In the King Lear summary we learn about Shakespeare’s King Lear a play which is based upon the mythological Celtic king of Britain King Leir. As a tragedy with psychological overtones, the play marks the descent of King Lear into madness brought upon by the cruel behavior of his two daughters whose false flattery incites him to bequeath a considerable portion of his wealth to both. King Lear indulges in the themes of human nature, greed, betrayal; cruelty and lack of maternal love not present in the daughters but Lear himself, hence his intentions to please them so that he would be taken care of in his old age. Sigmund Freud was especially interested in the symbolism of his third daughter Cordelia’s death which he felt helps Lear come to terms with the concept of ultimate death.
King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces and has been adapted many times over for both stage and screen.
King Lear Summary Act I
The tragedy begins with Lear bequeathing his kingdom in equal portions to both his daughters Regan and Goneril whom he feels are true in their declarations of love for him. His third daughter Cordelia on the other hand incurs his wrath for stating that she loves him like a daughter should love a father. He banishes her and the Earl of Kent who speaks on Cordelia’s behalf. Shakespeare’s tragic irony is at its best in Lear’s oath against Cordelia
“The mysteries of Hecate, and the night; / By all the operation of the orbs / From whom we do exist and cease to be…..(act i, i, 109-119)
The King of France sympathizes with Cordelia and proposes marriage to her which she accepts.
Lear plans to stay alternately with both daughters Goneril and her husband the Duke of Albany and Regan who is married to the Duke of Cornwall. Lear plans to take with him a retinue of 100 loyal Knights.
Meanwhile in what appears to be a sub plot of the play, Edmund the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester plans to usurp his elder brother Edgar. He plots to ruin Edgar’s reputation in the eyes of their father the earl of Gloucester. Edmund succeeds in tricking his father into believing that Edgar is plotting to murder him.
Goneril plans to throw Lear out of her house along with his knights. She is disrespectful to Lear and reduces his retinue by Fifty Knights. An angry Lear realizes his mistake with Cordelia. He leaves for Regan’s house where he hopes he will be treated in a better manner. He uses the metaphor of a vulture to describe Goneril and her behavior “Detested kite! Thou liest… (act i, iv, 256) Kent returns disguised as Caius and gains favor with Lear who takes him in as a servant. Lear sends Kent on a mission to deliver letters to the Earl of Gloucester. In act 1 the biggest literary device is the sense of inversion where Lear chooses betrayal and greed over truth love and honesty. This is the biggest dramatic irony in the play.