King Lear characters guide studies each  player's role and motivation in this famous play
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King Lear Characters

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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 312).

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, Line 80).

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 pathetic entourage.

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