King Lear Summary

Table of Contents

King Lear Summary – Act 1 Scene 1

King Lear in his old age decides it is time to divide up his kingdom among his daughters.  In order to decide how much each girl and her husband gets, he makes them each publicly declare their love.  The oldest daughter Goneril has no problem doing this, nor does his middle daughter Regan.  His youngest and favorite daughter, Cordelia, however, does not approve of the exercise and refuses to speak the words he longs to here.  Because of her refusal, he disowns her, and because she is not married, he gives her no dowry.  The portion he intended to give to her he divides instead between her sisters.  The Earl of Kent stands up for Cordelia and is banished by the King for doing so.  The King calls Cordelia’s main suitors and asks if they will take her without her dowry.  The Duke of Burgundy refuses, but the King of France wants to marry her anyway.  The King of France takes her away, and King Lear tells his other daughters that he will alternate living with them.

King Lear Summary – Act 1 Scene 2

Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, comes up with a plan to usurp his brother and gain his father’s land and money.  His father comes to him, and he quickly hides a forged letter from his brother, Edgar.  Because of his strange behavior, his father asks to see the letter.  He is disgusted by the treacherous content of his legitimate son, and Edmund defends his brother.  He promises to help his father find the truth.  After his father leaves, Edmund talks to Edgar and tells him that their father is angry with him.  He tells his brother to be prepared to run and take solders with him.  His brother believes him, and Edmund is happy that his plan is successful.

King Lear Summary – Act 1 Scene 3

Goneril meets with the steward of her household, Oswald, to complain about her father who’s come to stay with her.  She tells him that he should be cold to her father and his knights.  If her father asks for her, he should tell him that she is ill.

King Lear Summary – Act 1 Scene 4

The banished Earl of Kent disguises himself and goes to Goneril’s court to serve Lear.  Lear accepts him, and together they talk to the Fool who insults Lear.  He thinks, like Kent, that he made the wrong decision about Cordelia.  Oswald enters and gives Lear the cold shoulder, and Kent trips him forever sealing his place at Lear’s side.  After a while, Goneril enters and berates her father about his knights.  She upbraids him and tells him that he should dispatch some of his knights.  Again, Lear is insulted at her treatment of him.  He decides to send away half of his entourage, and move as soon as possible to his other daughters house.  Lear has begun to regret disowning Cordelia because of the way his eldest daughter treats him.

King Lear Summary – Act 1 Scene 5

Lear sends Kent, still in disguise, ahead to his daughter Regan’s house so she can prepare for his arrival.  While he is gone, the Fool who is traveling with them tells the former King that he could easily be the fool.  When the king asks why, the fool tells him it is because he gave away his land too soon, and made himself old before he was wise.

King Lear Summary – Act 2 Scene 1

Edmund hears that the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall are coming to his father’s house.  He decides it is time to put his plan fully into effect.  He tells his brother that more evidence has come up against him. When his father comes, he makes him draw his sword.  At Edmunds behest, Edgar flees making him look like a traitor.  Edmund has a wound in his arm, and his father commends him for his service. Gloucester sentences Edgar to death if he is captured.  The Duke and Duchess arrive and hear of the happenings and commend Edmund for his bravery.  They tell Gloucester that they have come to seek refuge because of conflicting letters that they have received from Regan’s sister and her father.  If her father comes to her castle, they do not want to be there.  Gloucester swears to give them all the aid they need until they can figure out who’s message to believe and what to do about it.

King Lear Summary – Act 2 Scene 2

Kent and Oswald, messengers from Lear and Goneril, meet in the courtyard of Gloucester.  Kent recognizes the steward and starts to berate him and challenges him to a fight because of his purpose against the king.  Oswald refuses the fight, but Kent begins to beat him anyway.  Gloucester, Regan, the Duke of Cornwall, and Edmund all appear and ask why they are fighting.  When they explain, Regan sees the similarities between Kent, and the King’s men her sister was complaining about, and has him put into the stocks.  Everyone but Gloucester leaves Kent, and he promises the imprisoned messenger to help him in anyway possible.

King Lear Summary – Act 2 Scene 3

Edgar returns to the castle and disguises himself as a mad beggar.

King Lear Summary – Act 2 Scene 4

Lear arrives at Gloucester with his Fool and Gentlemen.  When he enters the gates, Kent comes to his attention.  Lear asks his messenger who put him in the stocks, and he is informed it was his own son and daughter.  At first he does not believe, but then he becomes extremely insulted.  Gloucester enters, and Lear demands to speak with Regan and Cornwall.  Gloucester tells him that they cannot see him right away, and he becomes angrier demanding they attend him.  When they come, they release Kent and Lear tells them not to believe the messages from Goneril.  Regan, however, refuses to house him and tells him to go back to her sister and apologize.  Lear tells her of the grave injustice that her sister has afflicted on him by cutting him off from his men, but she only replies by telling him that Goneril is also traveling to Gloucester.  When she arrives the two sisters team up against their father and tell him that he may stay with them, but have none of his men.  He, in a rage, leaves the castle into a storm.  The women tell Gloucester to shut the castle against their father so he is caught out in the storm.

King Lear Summary – Act 3 Scene 1

Kent runs into Lear’s Gentleman who tells him what is going on.  Kent then informs the man that forces of France have been spying on the happenings in England, and have landed on British soil.  He tells the Gentleman to go to Dover and seek out Cordelia, and if he finds her to give her a ring that Kent gives him.

King Lear Summary – Act 3 Scene 2

Lear and the Fool are caught out in the storm.  The Fool begs him to go back to his daughters to seek shelter, but he refuses.  Kent finds them and tells them that he has found a hovel in which they can take shelter.  He leads them there to stay throughout the storm.

King Lear Summary – Act 3 Scene 3

Gloucester does not like the way the duke and duchesses are treating their father.  He tells Edmund of a letter he received about the division happening between the dukes and the French involvement.  Gloucester decides to go to the ex-kings aid, and Edmund decides to capitalize on his father’s decision.  With instructions to make excuses for him if he is needed, Gloucester leaves, and Edmund goes to reveal what he knows to Cornwall.

King Lear Summary – Act 3 Scene 4

Lear and his men reach the hovel, and he mourns that his daughters have betrayed him.  When they enter the hovel, they find Edgar disguised as a madman.  When the madman speaks, Lear wonders if it was the man’s daughters that drove him mad.  He laments on how daughters are the roots of the evils in his life.  The men begin talking to the beggar, and Gloucester enters telling them that he doesn’t approve of the way they have been treated.  Lear decides that he likes the beggar and continues having conversations with him while Gloucester tries to get the men to come to a house he has prepared for them.  Kent and Gloucester think that Lear is beginning to go mad, and Gloucester himself admits that he feels like he’s going mad with everything that happened with Edgar.  They all remove to the house Gloucester has prepared, and Lear decides that he must take the beggar too because he enjoys talking to him.

King Lear Summary – Act 3 Scene 5

Edmund gives Cornwall the incriminating letter from the French and he is very angry.  For the bastard’s loyalty, Cornwall makes him the Earl of Gloucester, and his father an outlaw.  Cornwall tells Edmund that he must accompany him to see Regan.

King Lear Summary – Act 3 Scene 6

When the men in the storm arrive at the house that Gloucester has prepared for them, the king decides to put his daughters to a mock trial.  Kent urges him to sleep, but in his madness he can only think about punishing his children.  Gloucester has left them to go back to his castle, but promises to be back soon.  When their trial is over, Lear decides to finally sleep.  Gloucester returns and tells Kent that he overheard a plot to kill the king.  He urges the men to take him to Dover and meet up with the French forces where he will be safe.

King Lear Summary – Act 3 Scene 7

Cornwall gives a copy of the incriminating French letter to Goneril and instructs her to take it to her husband, the Duke of Albany.  He sends men to find the traitor Duke of Gloucester and sends Edmund with Goneril so he will not have to witness his father’s demise.  Word comes in that the king is being taken to Dover to meet up with the French forces.  Cornwall issues more orders and Gloucester enters no knowing he is considered a traitor.  They bind him and torture him by forcing out his eyes.  One of the servants tries to stop Cornwall but is killed.  Gloucester calls for Edmund, but the Duchess tells him that his son was their informant.  The Earl realizes that Edgar was innocent and it was his brother who betrayed him.  The Duke was hurt in the skirmish however, and they have to retreat into the castle to take care of his wounds releasing the eyeless Earl.

King Lear Summary – Act 4 Scene 1

Gloucester is brought out of the castle by an old man who is a tenant of his.  While on the road they run into Edgar disguised still as the beggar.  Edgar hears his father’s laments about how he wronged his rightful son.  Gloucester tells the old man to let him go with Edgar to Dover, and Edgar agrees happily to take him.  They journey, and Gloucester says that once they arrive to take him to a cliff.

King Lear Summary – Act 4 Scene 2

When Goneril and Edmund return to Goneril’s castle, they are met by Oswald and informed of the Duke of Albany’s position on the French landing, and the happenings at Gloucester.  Goneril, realizing that her husband feels opposite than she, sends Edmund back to her brother in law.  When Albany sees his wife he berates her for her treatment of her father and they fight until a messenger enters with news of the Duke of Cornwall’s death.  He also tells Albany about Gloucester losing his eyes, and the Duke feels sorry for the blind Earl.  With him the messenger sends a letter from Regan to Goneril, and she takes it to another room to read.  Albany swears to avenge Gloucester’s eyes, and goes off with the Messenger to learn more details.

King Lear Summary – Act 4 Scene 3

Kent and the Gentleman meet in Dover to exchange news.  The Gentleman tells Kent that the King of France is not present, but leaves his army to the Marshal and his wife.  He also tells him of Cordelia’s reaction to her sister’s treatment of her father.  She is devastated for him, and angry at the things they inflicted upon him.  Kent informs the Gentleman that Lear is in Dover, but refuses to see his daughter because the way he treated her.  He is wracked with guilt that he cheated her out of her dowry.  Kent then takes him to take care of Lear.

King Lear Summary – Act 4 Scene 4

Cordelia speaks with the doctor in her camp and sends out men to find her father.  A messenger brings her news of the British forces advancing upon them, and she says that they are prepared for them.

King Lear Summary – Act 4 Scene 5

Oswald carries a message back to Regan from Goneril and Regan finds out that she has also sent a message to Edmund.  Regan, now that her husband is dead, decides that she should marry Edmund.  Thinking that her sister also has affection for him and not for her husband, she wants to win him before Goneril can get him.  She sends a note back to her sister and sends someone out to find Edmund.

King Lear Summary – Act 4 Scene 6

Gloucester wants Edgar to take him to a cliff so he can commit suicide.  Edgar, not wanting his father to die, tricks him into thinking they are at the cliff.  Gloucester throws himself on the ground, and Edgar revives him saying that he fell off the cliff and still lived, so the gods must want it that way.  They begin walking and Lear runs into them spouting gibberish.  Some of his sayings have reason to them, but others are pure madness.  Men enter and try to take the king to his daughter, but he refuses to go.  They hear an army in the distance, and Edgar takes Gloucester’s hand so he can lead him to safety.  Oswald enters baring a sword and Edgar steps between him and Gloucester.  To protect his father he ends up killing the messenger, who on his death says to deliver his letters to Edmund.  Edgar reads the letter in which Goneril plots with Edmund to kill her husband.  Edgar, wanting to help in the fighting, takes his father to a safe place where someone can watch over him.

King Lear Summary – Act 4 Scene 7

Back in the French camp, Cordelia recognizes Kent, but he asks her to keep his identity a secret still.  She agrees, and tells the doctor it is ok if he wakes her father who has been sleeping in their care.  He awakens, and at first thinks he is dead.  He then recognizes Cordelia, but thinks that she will do him harm because of all the sisters, she has the best motive.  They tell him he is safe and take him away.  Only the Gentleman and Kent stay and they discuss the battle that is about to brew.  Edmund is leading the Duke of Cornwall’s forces, and it is rumored that Edgar is in Germany.

King Lear Summary – Act 5 Scene 1

Edmund and Regan are speaking, and Regan asks Edmund if he loves Goneril.  He answers that he does, and Regan is disappointed.  The Duke of Albany and Edmund decide to join forces against the invading French army when Edgar comes to them dressed in his disguise and gives a paper to Albany.  Edmund enters and gives another paper to Albany all the while, trying to figure out which sister he will choose since he’s sworn his love to both.  He decides to wait until the battle is over, and unlike Albany intends to show no mercy to Cordelia or Lear.

King Lear Summary – Act 5 Scene 2

Edgar drags his father along and tells him that the French army has been defeated, and Cordelia and Lear wear captured.

King Lear Summary – Act 5 Scene 3

Cordelia and Lear are sent to prison but plan happy ways to spend their time there.  Edmund tells his captain as he’s taking them that they are to be assassinated.  Albany enters to discuss the conditions of the prisoners, and Edmund tells him they will discuss it later.  The women then get in a fight over Edmund, and Albany challenges him for trying to steal his wife.  Goneril poisons Regan, and Edgar comes forward to fight Edmund in hand-to-hand combat.  They battle and Edmund is wounded.  Albany then asks Goneril about her involvement in the plot to kill him and she refuses to answer.  Edmund then asks his challengers name, and Edgar reveals himself.  He tells his tale of dressing as a madman, and how he just witnessed his father’s death. Afterwards, he pleads for Kent because of all he’s done for the king.  A man enters with a bloody knife and says that Goneril has killed her self and confessed to poisoning her sister.  Kent arrives and asks after the king.  Edmund admits that he ordered the king and Cordelia killed, and they send a man after them to prevent it.  Lear comes out with a dead Cordelia in his arms, and Kent reveals himself to his king and Albany decides to give Lear back his thrown.  But because of his sadness at Cordelia’s death, Lear dies as well much to the sadness of his loyal followers.