King Lear Commentary provides a comprehensive description
of every act with explanations and translations for
all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. - A Room of State in King Lear's
King Lear: "'tis our fast intent / To shake all
cares and business from our age, / Conferring them on
younger strengths, while we / Unburden'd crawl toward
King Lear gives his kingdom to daughters Regan and
Goneril whom he believes truly love him. Angry that
Cordelia his youngest daughter apparently does not,
he banishes her, and Kent who tries in vain to make
King Lear reconsider. Cordelia leaves and is taken by
the King of France as his Queen...
The play begins with Kent setting the scene. We learn
that King Lear is to divide and give up to his daughters
his kingdom and that in doing so, he will not favor
the Duke of Albany any more than the Duke of Cornwall
as was expected. We learn that Gloucester, an ally of
the King is embarrassed of his bastard son Edmund (Lines
12-26). Lear, The Duke of Cornwall, The Duke of Albany
and Lear's three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
with Attendants arrive. Gloucester and Edmund depart
to "Attend [meet, greet] the Lords of France and Burgundy,"
leaving Lear to outline his future plans (Line 36).
Lear explains that he will shake away the problems and
duties of his kingdom by giving it away to his children:
Meantime we [I, King Lear] shall express our
darker purpose. Give me the map there. Know that we
have divided / In three our kingdom; and 'tis [it is]
our [King Lear's] fast intent / To shake all cares and
business from our age, / Conferring them on younger
strengths, while we / Unburden'd crawl toward death.
Our son of Cornwall, / And you, our no less loving son
of Albany, / We have this hour a constant will to publish
/ Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife
/ May be prevented now. The princes, France and Burgundy,
/ Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, / Long
in our court have made their amorous sojourn, / And
here are to be answer'd. (Lines 38-50)
Crucially, Lear wishes to be told how much his daughters
love him before he divests (gives away) his rule, kingdom
and cares of state:
"Tell me, my daughters,- / Since now we will divest
us both of rule, / Interest of territory, cares of state,-
/ Which of you shall we say doth [does] love us [King
Lear] most? That we our largest bounty may extend /
Where nature doth with merit challenge" (Tell me my
daughters since I will now divest my rule, assets and
responsibilities of state, which of you shall say you
love me most that my largest bounty or reward may extend
or go where nature meets with merit or is deserving),
Lear first asks his eldest daughter Goneril to answer.
She replies that she loves him more than words can express:
"Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;"
(Lines 57-63). Cordelia is silent. Lear, gratified (happy,
satisfied) gives her a large territory, which he outlines
to her on the map present (Lines 65-69).
Next, Lear asks Regan to pledge her love for him. She
describes herself as being "made of that self metal
[same character] as my sister," adding that "I profess
[call / declare] / Myself an enemy to all other joys
/ Which the most precious square of sense possesses
In your dear highness' love" (Regan explains that her
sister falls short of her love for him; she claims to
be an enemy of all other joys but her love for her King),
Cordelia in an aside (speech intended only for the
audience / a private speech revealing her innermost
thoughts) is worried. Yet she says she is not, because
her love is greater than her tongue (her love is greater
than her ability to talk about it).
Cordelia in an aside says: "Then, poor Cordelia! And
yet not so; since, I am sure, my love's / More richer
than my tongue" (Lines 79-80).
Next Cordelia, whom Lear describes as his youngest
daughter and whose hand in marriage is valued by both
the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy is asked
When Lear asks Cordelia to match her sisters sweet
words, she replies with the words "Nothing, my lord"
(Line 89). Incredulous (amazed), Lear tells his daughter,
"Nothing will come of nothing:" asking her
to "speak again" (Line 92).
Cordelia explains that she cannot heave her heart into
her mouth. Lear tells his daughter to "mend [change]
your speech / a little, / Lest you mar your fortunes"
(least you ruin your own wealth or fortune), (Line 96).
Cordelia explains that while she loves her father,
she cannot love her father totally as her sisters have
said since she must also love her husband.
Lear, unhappy, decides in anger to let her honesty
be her dower and gives her nothing, disowning her in
the process and giving her third of the kingdom to both
Goneril and Regan. With one hundred knights as company
and protection, Lear intends to stay at the castles
of Regan and Goneril, switching hosts every month (Lines
The Earl of Kent tries to intervene but his continued
questioning of the King's wisdom earns him banishment
(Lines 122-163). Gloucester returns with the Duke of
Burgundy and the King of France. Both have sought Cordelia's
hand in marriage. Upon learning of Cordelia's fall from
grace, The Duke of Burgundy decides not to marry Cordelia
and leaves (Lines 208-215, 244-250).
Cordelia makes an important speech, revealing her character
when she says to Lear that she lacks "that glib
and oily art / To speak and purpose not; since what
I well intend, / I'll do't before I speak-" (that
art to say what you do not mean since I will do something
before I'll say it), (Line 227) a pointed attack on
her two faced sisters, Regan and Goneril.
Cordelia upon learning that she is now to be dowerless
and learning that the Duke of Burgundy is now no longer
interested in her, says "Peace be with Burgundy!
Since that respects of fortune are his love (since all
he loves is fortune), / I shall not be his wife"
The King of France, understanding the value of true
integrity takes Cordelia now dowerless to be his Queen.
Cordelia accepts and reluctantly leaves her father,
hoping her sisters will treat her father well (Lines
270-277). Regan replies "Prescribe not us our duties"
(do not proscribe or tell us our duties / we know them),
Goneril and Regan now plot. Both are concerned about
Lear's rash actions and agree to "further think on't"
(think about it further), (Line 311).
Act I. Scene II. - A Hall in the Earl of Gloucester's
Edmund: "Edmund the base / Shall top the legitimate:-I
grow, I prosper; / Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"
Edmund the loved but illegitimate son of the Earl
of Gloucester plots to have his elder brother Edgar's
reputation ruined. Edmund tricks his father Gloucester
into believing that Edgar wanted to kill him...
Edmund enters with a letter. He is annoyed that he
is deemed less worthy than his brother Edgar merely
because he is illegitimate (Lines 1-22).
With his letter he intends to change his fortunes:
"if this letter speed, / And my invention thrive, Edmund
the base / Shall top the legitimate:-I grow, I prosper;
/ Now, gods, stand up for bastards!" (if this letter
is quick and my imagination and invention thrive or
grow, Edmund the base or lowly shall topple the legitimate,
Edgar: I grow, I prosper; now gods, stand up for us
bastards!), (Line 19-22).
Gloucester now arrives and Edmund answers to Gloucester
that he is reading a letter. Intrigued, Gloucester wants
to know what it is about.
After some delay, Edmund lets Gloucester read the letter
(Lines 50-60). It suggests that Gloucester be killed
and that the two brothers share Gloucester's fortune.
Allegedly Edmund found it "thrown in at the casement
of my closet" (thrown into my closet), (Line 66).
Enraged, Gloucester asks Edmund to find his traitorous
brother. Edgar now arrives and Edmund suggests he leave
immediately since Edmund fears his father is quite displeased
with him. Edmund suggests Edgar flee. Edgar does so.
Now alone, Edmund scoffs at how "My practices [manipulations]
ride easy!" or are so easy to achieve with "A
credulous [gullible] father, and a brother noble,"
Act I. Scene III. - A Room in the Duke of Albany's
Goneril conspires to have her guest and her father,
King Lear driven out of her house.
Goneril and her steward Oswald discuss Lear's behavior.
When Goneril asks if Lear hit one of her gentlemen for
chiding his fool, Oswald confirms that the story is
true. Goneril claims Lear continuously wrongs her, "By
day and night he wrongs me;" (Line 4). She tells Oswald
to make excuses should Lear ask for her, and tells him
if he offends Lear he will do well by her (Line 9).
Goneril: "If you come slack of former services, / You
shall do well; the fault of it I'll answer" (Line 11).
With Lear arriving, she instructs Oswald to make an
excuse for her not seeing him (Lines 12-16). She tells
Oswald to "let his [Lear's] knights have colder looks
among you;" (give the knights cold looks), (Line 22),
earlier arguing that if Lear is unhappy, he may go to
her sister "Whose mind and mine, I know, in that are
one, / Not to be over-rul'd" (who like me, is not easily
overruled or pushed about), (Line 16).
Goneril belittles (insults) the foolishness of Lear
giving away his powers, describing him as that "Idle
old man, / That still would manage those authorities
/ That he hath given away!" (an idle old man that would
still try to control that which he has given away),
She argues that in Lear, "Old fools are babes [babies]
again, and must be us'd / With cheeks as flatteries,
when they are seen abus'd" (old fools are like babies
again, and must be used with cheeks as flatteries when
they are abused), (Line 20).
Act I. Scene IV. - A Hall in the Same.
King Lear: "How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show!"
The disguised Kent earns King Lear's respect
by defending his name. Goneril offends King Lear and
dismisses fifty of his knights. Lear starts to realize
Cordelia was not so disrespecting. Lear decides to leave
Goneril for Regan where he is sure to be treated properly...
Kent enters disguised. Upon meeting Lear he is allowed
to follow the King since Kent argues that "I can keep
honest counsel [give honest opinion], ride, run, mar
a curious tale in telling it, and deliver a plain message
bluntly;" (Lines 34-36). Lear asks Oswald for his daughter.
The steward (Oswald) ignores Lear infuriating him. Lear
sends one of his knights after Oswald to get a straight
answer, the particular Knight returning without Oswald
and commenting that Lear is not being accorded his normal
respect (Lines 56-85). When Oswald is asked by Lear
who he is, Oswald replies "My lady's father" not the
King and Lear hits Oswald in rage (Line 87-104).
Kent earns the infuriated Lear's respect by tripping
the disrespectful Oswald (Lines 86-104). The Fool now
enters and in his first statement, criticizes Lear's
foolishness with his daughters (Line 110-118).
At one point Lear angrily asks, "Dost thou call
me fool, boy?" to which the Fool, always wiser
than he appears, replies, "All thy [your] other
titles thou [you] hast [have] given away; that thou
[you] wast [were] born with" (Lines 164-165).
The Fool continues to tell truth in riddle until Goneril
arrives (Lines 119-208). Goneril scolds Lear for the
riotous behavior of his knights, "Men so disorder'd,
so debosh'd, and bold, / That this our court, infected
with their manners, / Shows like a riotous inn:" (men
so disordered and bold, that this court, infected by
their presence looks like a riotous inn), (Lines 265-267).
Albany arrives, defending his Lady. Calling Goneril
a "Detested kite!" (Line 286), Lear realizes his folly
in punishing Cordelia, saying to himself, "How ugly
didst thou in Cordelia show!" (how ugly and nasty was
I to Cordelia), (Line 290).
Lear now makes the famous expression of the pain of
thankless children when he exclaims, "How sharper than
a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child!"
(Act I, Scene IV, Line 312).
Lear curses Goneril, hoping that she will become sterile
or worse (Lines 298-313). Lear later learns that Goneril
has dismissed fifty of his followers and decides to
go to Regan whom he is sure "is kind and comfortable:"
(Line 330). Goneril fears the power of Lear with one
hundred knights and tells Oswald to dispatch a letter
to her sister.
Act I. Scene V. - Court before the Same.
Lear instructs Kent to deliver several letters to Gloucester.
The Fool teaches Lear several riddles (Lines 8-52).