King Lear

Type: 
Tragedy
First Performed: 
1605-06
First Printed: 
1608
"

Have more than thou showest;
Speak less than thou knowest;
Lend less than thou owest.

"

The aging King of Britain, Lear, decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. When Cordelia, who loves her father dearly, refuses to pander to him with a public declaration of her love, she is disinherited and banished to marry the King of France without a dowry. The Earl of Kent is also banished after trying to defend Cordelia. Goneril, Regan, and their husbands inherit the entire kingdom.

Meanwhile, the earl of Gloucester is being tricked by his bastard son, Edmund, who attempts to turn his father against Edgar, Gloucester 's other son. Persuaded by Edmund, Gloucester disinherits Edgar, who then goes into hiding.

King Lear begins to understand the selfish nature of his remaining daughters' love, and rages against a stormy night, accompanied only by his Fool and the Earl of Kent (in disguise). They are joined by Edgar, also in disguise.

Gloucester is betrayed by Edmund after helping Lear escape to reunite with Cordelia and the French King in Dover. He is then captured by Regan and her husband Cornwall, who puts out Gloucester 's eyes before being killed himself. The blinded Gloucester does not recognize Edgar when they meet again, but Edgar leads him to Dover as well. Lear and Cordelia reconcile, but their happy reunion does not last as the other sisters' forces capture them all.

The widowed Regan and disillusioned Goneril are both romantically interested in the treacherous Edmund. Edmund orders that Cordelia and Lear be hanged, and then encounters his brother Edgar, who mortally wounds him in a duel. Regan and Goneril also die—Goneril killed her sister to secure Edmund for herself, but then killed herself after learning of her love's fatal injury. Edmund, seeing his world crumble, reveals his devious plot before dying—including the orders to kill Lear and Cordelia. But his repentance is worthless, as Lear enters with the body of Cordelia. Lear himself dies of grief.