Synopsis of the Play
Lear, King of Britain, mercurial by nature and confused by age, announces that he will divide his kingdom between his three daughters according to their professed love for him. The eldest two, Goneril (wife of the Duke of Albany), and Regan (wife of the Duke of Cornwall), each make a loud show of their affection to him. Cordelia, his youngest and favorite daughter, is unwilling to flatter her father falsely and speaks to him only in terms of her duty as a daughter. In a fit of rage, Lear disinherits and banishes her. The Duke of Burgundy refuses to marry her without a dowry, but the King of France, seeing Cordelia’s integrity, accepts her and ask her to go to France. When Lear’s loyal advisor the Earl of Kent, who regards Lear as a father, dares questions Lear’s authority, Kent, too, is banished.
The Earl of Gloucester’s bastard son Edmund plans to gain his legitimate brother Edgar’s lands by plotting against him and persuading his father that Edgar means to kill Gloucester. Edmund then persuades his brother to flee from his father’s anger. To avoid arrest, Edgar disguises himself as a mad beggar, Poor Tom. Edmund is then taken into Cornwall’s service.
Lear begins a series of visits to Goneril and Regan, followed by Kent in disguise. Kent insults Goneril’s arrogant steward Oswald, and Lear takes him into his service. Goneril then quarrels with Lear, who leaves her castle to go to Regan’s. Kent is sent ahead, but he quarrels again with Oswald, and is put in the stocks by Regan, who sides with her sister. The sisters meet together with Lear, and tell him to dismiss some, and then all, of his followers. He goes out into a violent storm accompanied only by his Fool and Kent. He rages against the storm and his own mental state, then meets Poor Tom, whom he treats as a counsellor.
Gloucester tells Edmund of his intention to help Lear, and advises Kent to take Lear to Dover, where Cordelia and a French army are to be found. But Edmund has informed on Gloucester to Cornwall, and when Gloucester returns, he is accused of being a traitor, his eyes are put out, and he is thrown out into the wilderness. In the melee, Cornwall is killed by a servant. Edgar encounters his blind father, and, as Poor Tom, journeys with him to Dover, where Gloucester finds Lear.
There is growing animosity between Albany and Goneril, who is showing increasing affection to Edmund, who also has a liaison with Regan. Oswald, taking a letter from Goneril to Edmund, encounters Gloucester, but before he can harm him he is killed by Edgar. Lear is found by Cordelia’s army, and they are reconciled, but they are then taken prisoner by Edmund’s soldiers, and Edmund orders them both to be killed.
After the battle, Goneril and Regan both encounter Edmund and display their feelings for him.
Albany challenges Edmund, and a disguised Edgar appears to fight him. Regan dies, poisoned by Goneril, and Goneril takes her own life when her husband hears of her betrayal. Edmund is fatally wounded and Edgar reveals himself. An order is sent to cancel Lear and Cordelia’s execution, but it arrives too late to save Cordelia. Lear carries her in, and soon after dies of a broken heart. Albany abdicates, leaving Kent and Edgar to rule the realm; but Kent announces that he has a journey to go on like his master. Edgar reflects on the future.