King Lear summary

Conversation between Kent, Gloucester and Edmund in Lear’s palace. Lear divides his kingdom between his daughters as determined by their declarations of love for him. Cordelia refuses to play along, and Lear disowns her. Kent tries to persuade Lear to rethink his rash decision, but Lear banishes him. The King of France claims Cordelia despite her having no dowry.When Goneril and Regan are alone they discuss their plan to discredit Lear. Act 1, Scene 1
Edmund asks why he is perceived as inferior to Edgar because of his illegitimacy.He reveals his plan to steal Edgar’s power.He presents a forged letter to Gloucester, causing him to believe that Edgar is plotting to kill him. Act 1, Scene 2
Set in the palace of Goneril and Albany, where the behaviour of Lear’s knights is causing a disturbance.Oswald tells Goneril that Lear struck him for making fun of his Fool.Goneril is enraged, and orders Oswald to neglect Lear. Act 1, Scene 3
Kent reappears in Goneril and Albany’s palace, disguised as Caius.Lear enters and begins asking Kent questions about his identity and intent.Lear is impressed by Kent’s admiration.Lear asks to see Goneril, but Oswald leaves without responding.A knight reports that Goneril is ill, and also that the members of her household are treating Lear’s entourage badly.In anger, Lear declares that he is moving to Regan and Cornwall’s palace. Act 1, Scene 4
Outside Goneril’s palace, Lear instructs Kent to deliver a letter to Regan’s palace.The Fool attempts to distract Lear with silly remarks.Lear begins to regret his treatment of Cordelia, and expresses his first concerns about his sanity.Lear sets off to Regan and Cornwall’s palace. Act 1, Scene 5
At Gloucester’s castle, Edmund is told by a courier that Regan and Cornwall will be arriving that evening.He is also informed of a potential feud between Cornwall and Albany.Edmund encourages Edgar to flee because Cornwall suspects that Edgar aided Albany.Edmund engages Edgar in a fake battle, and intentionally wounds himself to earn Gloucester’s sympathy.Gloucester pledges to find and kill Edgar, and makes Edmund his new heir.Regan and Cornwall enter, and join forces with Edmund after quickly falling for his story. Act 2, Scene 1
Outside Gloucester’s castle, Kent and Oswald arrive separately to deliver letters to Regan.Oswald does not immediately recognise Kent, and is confused when Kent condemns his lack of integrity and draws his sword at him.Regan, Cornwall, Gloucester and Edmund come after hearing Oswald’s cries for help.Cornwall defends Oswald and orders that Kent be put in the stocks.Gloucester intervenes, telling Regan and Cornwall that Lear will see this act against his messenger as a direct insult, but Regan argues that insulting Goneril’s steward is a greater offence.All exit but Gloucester, who apologises to Kent for his mistreatment.Left alone in the stocks, Kent reads a letter he has received from Cordelia, which promises that she will somehow intervene on her father’s behalf. Act 2, Scene 2
Edgar is alone in the woods, fleeing from his Gloucester and Cornwall’s men.He knows that in order to remain free he must use a disguise, and dresses as a Bedlam beggar named Poor Tom. Act 2, Scene 3
Lear arrives at Gloucester’s castle to find Kent in the stocks.Lear refuses to believe that Regan and Cornwall would imprison and humiliate someone in his employ.Regan and Cornwall decline speaking to Lear, claiming fatigue from their journey.While Gloucester searches for the couple and secure’s Kent’s release, the Fool provides a commentary on the events so far.Brought to Lear by Gloucester, Regan greets her father with seeming affection, and Lear describes the sorrow that Goneril has caused him.Regan urges Lear to restrain himself and seek Goneril’s forgiveness, which angers him greatly.With Oswald and Goneril now present, Cornwall admits to Lear that he ordered Kent’s punishment.Regan refuses to accommodate her father and his men.Goneril suggests that Lear dismiss his entire entourage.Angered, Lear declares that he would rather sleep outside or beg shelter in France than stay with those who disrespect his role as king.Regan and Goneril allow Lear to leave the palace to spend the night in the storm, instructing Gloucester not to try to stop him. Act 2, Scene 4
On the heath in a raging storm, a gentleman informs Kent that Lear and his Fool are out in the storm.Kent is also told that the King of France is moving with an invasion force to offer assistance to Lear.Kent instructs the gentleman to go to Dover and make known the treatment that Lear has suffered.He also gives him a ring to give to Cordelia, which will reveal his identity to her.Kent leaves to search for Lear. Act 3, Scene 1
On the heath, Lear’s mood matches the intensity of the storm as he rages against his daughters’ treatment of him.The Fool attempts to reason with Lear, encouraging him to go back to Gloucester’s castle, but Lear refuses to submit to his daughters.Kent arrives and points Lear and the Fool in the direction of a hovel, while he returns to Gloucester’s castle to ask that they admit Lear.The Fool remains on stage alone to proclaim a prophecy. Act 3, Scene 2
Gloucester and Edmund are conversing in Gloucester’s castle.Gloucester tells Edmund that when he asked Regan and Cornwall to leave so that he might offer aid to Lear, they seized the castle from him – he is now a prisoner in his own home.Gloucester also tells Edmund that he has heard of a plan to revenge Lear’s mistreatment, unaware that he is sharing the plan with a traitor.Alone, Edmund plans to gain Cornwall’s favour by revealing the plan he has heard. Act 3, Scene 3
In the storm, Lear refuses to enter the hovel.The Fool runs from the hovel, exclaiming that he has seen a spirit.Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom appears from the hovel.Lear strips off his clothes, making himself look more like Poor Tom.Gloucester enters the scene, announcing that he has found warm shelter and food for the king, but Lear declines, claiming that he needs to talk more with Poor Tom.Everyone moves into the hovel. Act 3, Scene 4
At Gloucester’s castle, Edmund betrays Gloucester by revealing to Cornwall the French plan to aid Lear.As a reward, Cornwall promises Edmund Gloucester’s title and lands. Act 3, Scene 5
Leaving Lear, the Fool and Edgar in a farmhouse near his castle, Gloucester goes out to find food.The Fool and Edgar take part in Lear’s mock trial of Goneril and Regan.Gloucester reenters and reveals that he has heard of a plot to kill Lear.The group prepares to take Lear to safety in Dover. Act 3, Scene 6
In Gloucester’s castle, Cornwall dispatches Goneril with a letter to Albany, telling him of the invasion by the King of France.Cornwall orders Gloucester to be found and brought to him.Edmund is told to accompany Goneril so that he is not present for Gloucester’s punishment, but before they can leave, Oswald enters with news that Gloucester has warned the Lear and aided his escape to Dover.Gloucester appears on the scene, and Cornwall orders him to be bound to a chair.Regan viciously plucks at Gloucester’s beard, calling him a traitor.Cornwall gouges out one of Gloucester’s eyes.A servant tries to stop the torture, Regan draws a sword and murders him.Cornwall gouges out Gloucester’s other eye.Gloucester calls out to Edmund for help, and Regan reveals that it was Edmund who betrayed him, not Edgar.Gloucester is thrown out.Regan tends the wounds that Cornwall sustained during the torture, and then they both leave for Dover. Act 3, Scene 7
On the heath, Gloucester is lead by an old man, one of his tenants.Gloucester laments that he treated Edgar so badly and wishes for the opportunity to touch his son as he can no longer see him.Gloucester hears the voice of Poor Tom, and sends the old man to go fetch him some clothes.Gloucester is concerned that the old man might suffer for giving him assistance, so dismisses him and asks Poor Tom to guide him to Dover’s highest cliff, who agrees. Act 4, Scene 1
Goneril and Edmund are inside Goneril and Albany’s palace.Oswald enters with news that Albany was pleased to learn of the invasion by France and displeased when he learned that Gloucester had been replaced by Edmund.Goneril takes command of her forces and orders Edmund to return to Regan and Cornwall while she deals with Albany.Goneril gives Edmund a favour of her affection and a farewell kiss.After Edmund leaves, Goneril remarks on how she prefers Edmund to her weakling husband.Albany enters and accuses Goneril of being an unnatural daughter, a tiger who has attacked her aged father.A messenger enters with the announcement that Cornwall has died from his injuries from Gloucester’s blinding.Albany is shocked to hear of Gloucester’s torture and calls Cornwall’s death divine justice.Albany vows revenge against Edmund for leaving Gloucester at the mercy of Cornwall. Act 4, Scene 2
At the French camp near Dover, Kent hears that the King of France has been forced to return to his country.Kent asks a gentleman if Cordelia showed any emotions when reading the letters from him – she apparently kept her feelings under control.Kent remarks on how different Cordelia is from her sisters.Kent states that he will bring the gentleman to Lear in Dover, and that in good time he will reveal his true identity. Act 4, Scene 3
At the French camp near Dover, Cordelia is now responsible for leading the French army in its defence of Lear.Having heard of Lear’s deteriorating mental condition, she sends an officer to search for him.She asks a doctor if there is any way that Lear’s sanity could be restored and prays that his mind has not been lost forever.A messenger arrives with news of the English army’s arrival, and Cordelia prepares to use the French forces to defend Lear. Act 4, Scene 4
In Gloucester’s castle, Oswald informs Regan that Albany’s forces have been deployed, but with much reluctance.Regan is more interested in the letter that Oswald carries from Goneril to Edmund, and insists that it be given to her because she is aware of Goneril’s amorous glances towards Edmund.Regan tells Oswald that Edmund is to be reserved for her, since she is now a widow.Regan also directs Oswald to kill Gloucester if he finds him. Act 4, Scene 5
In the Dover countryside, the disguised Edgar leads Gloucester to an area that he assures Gloucester is near the cliffs.Gloucester thanks Edgar and gives him a jewel as a reward for having fulfilled his service.Delivering a final prayer, Gloucester falls forward and loses consciousness.When Gloucester awakens, Edgar easily convinces Gloucester that the gods have saved Gloucester from death.Accepting this explanation, Gloucester vows to be more accepting of the afflictions he endures.Lear enters, babbling madly, and Gloucester recognises his voice.A gentleman and servants arrive, having been sent by Cordelia to find Lear.Lear is frightened and runs from his rescuers.Before running after Lear, the gentleman informs Edgar that a battle is imminent, as both forces are nearby.As Edgar prepares to lead Gloucester to safety, Oswald enters, exclaiming that he must kill Gloucester.Edgar and Oswald fight, ending in Oswald’s death.Dying, Oswald begs Edgar to take his letters to Edmund. Act 4, Scene 6
In a tent in the French camp, Cordelia expresses her gratitude to Kent for his services.A sleeping Lear is brought to the tent, where Cordelia welcomes him.Awakening, Lear asks if he is in France, but Kent assures him that he is in his own kingdom.Lear, Cordelia and a doctor exit, leaving Kent and a gentleman to discuss the most recent military developments. Act 4, Scene 7
Regan, Edmund and their army gather in the British camp near Dover.Regan quizzes Edmund about his feelings for Goneril, and Edmund promises that he will not be intimate with Goneril.Goneril and Albany enter and Albany states that he intends to defend the kingdom against the French invaders.Goneril asserts that the fight is not a domestic squabble, but a defence against an outside enemy.A still-disguised Edgar enters and hands Albany the letters he retrieved from Oswald’s body, containing an order from Goneril for Edmund to kill her husband.Edgar leaves, and Edmund enters with news that the French forces are near. Act 5, Scene 1
In a field between the British and French camps, Cordelia, Lear and their forces move towards the battle.Edgar enters, still in disguise, looking for a safe place for Gloucester to wait out the conflict.After placing Gloucester in a sheltered spot, Edgar leaves, and the sounds of battle are heard.A few moments later Edgar returns and orders Gloucester to follow him to a more secure spot because the French forces have lost, and Lear and Cordelia have been taken prisoner. Act 5, Scene 2
In the British camp near Dover, Lear and Cordelia are led in as prisoners, with Edmund as their jailer.As Lear and Cordelia are led off to prison, Edmund hands a note to an officer and orders that the note’s instructions be followed immediately.Albany, Goneril and Regan join Edmund, and Albany demands that Lear and Cordelia be turned over to him.Edmund resists, saying that Lear and Cordelia will be held in safekeeping so that their presence does not divide their soldiers’ loyalty.Albany orders Edmund and Goneril to be arrested for treason.Albany requests any man who is willing to support the charges against Edmund to appear.Edgar enters in disguise, assuring Albany that he is as noble as Edmund.Edgar and Edmund fight, and Edmund falls.Goneril announces that Edmund has been betrayed.Albany reveals the letter from Goneril to Edmund ordering Albany’s murder, which Goneril does not deny and flees.Edmund does not deny the charges against him.Edgar reveals his identity and tells Edmund of recent events, including the news that after disclosing his true identity to Gloucester, his heart proved too weak to survive the news and he died.Edgar also reports that Kent has been in disguise, having been close enough to help Lear during the recent period.A gentleman enters with the news that Goneril has killed herself, but not before poisoning Regan, who is now also dead.When Albany discovers Goneril’s plan to have Lear and Cordelia killed he quickly orders an officer to intervene, but it is too late.Lear enters with a dead Cordelia in his arms.Albany recognises that Lear is king and will be served by his loyal subjects, but within moments Lear also dies.Albany informs Kent and Edgar that they both now must run the kingdom together, but Kent replies that he must soon leave this world to join his master.Edgar is left to speak of the sad weight of these events, which everyone must now endure. Act 5, Scene 3

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