been traduced to his father by his bastard brother Edmund, takes the disguise of a lunatic beggar, and tends his father till the latter's death. Lear, whom rage and ill‐treatment have deprived of his wits, is conveyed to Dover by the faithful Kent in disguise, where Cordelia receives him. Meanwhile Goneril and Regan have both turned their affections to Edmund. Embittered by this rivalry, Goneril poisons Regan, and takes her own life. The English forces under Edmund and Albany defeat the French, and Lear and Cordelia are imprisoned; by Edmund's order Cordelia is hanged, and Lear dies from grief. The treachery of Edmund is proved by his brother Edgar. Albany, who has not abetted Goneril in her cruel treatment of Lear, takes over the kingdom.
Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism.
Related content in Oxford Index
William Shakespeare (1564—1616) playwright and poet