- Act 1, Scene 1
- Enter KENT, GLOUCESTER, and EDMUND: Gloucester and Kent discuss King Lear's plans regarding the division of the kingdom. Gloucester introduces his bastard son, Edmund.
|King Lear and Daughters, From the Northumberland Bestiary, c.1250|
|Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles blog.metmuseum.org|
- Sennet. Enter KING LEAR, CORNWALL, ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN, CORDELIA: King Lear attempts to divide his kingdom in thirds, but when his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to flatter him, he disowns her and divides his kingdom in halfgiving half to each of Cordelia's older sisters, Goneril and Regan.
- Exeunt [KING of] FRANCE and CORDELIA: After Cordelia leaves for France with her new fiancÚ, the King of France, Goneril and Regan agree they must do something to keep their father, King Lear, from getting too demanding.
- Act 1, Scene 2
- Enter Bastard [EDMUND, with a letter]: Edmund the bastard proclaims the dignity of bastards and tells us that he intends to do his brother Edgar out of his inheritance.
- Enter GLOUCESTER: Edmund persuades his father that Edgar is plotting against his life.
- Exit [GLOUCESTER]: Edmund delivers a monologue about what fools are those (such as his father, Gloucester) who believe that the stars determine their fate.
- Enter EDGAR: Edmund persuades Edgar that their father is so angry that Edgar's life is in danger. Edmund warns, "hear my lord speak. Pray ye, go; there's my key.
If you do stir abroad, go armed." Edmund gives his brother his house key for access to a hideout from their father.
- Exit [EDGAR]: Edmund congratulates himself on his plot to do his brother out of his inheritance.
- Act 1, Scene 3
- Enter GONERIL, and [OSWALD, her] steward: Goneril instructs her steward to treat her father, King Lear, with disrespect, so that the king will take offense and Goneril will have an excuse to take him down a notch or two.
- Act 1, Scene 4
- Enter KENT [disguised]: Kent, in disguise, requests the privilege of serving King Lear, and earns it by harassing Oswald, Goneril's steward.
- Enter Fool: The Fool, by means of jests, riddles, and scraps of old songs, tells King Lear that he has made a big mistake in giving authority to his daughters Goneril and Regan.
- Enter GONERIL: Goneril informs her father, King Lear, that he must reduce the number of his cohort of knights. He denounces her and rushes off to find better treatment at the hands of Regan, his second daughter.
- Exit [Fool]: Goneril tells her husband, the Duke of Albany, that she has done the right thing, and that her sister will follow her lead. The Duke of Albany withholds judgment.
- Act 1, Scene 5
- Enter LEAR, KENT [disguised as Caius], and Fool: King Lear sends a message to his daughter Regan, and the Fool teases Lear about his foolishness in giving away his kingdom to his daughters.
- Act 2, Scene 1
- Enter Bastard [EDMUND] and CURAN meets him: Edmund persuades his brother Edgar that he is in imminent danger and must flee. As soon as Edgar is gone, Edmund wounds himself on the arm as proof that he fought the villain Edgar.
- Enter GLOUCESTER, and Servants with torches: Edmund inflames his father Gloucester with a tale of Edgar's villainy and his own virtue.
- Enter CORNWALL, REGAN, and Attendants: Cornwall and Regan praise Edmund's virtue, condemn Edgar's vice, and tell Gloucester that they need his advice on a matter of great importance.
- Act 2, Scene 2
- Enter KENT [disguised as Caius] and Steward [OSWALD] severally: At Gloucester's house, Kent pours out his anger and contempt for Oswald, the messenger from Lear's oldest daughter, Goneril.
- [Enter] CORNWALL, REGAN, GLOUCESTER, and Servants: The Duke of Cornwall and his Duchess, Regan, King Lear's second daughter, demand that Kent stop his harassment of Oswald; Kent refuses, and Cornwall has him put in stocks.
- Act 2, Scene 3
- Enter EDGAR: Edgar, who has been proclaimed an outlaw by his father Gloucester, disguises himself as a mad beggar, "Poor Tom."
- Act 2, Scene 4
- Enter KING LEAR, Fool, and Gentleman: King Lear enters the courtyard of Gloucester's house and discovers that Kent has been put in stocks. Not believing that his daughter Regan and son-in-law Cornwall could show so much disrespect, Lear storms off to speak to them.
|Fool: "Ha, ha! he wears cruel garters."|
King Lear with the fool, speaking to Kent who Cornwall has put in stocks, a great insult to the king's messenger
|Source: from William Shakespeare, Richard Grant White Little, Brown and company, Illustrated by Gordon Browne, 1872 books.google.com|
- Exit KING LEAR: The Fool makes ironic comments about how no one but himself can see what is going on.
- Enter KING LEAR and GLOUCESTER: King Lear is in a rage because Regan and Cornwall have refused to see him, giving the excuse that they are sick and tired. Finally, Gloucester goes back in to speak with Regan and Cornwall.
- Enter CORNWALL, REGAN, GLOUCESTER, and Servants: Lear complains to Regan about Goneril's treatment of him, and curses her, but Regan replies that Lear should return to Goneril and ask her forgiveness.
- Enter GONERIL: King Lear expects Regan to side with him against Goneril, but Regan and Goneril team up against their father and make it clear that they won't allow him to have 100, or 50, or 25, or any knights at all. King Lear rushes out into the stormy night, accompanied only by Gloucester, the Fool, and a gentleman.
- Exeunt LEAR, GLOUCESTER, Gentleman, and Fool: Regan and Cornwall tell each other that they are right in leaving King Lear out in the storm. Gloucester returns greatly worried about Lear, but Cornwall tells him to shut his doors to the king.
- Act 3, Scene 1
- Storm still. Enter KENT [disguised as Caius] and a Gentleman, severally: Kent learns from the gentleman that King Lear is out in the storm, accompanied only by the Fool. Kent informs the gentleman that there is a quarrel brewing between the Duke of Albany (Goneril's husband) and the Duke of Cornwall (Regan's husband) and also that the King of France (Cordelia's husband) is about to invade England. Kent sends the gentleman to Dover to report Goneril and Regan's mistreatment of King Lear.
- Act 3, Scene 2
- Enter KING LEAR and Fool: King Lear rages against the raging storm, and the Fool tries to persuade him to find some shelter.
- Enter KENT [disguised as Caius]: Kent persuades King Lear to seek shelter in a nearby hovel.
- Exit [KING LEAR with KENT]: The Fool delivers a "prophecy" which satirizes the degraded state of England.
- Act 3, Scene 3
- Enter GLOUCESTER and EDMUND: Gloucester tells Edmund (his bastard son) that they must side with King Lear against Lear's daughter Regan and her husband, the Duke of Cornwall. He also tells Edmund that he has received a letter about developments that will result in King Lear's injuries being avenged. Then he goes to give King Lear some relief. As soon as Gloucester has gone, Edmund reveals that he will report on the letter and Gloucester's aid to King Lear, so that Regan and Cornwall will make him Earl of Gloucester in place of his father.
- Act 3, Scene 4
- Enter LEAR, KENT [disguised as Caius], and Fool: There's a tremendous storm and Kent tries to get King Lear to enter a hovel for shelter, but Lear resists because nature's storm distracts him from the storm in his mind. The Fool enters the hovel, but then runs out again because he has been frightened by Edgar in his disguise as "Poor Tom." Edgar, pretending madness, and Lear, actually mad, have a mad conversation.
- Enter GLOUCESTER, with a torch: Gloucester leads King Lear, the Fool, and Edgar ("Poor Tom") away, heading for a place "where both fire and food" are ready.
- Act 3, Scene 5
- Enter CORNWALL and EDMUND: Having learned from Edmund that Gloucester is aiding King Lear, the Duke of Cornwall vows to punish Gloucester and gives Edmund his father's place as Earl of Gloucester.
- Act 3, Scene 6
- Enter KENT (disguised as Caius] and GLOUCESTER: While Gloucester goes to get more help for him, mad King Lear conducts an imaginary trial of his daughters, with the Fool and "Poor Tom" (Edgar in disguise) as the judges. When Gloucester returns, he gives Kent and the Fool the job of taking King Lear to Dover.
- Exeunt [all but EDGAR].: Edmund reflects that seeing the extreme suffering of King Lear makes his own suffering bearable.
- Act 3, Scene 7
- Enter CORNWALL, REGAN, GONERIL,
EDMUND, and Servants: Cornwall sends Goneril (accompanied by Edmund) to tell Goneril's husband, the Duke of Albany, to make speedy preparations to do battle with the forces of the King of France, which have just landed. News is brought to Cornwall that King Lear has been taken to safety in Dover.
- Enter GLOUCESTER, [brought in by two or
three] Servants: Sure that Gloucester is a traitor to them, Cornwall and Regan tear out Gloucester's eyes. In the melee Cornwall is seriously wounded by a servant and Gloucester learns that it is Edmund who has been plotting against him, not Edgar. Gloucester is thrust out of doors to "smell his way to Dover."
- Act 4, Scene 1
- Enter EDGAR: Edgar, disguised as the mad "Poor Tom," is telling himself that he is in such a miserable state that nothing worse can happen to him, but then his blinded father appears, led by an old man. As "Poor Tom," Edgar agrees to lead his father to the edge of a cliff at Dover.
- Act 4, Scene 2
- Enter GONERIL and EDMUND: The Duke of Albany bitterly denounces his wife Gonril for her treatment of her father, King Lear. Then a messenger brings the news that Gloucester has been blinded and that the Duke of Cornwall has died. Goneril becomes jealous of her sister Regan because she is now a widow and Edmund, who Goneril fancies, is with her. Albany vows to avenge the blinding of Gloucester.
- Act 4, Scene 3
- Enter KENT and a GENTLEMAN: In Dover Kent has a conversation with the Gentleman who reported to Cordelia about her father, King Lear. Kent learns that Cordelia received the news about her father with pity and sorrow. Kent tells the Gentleman that King Lear is also in Dover, but doesn't want to see Cordelia because in his moments of sanity he is ashamed of how he has treated her.
- Act 4, Scene 4
- Enter, with drum and colours, CORDELIA, [Doctor,] and Soldiers: Cordelia, with the French forces which are about to encounter the English forces, searches for her father, King Lear, who is somewhere nearby, wandering through the countryside with wildflowers and weeds in his hair.
- Act 4, Scene 5
- Enter REGAN and Steward [OSWALD]: Oswald is on his way to deliver a letter from Goneril to Edmund, who now holds the position of Duke of Gloucester. Regan tries to persuade Oswald to let her read the letter, but Oswald refuses, whereupon she tells him to tell her sister that she (Regan) is the best match for Edmund and has already "spoken" with him. Regan also offers a reward to Oswald if he kills the "blind traitor," old Gloucester.
- Act 4, Scene 6
- Enter GLOUCESTER and EDGAR [dressed like a peasant]: Edgar, still in disguise, persuades his blind father that a piece of level ground is the edge of a steep cliff at Dover. Attempting suicide, Gloucester jumps, but then Edgar pretends to be a passing stranger who saw Gloucester fall from the height of a cliff. Edgar persuades his father that "the clearest gods . . . have preserved thee." And so Gloucester is cured of suicidal thoughts.
- Enter LEAR [fantastically dressed with weeds and wild flowers]: King Lear delivers mad and insightful sermons on being a king. Gloucester recognizes King Lear and sorrows over his madness, exclaiming, "O ruin'd piece of nature!" King Lear eventually recognizes Gloucester and gives him good advice. When a Gentleman serving Cordelia arrives to bring King Lear to safety, he runs away.
- Exit [running; Attendants follow]: The Gentleman serving Cordelia tells Edgar the news: The English and French armies are about to meet in battle, but Cordelia "on special cause is here," and her army has moved on.
- Enter Steward [OSWALD]: Oswald, spotting Gloucester, happily prepares to chop off Gloucester's head and claim the reward for killing him. However, Edgar, disguised as a peasant with a strange accent, fights and mortally wounds Oswald. As he is dying, Oswald entrusts to Edgar the letter from Goneril to Edmund. Edgar reads the letter and so learns that Goneril wants Edmund to kill her husband, the Duke of Albany, and marry her. Edgar, without revealing that he is Gloucester's son, leads his father away to a safe place. (It's not clear how the body of Oswald is removed from the stage.)
- Act 4, Scene 7
- Enter CORDELIA, KENT [still dressed as Caius], and Doctor: Cordelia thanks Kent for all of his services, and then urges him to put on better clothes, but Kent explains that doing that would spoil a plan he has. Cordelia then asks the Doctor about her father's condition, and the Doctor tells her that King Lear is sleeping, but it is time for him to awake.
- Enter LEAR in a chair carried by Servants: Cordelia expresses her deep pity for all her father has suffered. When King Lear awakes he is no long raving mad, but he does not know where he is, or whether he is dead or alive. He apologizes to Cordelia, and she and her attendants take him away.
- Exeunt [all but KENT and Gentleman]: The Gentleman tells Kent the news: The Duke of Cornwall is dead and the bastard son of Gloucester, Edmund, is leading the Duke's forces in the English army which is approaching. After the gentleman leaves, Kent reflects that the outcome of all his plans depend on the outcome of the imminent battle between the English forces and the French forces which are supporting Cordelia.
- Act 5, Scene 1
- Enter, with drum and colours, EDMUND, REGAN, GENTLEMEN, and SOLDIERS: Edmund sends a messenger to ascertain the battle plans of the Duke of Albany, Goneril's husband. As soon as the messenger has left, Regan accuses Edmund of having intimate relations with her sister Goneril, but Edmund denies it.
- Enter, with drum and colours, ALBANY, GONERIL, Soldiers: Albany comes to make final battle plans, but he makes it clear that he doing so only because the French have invaded, not because he sides with his wife Goneril or her sister Regan against their father.
- Exeunt both the armies. [As they are going out, enter EDGAR disguised]: Edgar gives the Duke of Albany the treasonous love-letter written to Edmund by the Duke's wife, Goneril. Edgar also promises that if the Duke's forces win the battle and sounds a trumpet, a champion will come forth to prove that the letter is genuine.
- Act 5, Scene 2
- Enter EDGAR and GLOUCESTER.: Edgar settles his father Gloucester in the shade of a tree, then leaves to join the battle, but he returns in a rush to take his father out of danger, as the forces of King Lear and his daughter Cordelia have lost the battle. Gloucester resists Edgar's urgings to flee, saying, "a man may rot even here." Edgar counters by maintaining it's all-important to await the proper time for death, as fruit falls from the tree only when ripe, and Gloucester agrees with that.
- Act 5, Scene 3
- Enter, in conquest, with Drum and Colours, EDMUND, LEAR and CORDELIA as prisoners, SOLDIERS, CAPTAIN: Cordelia tells her father that the two of them are not the first people who came to the worst through the best of intentions. King Lear replies by characterizing their days to come in prison as idyllic, with plenty of time to pray, sing, and laugh at "gilded butterflies." Lear imagines them gossiping about the powerful people in the court who will come and go while Lear and Cordelia are entertaining one another in prison. But then, ominously, Edmund orders the soldiers to take Lear and Cordelia away.
- Exit [KING LEAR and CORDELIA, guarded].: Edmund hands the captain a paper, enticing him with further promotion and threatening him with dismissal should he fail to follow its instructions. The captain says, "I'll do 't." We can guess the truth of the matter: the captain has been ordered to execute King Lear and Cordelia.
- Exit Captain. Flourish. Enter ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN, [another Captain,] Soldiers.: Albany commends Edmund for the day's victory and asks him to hand over the prisonersKing Lear and Cordelia. Edmund replies that Lear was detained with Cordelia away from the public eye, for fear that their plight might arouse sympathy. Edmund adds that they will both be available in two days to face charges and admonishes Albany for not thinking of the day's casualties. Albany replies that he considers Edmund a subordinate, not an equal [which makes his criticism unwanted and inappropriate].
Regan springs to the defense of Edmund, and declares that his leadership in the day's victory makes Edmund an equal. Then Goneril says that Edmund cannot acquire grace on Regan's say-so, and so begins a bitter quarrel between the two evil sisters over who has the better right to Edmund.
Albany brings the quarrel to a stop by declaring Edmund a traitor and challenging him to prove otherwise in a trial by combat.
At the same time, Regan seems overcome and calls out "Sick, O, sick!"then Goneril tells us in an aside that Regan better be sick or she'll never trust that poison again. Regan grows sicker and is soon led away, never to be seen alive again.
Edmund throws down a gauntlet in answer to Albany's gauntlet and declares that he will defend his "truth and honor" [both qualities the audience has not seen in Edmund].
- [Exit Regan, led.] Enter a HERALD.: Edgar accuses his half-brother, Edmund, of being a "toad-spotted [stained with infamy] traitor" who is also untrue to his family. Edmund says he tosses the treasons back, but they bounce off Edgar so he will use his sword to reinsert the accusations through his armor.
- Alarums. [Fight. EDMUND falls.]: Goneril tells Edmund that he has been tricked [into defeat], since he was not obligated to respond to an unknown opponent. Her husband threatens to stopple her breathing with her own undelivered letter to Edmund, which Albany attempts to show to Edmund while Goneril snatches at it unsuccessfully, then changes her tune, asking who is going to prosecute her [since she is the highest rank]. Albany calls her comment monstrous and asks if she is familiar with the letter; Goneril replies, "Ask me not what I know," as she exits. Albany says that she seems desperate and orders men to go after Goneril and restrain her. Edmund, aware that he is mortally wounded, confesses to all of Edgar's charges"and more, much more," saying that he forgives his opponent if he is noble. Edgar reveals his true [noble] identity and suggests that they exchange forgiveness, yet also adds that the "dark and vicious place" where their father begot Edmund cost him his eyes. Edmund agrees with Edgar's assessment, saying the wheel of fortune has come full circle, back to the lowest point. Albany greets Edgar who recounts the time he spent with Gloucester in disguise, only revealing his identity to his father just before leaving to challenge Edmundand how the "joy and grief" cracked his already weak heart. Albany and Edmund are both moved and Edgar goes on to tell of encountering the banished Kent who related a "piteous tale" of his time with Lear.
- Enter a Gentleman [with a bloody knife].: The gentleman says that the knife comes from Goneril's heart and that she has confessed to poisoning her sister.
- [Exit Gentleman.] Enter KENT.: Kent is looking for Lear just as Goneril's and Regan's bodies are brought out. Edmund says that Edgar might yet save Lear and Cordelia; Edmund gives Edgar his sword for confirmation of reprieve. After Edgar leaves Edmund tells Albany that the captain has orders from him and Goneril to hang Cordelia and call it suicide.
- [EDMUND is borne off.] Enter LEAR, with Cordelia in his arms; [EDGAR, Captain, and others following.]: "Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones: Had I your tongues and eyes, I'ld use them so That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever!" Lear would break the sky ["heaven's vault"] itself, grieving for Cordelia while Kent asks Edgar and Albany if it is Doomsday. Edgar asks if the sight [of Lear holding the dead Cordelia in his arms while he raves with grief] is not Doomsday, it certainly appears so. Albany says let the world collapse and endperhaps just to stop the sight of extreme suffering Lear with Cordelia have become. King Lear recognizes Kent despite his grief; Kent confesses to his alias disguise as Casiusit is unclear if Lear follows Kent's meaning. Kent then tells Lear that his other two daughters have destroyed themselves, but Lear seems fully absorbed by Cordelia. Both Albany and Edward tell Kent that communicating with Lear is futile now.
- Enter a Messenger: A messenger announces Edmund's death and Albany calls the news a trifle, saying that people will now get what they deserve. King Lear calls Cordelia a "poor fool," a term of endearment, asking people to look at Cordelia's lips, "Look there, look there!" are his last words.
- He dies.: Edgar and Kent mourn their loss; Kent says the wonder was that Lear endured [life] so long. Albany orders the dead bodies removed, saying "Our present business is general woe" [in the kingdom of the world]. Albany thanks Kent and Edward for their service to the state and Kent says he hears his master [King Lear] calling him. Albany concludes, "The oldest hath borne most: we that are young / Shall never see so much, nor live so long."
Exeunt with a dead march.