The powerful and egotistical King Lear has decided to give
away his kingdom to his three daughters and enjoy his old
age in peace, going between the three daughters’ kingdoms
and having them wait on him. At the ceremony involved in
splitting the kingdom in three, King Lear asks his
daughters how much they love him. Though his favorite
daughter, Cordelia, is more honest and true than her
sisters, she also has not learned to be false and to
flatter her vain father’s wishes. Goneril and Regan both
superciliously flatter their father saying they love him as
much as the earth and sea and would do anything for him.
Cordelia, who truly loves her father, says nothing. Lear,
upset by this tells her to speak again as nothing will come
of nothing. Cordelia stays within the bounds of reason and
tells her father that she loves him as much as it is her
duty to do so, but no more than that. In anger and dismay,
Lear banishes his daughter, disinheriting her and leaving
her to her own devises. Her two suitors enter the room,
Burgandy and the King of France, to see what the trouble
is. Without Lear’s favor, Burgandy refuses to take Cordelia
in marriage, but the King of France sees her worth and
takes her as his bride.
Left in the kingdom with the wicked sisters, Goneril and
Regan, Lear soon sees the damage his foolish pride has
caused. Tiring of their father and his entourage, Goneril
and Regan banish Lear out onto the heath. From the shame
and indignity caused by his being thrown out into the
storm, Lear goes mad and is left at the mercy of his true
friends, two of which were rejected by him and his friend
Gloucester. Left to be helped by Gloucester’s son Edgar and
Lear’s old friend, Kent, Lear and the others seek
assistance from the French camp where Cordelia has come to
regain the kingdom from her wicked sisters.
Edgar has been thrown out by his father Gloucester because
of his wicked illegitimate half-brother Edmund who plots
with the sisters to gain control of the kingdom.
Gloucester’s eyes are torn out and he is left blinded.
Edgar, true to his father to the last, helps Gloucester to
The evil sisters destroy each other in the end, and the
kingdom is left to the survivors. Unfortunately, the plots
go wrong and Cordelia is killed in prison, and Lear dies in
One of the major themes in King Lear is that of starvation.
The land is starved by Lear and her daughters’ neglect, the
daughters and Edmund are starved for love and power by
their misguided parents; love, hate, power, all cause the
starvation of the land and kingdom. The characters are
swept away by their own world’s disparity. The disharmony
and imbalance found in the ruling characters’ use of love
and power could be further emphasized on the stage by the
jealousy of the sisters towards Cordelia, towards Edmond,
and towards each other juxtaposed with the loyal and
reasonable natures of Edgar and Cordelia. The integrity and
honest affection of Edgar, Cordelia and Kent are portrayed
in opposition to the childlike petulance of Lear, the
selfish hatred and jealousy of Regan and Goneral, and
insensibility of Gloucester.
The powerful conclusion of the play will not need much of
a postscript. As Albany expresses his last words, he speaks
for the whole ensemble. “Speak what we feel, not what we
say.” The characters have been through so much in the
course of the play that there is nothing left to say.