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Notes for Shakespeare's King Lear


Growth of Drama was phenomenal
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays
Lear – somber tone – little frivolity
King Lear is Sh’s greatest poem

Main plot
Lear - King Britain 80 years old
Goneril – Duke of Albany
Cordelia – Duke of Burgundy
King of France
Fool – jester
Earl of Kent - Lear’s loyal follower

Secondary Plot
Earl of Gloucester
Edgar – older, legitimate
Edmund – younger, bastard

Cordelia – speechless – cannot put love into words. Lear banishes her & divides herkingdom between Goneril & Regan. France marries her

Edmund – devises plan to convince Gloucester that Edgar is trying to kill him Edgar flees for his life.

Lear with 100 soldiers has hard time living w/daughters. Rushes out in storm & curses them. Accompanied by Fool & poor Tom (Edgar) & Kent.

Gloucester is blinded & sent out into storm. Edgar finds him & brings him to insane Lear

Cordelia comes back from France & helps restore Lear’s sanity through love. France invades Eng.

Goneril & Regan lust for Edmund – battle is fought against France. French lose & Lear& Cordelia are prisoners

Edgar kills Edmund in duel. Goneril poisoned Regan & killed herself. Cordelia is killed.

Edgar restores order.

No historical facts
Holinshed’s Chronicles contained Lear Story
Spencer’s Fairie Queen
All of the above had happy endings & not the Gloucester subplot

– king – power – authority – respect – father – 80 – very old for the times. Queen Eliz died at 70. Strong – survived in storm & carried Cordelia. Is he senile? Moodiness, rash judgments? Rage? When is he in his right mind – when being manipulative, when insane. He triggers forces which led to brink of Civil War. It took a foreign invasion to save Eng. "a man/more sinn’d against than sinnin," lll, ii, 59-60

Cordelia – stubborn, otherwise too good to be true. Father’s favorite. Not spoiled like sisters. Not wise?- didn’t speak up for share of kingdom. Can speak up when honor is at stake – makes sure France doesn’t get wrong idea. She is soul of goodness & gentleness. Fairy tale princess? Happy ending?

Goneril – first born – intelligent – greedy – lustful – powerful – treachery. Broad picture of evil. Cruel to father, husband & Gloucester. Poisons own sister. Selfish. Has the final say. Degrades father. Like her father

Regan - well spoken – sugary words – uses words as a tool & weapon more crafty than Goneril. Follows Goneril’s lead – middle child. Selfish. Evil right below "sweet" exterior. Faithful in marriage. Kills only to save husband. Vicious & strong – willed. Lust.

Gloucester Counterpoint to Lear – both elderly – gullible & easily taken in. Also braves storm to help Lear. After blinded, endures long journey to Dover.Unlike Lear – average man – speaks plainly – no fancy rhetoric. Doesn’t ask many questions. Lack of cunning. Good natured Lacks tact – jokes about Edmund’s birth in front of him. Brave – risks life for king. Like Lear – has evil son – is Gloucester responsible for Edmund’s evil? Is his punishment in proportion to his "crime"? Arouses emotions – gives greater insight into Lear’s situation.

Edmund - Villain or victim? Is it any wonder he has turned out like he has w/Gloucester joking about his birth in front of him? His treachery goes way beyond getting even, however. (teenager in Pearl, Ms who shoots everyone in sight because people made fun of him) Keen intelligence /warped mind. Ambitious – seizes opportunities. Does not acknowledge daughters’ passion for him – above that?Twisted path of a tortured soul

Edgar – from insipid dupe in Act 1 to heroic heir in final scene – Has faith in gods & their justice. Disguise – ingenious – talented – imaginative.Comforts Lear & assists Gloucester.Stupid at beginning – achieves stature at end.

Albany – contrasts w/Cornwall. Names are opposites – Albany – Scotland (north) Cornwall – southwestern tern Eng. Personalities are also opposite – Cornwall – hot & fiery – Albany cool & calm.Goneril calls him cowardly, but he’s brave enough military commander to win victory. Ready to face Edmund in one – on – one combat. Decisive. Admirable character – fitting champion for justice. His decency makes Goneril look even worse.

Cornwall 1st see him – doesn’t say much. On his own turf – assertive & authoritative.Making all the impt decisions. Evil but not a coward. Admits he had Kent putin stocks – ready to defend that action. Thinks himself to be fair – about to let Gloucester speak, but quickly executes sentence. For all the violence, tempest, rage, anger & horror in the play, only Cornwall’s hands are bloodied. This is a mark of his villainy – fitting partner for Regan.

Kent Ideal 1st mate. Makes tactful remark to Gloucester’s bawdy chatter when we first meet him. Speaks up for Cordelia. Devoted to master service. Hotheaded in first scene. Endures hardship stoically.

The Fool Unknown to us – but conventional in medieval dramas. Established characters – roam stage – talk directly to audience, acts as bridge between action & audience,"low comedy" was welcomed by groundlings (fans in bleachers).He is a character & commentator. Must be physically nimble, adept at tongue twisters, good at comebacks & intelligent. The Fool is the instructor

Oswald Goneril’s steward –

Mythological prehistoric England.

Folly of Old Age – The Ingratitude of Youth

Both Lear & Gloucester are responsible for their mistakes. Are they senile? How much of the suffering that they endure do they deserve?

Are children thankless – do they try to grab more than is theirs – or do they deserve sympathy. Should the daughters have to put up with Lear’s entourage?

How should the elderly be treated?

Good & Evil
Not much growth except by heads of families – Good characters stay good – evil ones stay evil.

Is this play pessimistic? Are there redeeming qualities? Is it only a struggle over good & evil or is it more.

Nature is order – established hierarchy – everything had a place – Heaven above, on earth – King was head – then nobles then peasants then animals.

When this order is disturbed, things are considered "unnatural" chaos - monstrous --constant references to nature & unnatural forces.

Vision & Blindness

More references to this than any other. When someone is behaving intelligently he has vision – acts blindly when he acts foolishly

In Lear’s madness he comes up w/insights

Appearance vs Reality

Disguises of Kent & Edgar – daughters & Edmund are not what they "appear"

Iambic pentameter when upper – class are talking

Form & Structure
No scenery or lighting. Outside cheapest admission – groundfloor – no seats. Actors (no actresses) men were all roles. No curtain to tell end of scene – actors left stage.

Maintains pace by balancing scenes between plots & between storm & other

Scene 1
Introduces all major characters of main plot & quick preview of subplot.