King Lear Summary provides a quick overview of the plot describing every major event in this play
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King Lear Summary

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King Lear Summary provides a quick review of the play's plot including every important action in the play. King Lear Summary is divided by the five acts of the play and is an ideal introduction before reading the original text.

Act I.

Shakespeare's dark tragedy, King Lear begins with the fictional King of England, King Lear, handing over his kingdom to daughters Regan and Goneril whom he believes truly love him. King Lear intends to stay with each daughter consecutively, accompanied by one hundred loyal knights.

Angry that Cordelia his youngest daughter does not appear to love him as do Goneril and Regan, Lear banishes his youngest daughter Cordelia, and Kent, the servant who attempts to defend her. Cordelia leaves and is taken by the King of France as his Queen...

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...

The disrespectful Goneril conspires to have her guest and father, King Lear, driven out of her house.

Kent, who has now disguised his identity to serve King Lear, 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 for Regan where he is sure to be treated properly...

Lear instructs Kent to deliver several letters to Gloucester. The Fool teaches Lear several riddles.

Act II.

We learn of possible conflict between evil sisters Regan and Goneril. Edmund further manipulates Edgar. Gloucester learns from Edmund of Edgar's plan to kill him and believes it...

Kent and Oswald, Goneril's steward fight. Kent is placed in stocks emphasizing just how little Lear's name is now respected by daughters Regan and Goneril...

Edgar, now alone and disguised, describes his fate of living in hiding.

Showing complete disregard for King Lear's authority, Kent remains in stocks. Lear tells Regan how much Goneril has hurt him. Regan in consultation with Goneril, allows Lear to stay but without a single follower. Lear decides not to stay with either daughter...

Act III.

The King of France may well invade England. Kent sends a messenger to Cordelia to keep her aware of King Lear's plight... Lear braves the elements against a storm, no doubt symbolic of his tortured soul...

Gloucester lets slip to his traitorous son Edmund that the army of France is poised to invade, guaranteeing Gloucester's own future suffering. We learn more of a potential conflict between Regan and Goneril, centering on their husbands...

Lear is brought out of the elements. Lear explains that nature's physical torment of him distracted him from the pain his daughters have given him.

Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son, makes his appearance, disguised as "poor Tom." Cornwall, Regan's husband and Edmund speak. After implicating his father Gloucester as a traitor against Cornwall, Edmund is rewarded for betraying his father Gloucester by receiving his father's title as the new Earl of Gloucester.

Cornwall tells Edmund to seek out his father saying "he may be ready for our apprehension" or punishment.

Lear and company find solace and safety in a farmhouse. Lear, showing signs of madness, holds a mock trial to punish his daughters addressing two joint stools as if they were Regan and Goneril. Kent leads Lear to Dover where he will be safe...

Gloucester is captured and tortured first having his beard ripped away and later being made blind. Unable to bear Cornwall's brutality any longer, a servant wounds Cornwall...

Act IV.

Gloucester now blind, realizes in his suffering his mistakes, especially about his son Edgar. Gloucester meets "poor Tom" not realizing it is Edgar in disguise. Edgar leads his father to the cliffs of Dover where his father wishes to commit suicide.

The Duke of Albany renounces his wife Goneril, realizing that he has been on the wrong side... The Duke of Cornwall (Regan's husband) is now dead. The rivalry for Edmund by Regan and Goneril intensifies.

Kent wonders how Cordelia can be so good and her sisters so evil. The King of France will not oversee the battle about to begin. Cordelia is saddened by what she learns of King Lear's plight...

Cordelia has her men search for her father... With the battle almost about to start, we learn Albany has switched sides again, supporting Goneril and Regan's forces against the invading French.

Regan worries more about her sister's intentions for Edmund more than the battle that lies ahead... Edgar continues to lead his father to the cliffs of Dover where he tricks him that he miraculously survived his fall. Lear learns of Gloucester's blindness.

Edgar kills Oswald when he attempts to kill Gloucester. Oswald's letter, which comes from Goneril, reveals instructions for Edmund to kill her husband, The Duke of Albany so she may marry him. Cordelia finds her father Lear who deeply regrets how he treated her...

Act V.

Regan and Goneril put Edmund on the spot by demanding he choose for once and for all, which one of them he loves. Albany decides to fight on Regan and Goneril's side but only to fight an invading power (France).

Cordelia's forces lose to Goneril and Regan's and Cordelia and Lear are taken prisoner. Captured, King Lear tries to comfort Cordelia. Albany congratulates his allies but now turns on them. Edgar fights his brother Edmund, mortally wounding him. Goneril kills herself and poisons sister Regan.

Edgar reveals his true identity to Gloucester who dies from a heart unable to take both grief and joy. Albany and the dying Edmund try to prevent Lear and Cordelia being hanged but are too late for Cordelia.

Lear howls with pain his loss of Cordelia. Kent is finally recognized for his loyalty by Lear. Lear, unable to take further pain, dies. Albany is left to restore order following this tragedy...

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