Background and Summary of King Lear
Background of King Lear
King Lear was written between 1603 and 1606, and is considered to be Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. The main plot was drawn from an old chronicle play called The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his Three Daughters, supplemented by treatments of that story in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicle of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Spenser's The Faerie Queen, and perhaps others. The subplot of Gloucester and his two sons comes from Sir Philip Sidney's popular romance The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. Shakespeare also makes considerable use of Samuel Harsnett's Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603) for Edgar's ...view middle of the document...
. With his daughters and men gathered around him, Lear asks his daughters, "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?" (Act I, Scene 1. 43). Both Goneril and Regan reply with flattering words of love which satisfied their old father, in turn he gave each of them a third of his kingdom. Cordelia, Lear's favorite daughter, answers with words from her heart, saying that she loves him as much as he loved her and as she should. However, Lear sees her words as disrespectful and demands Cordelia to reply again like how her sisters did, with flattering words. Coredilia knowing the wickedness of her sisters intent, refuses to flatter her father with false words of love. Lear in disappointment and anger, banishes Cordelia from his kingdom, leaving her to marry the King of France, who was willing to marry her even though she had no lands. Kent, Lear's loyal servant, when he tries to defend the young princess and convince Lear of her love for him, Lear angrily also banishes him. The king decided to keep one hundred of his men and keeps the title of King, and live a month at a time at the houses of his two daughters, but passes all the powers onto his two son-in-laws, Albany and Cornwall. Goneril and Regan sees this as their chance to overthrow their old father, who is now powerless without his lands.
Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester at this point also takes advantage of powerless King Lear and his father and vows to take the lands of his father from Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son. Edmund tricks into believing that Edgar plans to kill him by showing him a letter that he forged. Gloucester is enraged, and commands Edmund to find this "abhorred villain!" (Act I Scn 2. 66). Edmund then continues to play his part as the loving son and brother, warns Edgar that Gloucester is looking for him for some reason and is extremely angry at him.
King Lear who is staying at Goneril's house with his hundred men is treated rudely by Goneril's steward Oswald. Goneril had told her servants to treat the king and his men with disrespect and rudely, causing Lear to be enraged and confused about the behavior of his daughter's men. Kent, who has returned disguised as a servant, gives Oswald a lesson on respect. The fool through rhymes and riddles tells the King of his foolishness for banishing Cordelia and giving away his power. Goneril tells Lear that his men are turning her house into a pig sty and that he should get rid off some of his men, Lear upon hearing this, angrily storms out of Goneril's house and heads for Regan's house. Lear is now fearing for his sanity and starts to realize the mistake he made for banishing Cordelia.
At Gloucester's house, the evil Edmund pretending to help Edgar tells him to runaway. Gloucester in turn seeing Edgar running away is more convinced that Edgar did write the letter. Gloucester then decides to give all his lands to Edmund. Regan and Cornwall then arrives at Gloucester's house and takes over. Kent...