King Lear Characters guide studies each character's
role and motivation in this play.
Lear, King of England: The tired ruler of England,
his plan to divide his kingdom between his three daughters
and then place his welfare in their trust leads to his
humiliation and total loss of power at the hands of
his cruel daughters, Regan and Goneril. He misjudges
all those around him in the first act, banishing those
who care for him the most whilst rewarding those whose
kind words prove false. Only after enduring multiple
humiliations and betrayals does Lear gain true wisdom
and insight, only to die soon thereafter.
Goneril (wife to The Duke of Albany): Lear's
selfish, ruthless daughter. When Lear asks her to profess
her love for him before he gives her part of his kingdom,
she professes great love for Lear, "Sir, I love you
more than words can wield the matter;" (Act I, Scene
I, Line 57). Yet, once Lear has given her half his kingdom,
she shirks her obligations to host King Lear by making
life so miserable at her castle that King Lear has no
choice but to disown her.
The famous expression of the pain of thankless children
originates in King Lear's comments of Goneril, when
he exclaims, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it
is / To have a thankless child!" (Act I, Scene IV, Line
Regan (wife to The Duke of Cornwall): The second
of King Lear's daughters to falsely profess her love
then betray Lear. She professes that she is "made of
that self metal as my sister", adding that "I profess
/ Myself an enemy to all other joys / Which the most
precious square of sense possesses
In your dear
highness' love" (Act I Scene I, Lines 71-78). She too
betrays Lear, denying him her castle on the terms obliged
by her as a loyal daughter.
Cordelia: Lear's youngest daughter, she refuses
to profess blinding love for her father, instead offering
only that which is true. When pushed by Lear to profess
her love, she exclaims that "I cannot heave / My heart
into my mouth: I love your majesty / According to my
bond; nor more nor less" (Act I, Scene I, Line 93).
Unlike her sisters, Cordelia does not and will not
use "that glib and oily art" of her sisters "To speak
and purpose not;" (to say what one does not mean), (Act
I, Scene I, Lines 228-229).
In return for not lying as her sisters have done, she
is banished by Lear and given nothing. Only later does
Lear learn the truth that Cordelia's love for him is
indeed "More richer than my tongue" (Act I, Scene I,
Duke of Burgundy: A suitor for Cordelia's hand,
he stops seeking Cordelia's hand in marriage when Lear
makes it clear that she no longer highly esteemed in
Lear's eyes. Cordelia rejects this Duke for whom wealth
is so important.
King of France: The second suitor for Cordelia.
Upon learning of Cordelia's fall from favor (wealth),
this King who can respect Cordelia's integrity, takes
her as his queen. The King of France's comments in Act
I, Scene I makes this clear:
"Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor;
/ Most choice, forsaken; and most lov'd, despis'd! Thee
and thy virtues here I seize upon:" (Line 253).
Duke of Cornwall (Regan's husband): The
husband of Regan, she matches his wife in his capacity
for ruthlessness and calculated cruelty. When Regan
pulls out Gloucester's beard, he matches her by putting
out Gloucester's eyes. Such is his barbarity that one
of his servants stabs him, being unable to tolerate
further his master's inhumanity.
Duke of Albany (Goneril's husband): As
the husband of Goneril, this Duke initially supports
the cruel actions of his wife. With time, however, he
grows increasingly hostile towards the cruelty of his
wife, becoming an agent of good by the play's conclusion.
Earl of Kent: A loyal servant of Lear, he is
banished by Lear for pleading a reconsideration of Cordelia's
fate. Despite the threat of death, he serves his King
faithfully in disguise.
Earl of Gloucester (Father of Edgar and illegitimately,
Edmund): An ally of Lear, only after he is blinded,
does this man gain true insight and wisdom. Parallels
Lear's character in his initial gullibility and poor
judgment of character in this play. Dies at the end
of the play from the duel emotions of grief and joy
when he learns that "poor Tom" who was protecting
him was Edgar all along...
Edgar, son of Gloucester: As the loyal son of
his father (the Earl of Gloucester), he suffers greatly
from his father's poor judgment of character. Trusting
his brother, he is character assassinated (lied about)
by his brother Edgar and forced to flee to survive.
Like Cordelia, he comforts his father in his hour of
despair, but most do so in disguise despite his father
realizing his truly virtuous nature.
Edmund, illegitimate son of Gloucester: The
illegitimate son of Gloucester, he is loved as equally
as his brother. Despite this, he frames his brother
as a would be father murderer, and betrays his father
in order to gain favor with Regan and Goneril. Also
the source of romantic rivalry between Regan and Goneril.
Curan: A Coutier
Oswald: Steward to Goneril, he mistreats both
King Lear and his entourage to provoke Lear into leaving
his master's (Goneril's) castle. Killed by Edgar when
he attempts to kill the now blind and harmless Gloucester.
Old Man: Tenant to Gloucester.
Fool: One of the most famous characters in the
play, his comic asides often reveal the very foolishness
of Lear's actions. His words are often ironically the
only source of wisdom, coherence and insight in Lear's