Study Guide Of King Lear

Fleeing the manhunt that his father has set for him. he decides to help Lear in spite of the danger. . Edgar. and she accompanies him to France without her father’s blessing. and the English. but Edgar saves him by pulling the strange trick of leading him off an imaginary cliff. he heads out onto the heath. where Lear has also been brought. asking each to tell him how much she loves him. a French army lands as part of an invasion led by Cordelia in an effort to save her father. an elderly nobleman named Gloucester also experiences family problems. When the loyal Gloucester realizes that Lear’s daughters have turned against their father. In Dover. Cornwall. Meanwhile. Goneril poisons Regan out of jealousy over Edmund and then kills herself when her treachery is revealed to Albany. accompanied by his Fool and by Kent. Lear flies into a rage and disowns Cordelia. First. Unable to believe that his beloved daughters are betraying him. says that he still wants to marry her even without her land. who has courted Cordelia. The king of France. Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter. Lear slowly goes insane. In the climactic scene. Edgar. decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters. Lear’s older daughters.” Like Lear. Edgar disguises himself as a crazy beggar and calls himself “Poor Tom. Edgar. Edmund. His illegitimate son. blind him.Plot Overview LEAR. THE AGING KING OF BRITAIN. Goneril and Regan. But Cordelia. Goneril and Regan swiftly begin to undermine the little authority that Lear still holds. a loyal nobleman in disguise. He ends up being led by his disguised son. we learn of the death of Gloucester. and Lear finally dies out of grief at Cordelia’s passing. Goneril and Edmund conspire to kill Albany. led by Edmund. give their father flattering answers. The despairing Gloucester tries to commit suicide. Albany. the English troops reach Dover. is trying to kill him. toward the city of Dover. Lear and Cordelia are captured. and the elderly Kent are left to take care of the country under a cloud of sorrow and regret. however. accuse him of treason. whose husband. Lear quickly learns that he made a bad decision. Regan and her husband. Edmund apparently becomes romantically entangled with both Regan and Goneril. Meanwhile. Edmund’s betrayal of Cordelia leads to her needless execution in prison. Albany. Edgar duels with and kills Edmund. defeat the Cordelia-led French. is increasingly sympathetic to Lear’s cause. remains silent. he puts his daughters through a test. discover him helping Lear. saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. and turn him out to wander the countryside. tricks him into believing that his legitimate son. He flees his daughters’ houses to wander on a heath during a great thunderstorm.

He decides to reject her after Lear disowns her. Later. who is just as cruel as she is. Whether there was a historical Lear is uncertain. Fool: Jester loyal to Lear and Cordelia. Like Lear.” Earl of Gloucester: Old man who suffers from many of the same faults as Lear. Edgar: Gloucester's loyal son and heir. Earl of Kent: True and honest friend of Lear who remains loyal even after the king banishes him. he is old and self-important. Duke of Burgundy: Suitor of Cordelia. He is a headstrong old man who is blind to his weaknesses and misjudges his three daughters. The fool is a walking paradox–that is. Old Man: Tenant of Gloucester. He turns against her when he realizes that she is an evil schemer. He acts as a kind of mirror. Gloucester is less forceful and demanding than Lear and more given to compromise. Gentleman: Attendant of Cordelia. Oswald: Villainous steward of Goneril. King of France: Suitor of Cordelia. She continues to love her father in spite of his rejection of her. Curan: Courtier. Goneril. However. He undergoes great suffering that opens his eyes and ennobles his character. like Lear. Regan: Selfish. He marries her even though Lear has disowned her. believing that the two evil daughters have his best interests at heart and that his good and selfless daughter opposes him. . Doctor: Physician who attends Lear after the old king arrives at Dover. He disowns her after confusing her honesty with insolence. Duke of Cornwall: Regan's husband. he is the wisest character in play in that he is the only character who understands the motivations of Lear. they treat him cruelly. Edmund: Gloucester's evil bastard son. and other characters. greedy daughters of Lear who pretend to love him when he announces that he will gives them shares of his kingdom. He resembles Cordelia in his loyalty to hid father. He resembles Goneril and Regan in his disloyalty to his father. he wears a disguise and calls himself “Caius. Such qualities make him a foil of Lear. he misjudges his children and undergoes suffering that makes him a better man. his daughters. Duke of Albany: Goneril's husband. To continue serving the king. Captain: Employee of Edmund. reflecting Lear’s faults and weaknesses.Character List Lear: King of England. Cordelia: Loyal and unselfish daughter of Lear.

1. With this newfound understanding of himself. in the end. on the other hand. and the devastating Act 5 represents one of the most tragic endings in all of literature. As the two wicked sisters indulge their appetite for power and Edmund begins his own ascension. This realization proves much more important than the realization of his loss of political control. Lear’s recognition of the error of his ways is an ingredient vital to reconciliation with Cordelia. Witnessing the powerful forces of the natural world. the good die along with them. even if only fleetingly. Lear comes to understand that he. culminating in the awful image of Lear cradling Cordelia’s body in his arms. Lear hopes to be able to confront the chaos in the political realm as well. realizing it foolish for humankind to assume that the natural world works in parallel with socially or morally convenient notions of justice (4.” Gloucester muses.3. His maturation enables him to bring Cordelia back into his good graces. filled with human cruelty and awful. Lear. / They kill us for their sport. Authority versus Chaos King Lear is about political authority as much as it is about family dynamics. self-sacrificing love. the play presents the central relationship—that between Lear and Cordelia—as a dramatic embodiment of true. seemingly meaningless disasters. and we realize that Lear has destroyed not only his own authority but all authority in Britain. The failure of authority in the face of chaos recurs in Lear’s wanderings on the heath during the storm. he delivers not only himself and his family but all of Britain into chaos and cruelty. The play’s succession of terrible events raises an obvious question for the characters—namely. as it compels him to re-prioritize his values and become humble and caring. Edgar. But. like the rest of humankind. Cordelia remains devoted. amid the horror and chaos that engulf the rest of the play. insists that “the gods are just. Rather than despising Lear for banishing her. and when he gives away his authority to the unworthy and evil Goneril and Regan. the kingdom descends into civil strife. or whether the world is fundamentally indifferent or even hostile to humankind. . Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. and it is difficult to tell which triumphs in the end. is insignificant in the world. Reconciliation Darkness and unhappiness pervade King Lear.” believing that individuals get what they deserve (5. whether there is any possibility of justice in the world. we are left with only a terrifying uncertainty—although the wicked die.169). The stable. and eventually brings an army from a foreign country to rescue him from his tormentors. Justice King Lear is a brutal play. even from afar. hierarchal order that Lear initially represents falls apart and disorder engulfs the realm. There is goodness in the world of the play. Various characters offer their opinions: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.Themes. Nevertheless. a testament to love’s ability to flourish. meanwhile.37–38). but there is also madness and death. learns a tremendously cruel lesson in humility and eventually reaches the point where he can reunite joyfully with Cordelia and experience the balm of her forgiving love. Lear is not only a father but also a king. not because Cordelia feels wronged by him but because he has understood the sincerity and depth of her love for him.

and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. a terrible storm. the play suggests that betrayers inevitably turn on one another. The storm may also symbolize some kind of divine justice. the storm echoes Lear’s inner turmoil and mounting madness: it is a physical. Blindness Gloucester’s physical blindness symbolizes the metaphorical blindness that grips both Gloucester and the play’s other father figure. joins them. It is appropriate that the play brings them together near Dover in Act 4 to commiserate about how their blindness to the truth about their children has cost them dearly. the storm embodies the awesome power of nature. strongly but ambiguously symbolic. Finally. Goneril and Regan’s betrayal of Lear raises them to power in Britain. showing how Goneril and Regan fall out when they both become attracted to Edmund. Symbols Symbols are objects. Meanwhile. The Storm As Lear wanders about a desolate heath in Act 3. Betrayal Betrayals play a critical role in the play and show the workings of wickedness in both the familial and political realms—here. rages overhead. turbulent natural reflection of Lear’s internal confusion. it also provides him with important wisdom by reducing him to his bare humanity. contrasts. and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. offers his counsel in a seemingly mad babble. both are blind to the truth. stripped of all royal pretensions. who has betrayed both Edgar and Gloucester. Later. which reinforces that at the heart of every betrayal lies a skewed set of values. where Edmund. however. who offers Lear insight in the early sections of the play. At the same time. which also contains nuggets of wisdom for the king to mine. However. and both end up banishing the loyal children and making the wicked one(s) their heir(s). foolish betrayal of Cordelia’s love for him. Madness Insanity occupies a central place in the play and is associated with both disorder and hidden wisdom. Lear. and how their jealousies of one another ultimately lead to mutual destruction.Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. as if nature itself is angry about the events in the play. the turmoil in his mind mirrors the chaos that has descended upon his kingdom. Additionally. At the same time. The Fool. which forces the powerless king to recognize his own mortality and human frailty and to cultivate a sense of humility for the first time. He is joined in his real madness by Edgar’s feigned insanity. Only when Gloucester has lost the use of his eyes and Lear has gone mad does each realize his tremendous error. it is important to remember that the entire play is set in motion by Lear’s blind. brothers betray brothers and children betray fathers. Edgar’s time as a supposedly insane beggar hardens him and prepares him to defeat Edmund at the close of the play. figures. the meteorological chaos also symbolizes the political disarray that has engulfed Lear’s Britain. characters. . Lear thus learns humility. when Lear himself goes mad. The parallels between the two men are clear: both have loyal children and disloyal children. In part.

and other characters. 25). when Lear leaves Gloucester's castle during a violent storm after being rejected by his evil daughters. a cuckoo. such as a short story or a novel. 1T 0T1 1T 0T The action takes place in Ancient Britain. King's Fool 1T 1T . Foole Upon Foole. a fool was a comic figure with a quick tongue who entertained the king. their odd appearance enhancing their appeal and. 1T 0T1 1T 0T King Lear’s fool (court jester) is the wisest character in the play in that he is the only character who understands the motivations of Lear. then falls and dies on the body of innocent Cordelia. Regan.Setting 1T 1T . headstrong ways. cats. owls. wild geese. snails. a farmhouse near Gloucester’s castle. like a vulture. according to prevailing beliefs. sheep. according to the first definition. and each of the following: Kite: bird of prey that occurs in several varieties. and fields near Dover. He constantly ridicules Lear. According to the second definition. U U Serpent: large snake. Armin wrote a book about fools. who has been executed. Many fools were dwarfs or cripples. dogs (including a mastiff. the climax occurs in the final act. wolves. mice. “If thou wert my fool. and other figures of speech to compare Regan. Lear speaks this line to Goneril: "Detested kite! thou liest" (Line 284). The places include the castles of King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester. Scene IV. and carrion. Actors William Kempe and Richard Armin became London celebrities for their performances as fools in Shakespeare’s plays. a spaniel. He was allowed to–and even expected to–criticize anyone at court. U U Vulture: scavenger bird that feeds primarily on carcasses. a greyhound. In Act I. This imagery shows that human greed and lust for power. a British camp near Dover. or Six Sortes of Sottes. 1T 0T1 0T1 0T1 0T1 Animal Imagery Shakespeare uses metaphors. Scene IV. It feeds on small land animals. 5. here [points to his heart]” (Lines 136-137). the better to make the old man understand himself and the folly of his selfish. garbage. nuncle. and their guests. Lear bemoans Goneril's behavior by saying that “she hath tied / sharp-tooth'd unkindness. his daughters. Among the animals to which characters are compared are rats. bears.The climax of a play or another narrative work. Goneril and Regan. the palace of the Duke of Albany. the devil in U U . and Edmund die and Lear comes to his senses. can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse. horses. and a mongrel). a French camp near Dover. or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. a heath. a forest. an ass. the queen. crabs. It also demonstrates that the dilemmas people create for themselves can lower them to the status of beasts. The climax in King Lear occurs. a hedge-sparrow. turn people into rapacious or poisonous beasts. and other characters to animals. as well as other negative qualities. bringing good luck to the court. In Act II. Egypt’s pharaohs were the first rulers to use fools. monkeys. such as a python or boa constrictor. any poisonous snake. “I’d have thee beaten for being old before thy time” (1. notably Pygmies from African territories to the south 0T1 0T1 Climax 1T 1T . similes. Goneril. when Goneril. fish.” he says. In the courts of England. goats.

perhaps. But his values do change over the course of the play. to the point that he would rather live in prison with her than rule as a king again. but Cordelia is already his favorite daughter at the beginning of the play. An important question to ask is whether Lear develops as a character—whether he learns from his mistakes and becomes a better and more insightful human being. In Act IV. In some ways the answer is no: he doesn’t completely recover his sanity and emerge as a better king. and her beauty is venerably described in religious terms. rumors of her return to Britain begin to surface almost immediately. Scene IV. In Act II. Similarly.” but rather. As he realizes his weakness and insignificance in comparison to the awesome forces of the natural world. and once she lands at Dover. Most readers conclude that Lear is simply blind to the truth. By refusing to take part in Lear’s love test at the beginning of the play. upon the very heart" (Lines 162-163). Scene IV. Indeed. his test of his daughters demonstrates that he values a flattering public display of love over real love. Lear values Goneril and Regan’s fawning over Cordelia’s sincere sense of filial duty. comparing them to tigers Analysis of Major Characters King Lear Lear’s basic flaw at the beginning of the play is that he values appearances above reality. and the obvious authenticity of her love for Lear makes clear the extent of the king’s error in banishing her. For most of the middle section of the play. Lear says Goneril "struck me with her tongue. / Most serpent-like. Cordelia Cordelia’s chief characteristics are devotion. “which of you shall we say doth love us most?” (1. saying “‘twas this flesh begot those pelican daughters” (Lines 76-77). He wants to be treated as a king and to enjoy the title. She is contrasted throughout the play with Goneril and Regan.49). and honesty—honesty to a fault. he becomes a humble and caring individual. Tiger: Tiger: largest member of the cat family. beauty. the Duke of Albany condemns Regan and Goneril for their treatment of Lear. Cordelia establishes herself as a repository of virtue. Nevertheless. Scene II. so presumably he knows that she loves him the most. Cordelia’s reunion with Lear marks the apparent . In Act III.the form of a snake. kindness. Lear "scolds" himself for fathering Regan and Goneril. she is offstage. and who manipulate their father for their own ends. the action of the play begins to move toward her.1. He comes to cherish Cordelia above everything else and to place his own love for Cordelia above every other consideration. He doesn’t ask “which of you doth love us most. Pelican: bird of prey that feeds on fish. who are neither honest nor loving. Cordelia is never far from the audience’s thoughts. but as we observe the depredations of Goneril and Regan and watch Lear’s descent into madness. as all the characters converge on the coast. but he doesn’t want to fulfill a king’s obligations of governing for the good of his subjects.

he sees that both Goneril and Regan have died for him. Their desire for power is satisfied. Goneril and Regan There is little good to be said for Lear’s older daughters. “Now. But any sympathy that the audience can muster for them evaporates quickly. whether Edmund’s villainy sprang not from some innate cruelty but simply from a thwarted. however. becomes a literal sacrifice to the heartlessness of an apparently unjust world. only appetite. rare among Shakespearean villains. inevitably turns in on itself. Mortally wounded.2.” Edmund commands.238). gods. his ambition is interesting insofar as it reflects not only a thirst for land and power but also a desire for the recognition denied to him by his status as a bastard. who are largely indistinguishable in their villainy and spite. but in fact he depends not on divine aid but on his own initiative (1. His serial treachery is not merely self-interested. much as the audience can appreciate the clever wickedness of Iago in Othello. this same appetite brings about their undoing. After this ambiguous statement. Key Facts FULL TITLE · The Tragedy of King Lear . a Machiavellian character eager to seize any opportunity and willing to do anything to achieve his goals. amid the carnage. as Cordelia. but both harbor sexual desire for Edmund. However. Edgar. early in the play. it is a conscious rebellion against the social order that has denied him the same status as Gloucester’s legitimate son.restoration of order in the kingdom and the triumph of love and forgiveness over hatred and spite. Edmund Of all of the play’s villains.22). He is the ultimate self-made man. misdirected desire for the familial love that he witnessed around him. and whispers. His peculiar change of heart. Evil. Goneril and Regan are clever—or at least clever enough to flatter their father in the play’s opening scene—and. the play suggests. “Yet Edmund was beloved” (5. stand up for bastards. is enough to make the audience wonder. which destroys their alliance and eventually leads them to destroy each other. personifications of evil—they have no conscience. and he is such a cold and capable villain that it is entertaining to watch him work.3. Edmund is the most complex and sympathetic. He is a consummate schemer. he seems to repent of his villainy and admits to having ordered Cordelia’s death. in a sense. first when they turn their father out into the storm at the end of Act 2 and then when they viciously put out Gloucester’s eyes in Act 3. their bad behavior toward Lear seems matched by his own pride and temper. It is this greedy ambition that enables them to crush all opposition and make themselves mistresses of Britain. Only at the close of the play does Edmund show a flicker of weakness. Goneril and Regan are. the personification of kindness and virtue. Ultimately. This fleeting moment of familial happiness makes the devastating finale of King Lear that much more cruel.

the actual blindness of Gloucester symbolizes the moral blindness that plagues both Lear and Gloucester himself in their dealings with their children. two senior members of Shakespeare’s acting · Not applicable (drama) troupe NARRATOR CLIMAX · Gloucester’s blinding in Act 3. when the tremendous thunderstorm over the heath symbolizes Lear’s rage and mounting insanity. notably in Act 3. the “wheel” of fortune is another symbol by means of which Edmund. at the end of the play. Edmund. scene 7 · Lear. the bastard son of Gloucester · Eighth century B.C. betrayal. the occasional bursts of comedy are uniformly dark · Justice. 1623 LANGUAGE TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION PUBLISHER · John Heminge and Henry Condell. 1604–1605 · First Folio edition. · Various locations in England · Goneril and Regan’s plotting in Act 1 foreshadows their later cruel PROTAGONIST ANTAGONISTS SETTING (TIME) SETTING (PLACE) FORESHADOWING treatment of Lear. conceives of his fall from power back into insignificance. TONE · Serious and tragic. reconciliation. Lear is king of what country? (A) France (B) Britain (C) East Anglia . death THEMES MOTIFS · Weather plays an important symbolic role in the play. SYMBOLS Quiz 1. king of Britain · Lear’s daughters Goneril and Regan. authority versus chaos.AUTHOR · William Shakespeare · Play TYPE OF WORK GENRE · Tragedy · English · England. redemption · Madness.

what does she demand of him? (A) That he acknowledge her as the sole queen of the realm (B) That he send away some of his knights (C) That he execute Cordelia (D) That he send away the Fool 6. where do Regan and Cornwall go? (A) To Gloucester’s castle (B) To France (C) To Goneril’s home (D) To London . When Lear visits Goneril. Which one of Lear’s counselors reprimands the king for exiling his daughter? (A) Albany (B) Kent (C) Cornwall (D) Edmund 4. When they hear that Lear is coming to visit them.(D) Scotland 2. Who is Gloucester’s bastard son? (A) Kent (B) Edgar (C) Albany (D) Edmund 5. Which one of Lear’s daughters is sent into exile? (A) Goneril (B) Regan (C) Cordelia (D) Juliet 3.

After he curses both Goneril and Regan. how does Edgar disguise himself? (A) As a common beggar (B) As a soldier (C) As Edmund (D) As Shakespeare 9. Whom does Lear meet living in a little hovel on the heath? (A) Albany (B) Edgar. in disguise (C) Cordelia (D) Edmund 12. Why is Gloucester accused of treason? (A) Because he attempts to assassinate Goneril and Regan . what does Regan advise him to do? (A) Kill himself (B) Banish Goneril (C) Make Regan the sole queen (D) Go to Goneril and ask her forgiveness 10. what does Lear do? (A) He storms out of Gloucester’s castle. accompanied by the Fool (B) He disinherits both daughters (C) He sets out in search of Cordelia (D) He dies 11. When he flees from his father.7. When Lear tells Regan that Goneril has wronged him. Why is Kent thrown into the stocks? (A) For trying to kill Goneril (B) For beating Oswald with the flat of his sword (C) For threatening Lear’s life (D) For praising Cordelia in public 8.

Why does Gloucester want to reach the cliffs of Dover? (A) He wants to see the invasion fleet (B) He thinks Edgar is waiting for him there (C) He wants to throw himself over the cliffs . Who encounters Gloucester on the heath and offers to lead him to Dover? (A) The Fool (B) Edmund (C) Edgar (D) Lear 16. Where does Gloucester send Lear and his attendants? (A) To Dover (B) To London (C) To Gloucester’s castle (D) To Goneril’s castle 14. Who is leading the army that lands at Dover? (A) Albany (B) Kent (C) Cordelia (D) Lear 17.(B) Because he throws Lear in prison (C) Because he exiles Edgar (D) Because Edmund reveals letters showing that he knows of a French invasion 13. How is Gloucester punished for his “treason”? (A) He is burned (B) He is blinded (C) He is branded with a scarlet letter (D) He is exiled 15.

to whose camp is Lear brought? (A) Cordelia’s (B) Edmund’s (C) Gloucester’s (D) Albany’s 20.(D) He wants to see the famed white cliffs before he dies 18. Who fights a duel with Edmund? (A) Albany (B) Gloucester (C) Edgar (D) Lear . How does Regan die? (A) Edgar kills her (B) Edmund poisons her (C) She kills herself (D) Goneril poisons her 22. To whom are both Goneril and Regan attracted? (A) Edmund (B) Edgar (C) Albany (D) Cornwall 19. Before the battle between the French and English armies. What happens to Lear and Cordelia during the battle? (A) They are separated from one another (B) Edmund takes them captive (C) They are both killed (D) Cordelia is killed and Lear is taken captive 21.

like Cordelia. Is Lear affected more by forces within himself or outside himself? 3. What was the role of the fool in the play? Why did kings and queens in earlier times have fools. do you say what you...characters? Does nature play a key role in other Shakespeare plays? 4.really think? 2. or court jesters? Describe a typical.23.. Compare and contrast Lear and Gloucester. both of whom have misjudged their children. What happens to Cordelia? (A) She kills herself (B) She is hanged in prison (C) She marries Edgar (D) She kills Goneril 25... What does the violent storm symbolize? In other words. his talents.. What happens to Lear at the end of the play? (A) His kingdom is restored (B) He kills himself (C) He orders Regan and Goneril executed (D) He dies while weeping over Cordelia’s body Study Questions and Essay Topics 1. . 5. What does Edmund reveal as he lies dying? (A) That he ordered Cordelia killed (B) That he is really Lear’s son (C) That he was in love with Cordelia (D) That he killed Gloucester during the battle 24. Do you tend to go along with the crowd even though you disagree with what the crowd says or. is it meant to represent in some way what is happening to Lear and other.jester–his apparel. his temperament.

discuss the character growth of Edgar. Even though Lear banishes the Duke of Kent for defending Cordelia. explain why Kent refuses to turn against Lear . In an informative or argumentative essay. and the Duke of Albany. Gloucester’s loyal son. Goneril’s husband. 8. 7. In an informative essay discuss the character growth of King Lear. Kent remains loyal to Lear and still serves him in the disguise of a.peasant named Caius.6. In an informative essay.

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