OAC I English

King Lear

This short study guide is designed to assist you with your study and review of King Lear. Below you will find an outline of the play and a synopsis of the discussions we have had in class. I also suggest that you check out my Web page if you would like further information about the play.

Outline

Act I

sc. 1

-We find out at the beginning that Gloucester has an illegitimate son named Edmund.
-Lear is ready to "retire" and decides to give each of his daughters part of his kingdom.
-Lear asks each of his daughters to profess their love to him publicly.
-Goneril and Regan in turn profess their undying love for their father.
-Cordelia says, " I love your Majesty/According to my bond, no more no less.
" -Lear gets extremely upset that his favourite daughter cannot say more than this about her love for her father.
-Lear disowns Cordelia.
-Kent, Lear's advisor tries to talk some sense into Lear.
-Lear gets so angry with Kent that he banishes Kent.
-The Duke of Burgundy refuses to take Cordelia as his bride because she has no dowry.
-The King of France who truly loves Cordelia says he will marry her even though she has no dowry.
-Lear gives Cordelia's portion of his kingdom to his two other daughters.
-In his retirement Lear plans to spend time with both Goneril and Regan.
-Goneril and Regan are worried about Lear's plans.

sc. 2


-This scene begins with Edmund's soliloquy. We find out that he feels it is unfair that Edgar is Gloucester's heir. Edmund has a plan to change his fortunes.
-He makes Gloucester believe that Egdar is plotting to kill Gloucester.
-Edmund continues his plan by telling Gloucester that he will arrange it so that Gloucester can hear what Edgar is planning.
-Gloucester blames all these strange events on nature.
-Gloucester then meets with Edgar and tells him that his father is extremely angry and that he had better be careful and go about armed.

sc. 3

-We find out that Goneril is not pleased with Lear and his knights. She does not want to bother with him.

sc.4

-Kent returns in disguise. He tells Lear that he would like to be his servant.
-When Oswald insults Lear, Kent takes Lear's part and trips Oswald.
-In this scene we are introduced to the Fool. (Lear's conscience)
-The Fool points out Lear folly.
-The Fool plays a very important part in the play. Take note of everything he says.
-Lear has a terrible argument with his daughter and curses her.
-Lear says he will leave and go to stay with Regan.
-Goneril tells Oswald to deliver a letter to Regan.
-Goneril dismisses half of Lear's knights because she is afraid that he may use their strength to do as he pleases.

sc. 5

-Lear sends Kent with a letter to Regan telling her that he is coming to stay with her.

Act II

sc. 1

-Curan tells Edmund that the Duke of Cornwall is coming to the castle and also informs Edmund of rumours that Cornwall and Albany may go to war.
-When he meets with his brother Edmund asks Edgar if he has done something to anger the Duke of Cornwall. Edmund tells Edgar that Cornwall is coming in haste to the castle. When Edmund sees his father coming he tells Edgar to draw his sword so that it will not look as though they are working together. After Edgar leaves Edmund stabs himself and tells the father that Edgar is guilty.
-Gloucester is terribly upset.
-Gloucester and Cornwall tell Edmund that he will be rewarded.
-Edgar will be killed if found by orders of the Duke of Cornwall.

sc. 2

-Kent and Oswald fight.
-Cornwall puts Kent in the stocks.
-Gloucester feels that this is a mistake.

sc. 3

-We find out that Edgar is going to disguise himself as Poor Tom.

sc. 4

-Lear arrives at the castle.
-He is enraged that Kent has been put in the stocks.
-Lear is treated very poorly by his daughter Reagan and also by Cornwall.
-Goneril and Regan make Lear look pathetic.
-The storm is approaching. (symbolic)

Act III

sc. 1

-As the scene opens we see Kent and a gentleman in the storm.
-The gentleman tells Kent that the Dukes are not getting along and France is getting ready to invade.
-Kent tells the gentleman to take his ring and give it to Cordelia.

sc. 2

-Lear is out in the storm with the Fool and Kent.
-From his words we see that Lear is going mad.
-Kent tries to get Lear to come in out of the storm.
-Lear utters the famous lines, "I am a man more sinned against than sinning."
-"Lear feels no bitterness at the storm, which owes him nothing, and implies that what the storm can do to him is nothing compared to what has been done to him by his daughters."

sc. 3

-Gloucester tells Edmund that he does not like what is going on.
-Gloucester has been warned not to try to help Lear.
-He tells Edmund that he has heard that there is division between the Dukes and that he has received a letter telling him that France is going to invade.
-He also tells Edmund that he is going to help Lear.
-Edmund reveals to us that he is going to betray Gloucester and tell Cornwall everything.

sc. 4

-Kent is still trying to get Lear to come in out of the storm.
-Edgar arrives and upon seeing him Lear asks Edgar if he also gave everything to his daughters.
-Lear is obsessed with what his daughters have done to him. He says, "Nothing could have subdued nature to such a lowness but his unkind daughters."
-Lear tears away his garments in a symbolic gesture. (Lear's change from pride to humility.)
-Gloucester arrives to help Lear.

sc. 5

-Edmund tells Cornwall all.
-Edmund is made the Earl of Gloucester.

sc. 6

-The mock trial of Goneril and Regan.
-Gloucester tells Kent of a plot to kill the King.
-Lear is almost totally mad at this point in the play.
-After this scene we no longer see the Fool.

sc. 7

-We see how evil Goneril and Regan are.
-They want Gloucester killed.
-Oswald tells Cornwall that Gloucester has helped the King.
-Gloucester is arrested and his eyes are plucked out.
-Regan and Goneril at their evil best.
-A servant comes to Gloucester's aid and kills Cornwall.
-Gloucester finds out from Regan that Edmund has betrayed him.
-Gloucester is put out of the castle.

Act IV

sc. 1

-In this scene we see Gloucester who is looking for his way to Dover.
-He will be led by Edgar.
-We find out that Gloucester plans to jump from the cliff in Dover.

sc. 2

-In this scene we find out that Goneril loves Edmund.
-We also find out that Albany is not impressed with Goneril.
-Goneril sends Edmund with a letter to Cornwall.
-In this scene we see a truly evil Goneril.
-Albany is very upset and says he will revenge Gloucester's eyes.

sc. 3

-In scene three we have Kent speaking to the Gentleman. We find out that the King of France had to return on urgent business.
-We find out also that Lear does not want to see his daughter because of his state of mind.

sc. 4

-Cordelia sends the doctor to search for Lear.

sc. 5

-In this scene we find out that Regan also is in love with Edmund.
-She wants Oswald to tell her what is in her sister's letter to Edmund.

sc. 6

-Edgar fools Gloucester into believing that he has led him to the edge of a cliff.
-Gloucester jumps and falls.
-Gloucester cannot understand how he has survived the fall.
-Lear enters mad.
-Lear is taken to see his daughter.
-Oswald enters to kill Gloucester and fights Edgar.
-Edgar finds the letter from Goneril to Edmund.
-We find out that Goneril is planning to kill her husband so that she can marry Edmund.

sc. 7

-Cordelia, Kent and Lear meet.
-Lear is a changed man. "Pray do not mock me, I am a very foolish fond old man..."

Act V

sc. 1

-In this scene we see that Regan wants Edmund for herself.
-Goneril says aside that she would rather loose the battle than lose Edmund.
-Edgar gives Albany Goneril's letter to Edmund.
-Edmund has sworn his love to both sisters.
-He wants Goneril to have Albany killed.
-He says that once Albany is gone he will never pardon Lear and Cordelia.

sc. 2

-We find out from Edgar that Cordelia's army has lost that battle and that she and Lear have been taken prisoner.

sc. 3

-Edmund sends Lear and Cordelia to prison.
-Edmund orders their death.
-Albany arrests Edmund and lets Goneril know that he has her letter to Edmund.
-We find out that Goneril has poisoned Regan.
-Edgar challenges Edmund.
-Edmund falls wounded.
-Goneril runs of to commit suicide.
-Goneril kills herself.
-Edmund admits that he has ordered the death of Lear and Cordelia.
-Lear enters with Cordelia in his arms.
-For a moment Lear thinks that Cordelia is alive. He dies.

Key Points of Class Discussion

Notes from "The Substance of Shakespearean Tragedy" by A.C. Bradley

-The basic question is: "What is the nature of the tragic aspect of life as represented by Shakespeare?"
-The tragic story is primarily concerned with one person.
-It is a story of suffering and calamity conducting to death.
-Such exceptional suffering and calamity, then affecting the hero, and -we must now add - generally extending far and wide beyond him, so as to make the whole scene a scene of woe, are an essential ingredient in tragedy, and a chief source of the tragic emotions and especially of pity.
-Tragedy with Shakespeare is concerned always with persons of high degree.
-A Shakespearean tragedy may be called a story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in high estate.
-The calamities of tragedy do not simply happen, nor are they sent; they proceed mainly from actions of men.
-The hero always contributes in some measure to the disaster in which he perishes.
-The calamities and catastrophe follow inevitably from the deeds of men, and the main source of these deeds is character.
-Although there is an outward conflict of persons and groups, the concentration of interest, in the greater plays, is on the inward struggle.
-In almost all tragic heroes we observe a marked one-sidedness, a pre-disposition in some particular direction; a total incapacity, in certain circumstances, of resisting the force which draws in this direction; a fatal tendency to identify the whole being with one interest, object, passion, or habit of mind. This it would seem is, for Shakespeare, the fundamental tragic trait.
-The heroes tragic trait, which is also his greatness, is fatal to him.
-The hero errs by action or omission; and his error, joining with other causes, brings on him ruin.
-Whatever may be said of accidents, circumstances and the like, human action is presented to us as the cental fact in tragedy and also as the main cause of the catastrophe.

The Role of the Fool in King Lear

-Many characters are charged with symbolic significance.
-The Fool is a perpetual reminder to us of the weakness to which our minds are subject.
-The Fool is a constant witness to the potency of truth.
-The Fool shares with the audience the power to look at other characters and say, "Lord what fools these mortals be."
-He helps us see Lear as a "man".
-He makes Lear see his folly. "If thou wert my fool nuncle, I'd have thee beaten for being old before thy time."
-"Thou should'st not have been old till thou had'st been wise."
-The core of the plot is the wrenching of the soul of Lear from its set and insensitive ways, from the finding of satisfaction in the external shows of affection and arbitrary exercise of power, to a humble acceptance of his position as a foolish fond old man. The Fool plays a great part in this.
-Lear's only companion is the Fool.
-The Fool is able to make Lear see the truth. He is no threat.
-The Fool is obsessed with Lear's folly.
-The Fool makes Lear aware several times of the mistakes Lear has made.
-The Fool is a constant reminder to Lear of what he has done.
-When Lear asks a series of questions and asks, "Who is it that can tell me who I am." the fool is the only one who can approach a rational answer. "Lear's shadow."
-It is the Fool's business to goad Lear, to stir his conscience, to make him realize the situation he is in.
-Lear walks in a world of illusions; the Fool walks beside him like a reflection of the truth.

What you should know

-You should be able to outline the structure of the play.
-You should be able to differentiate between the physical and spiritual action of the play.
-You should be able to define tragedy and the tragic hero.
-You should be able to make comparisons between the parallel plots.
-You should be able to show the importance of imagery in the play and give examples to support your answer.
-You should be able to write a character analysis of the main characters in the play.
-You should be able to identify and explain the crisis in the play.
-You should be able to explain the role of the Fool.
-You should be able to select a scene of special importance in the play and by reference to significant action and character, show how this scene is related to the dramatic development of the play.
-You should be able to support the following quotation, "Conflict is the essence of drama".
-You should be able to support or oppose the following statement made about the cental figure: "I am a man more sinn'd against than sinning."
-You should be able to identify and state the significance of key passages in the play.


This review was developed by S.J. Perry, St. Joseph's Secondary School, Cornwall, Ontario.


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