Unlock the more straightforward side of King Lear with this concise and insightful summary and analysis!
This engaging summary presents an analysis of King Lear by William Shakespeare, a tragic tale about the consequences of betrayal and ambition. The titular character, King Lear, makes the mistake of dividing his entire kingdom between his scheming elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, who are actively plotting against him, while disinheriting his loyal youngest daughter, Cordelia. Stripped of power and rapidly descending into madness, Lear is left to wander the barren heath with only his Fool for company, while the country he once ruled tears itself apart in a bloody civil war. King Lear is generally recognised as Shakespeare’s most nihilistic work, but has also been hailed as his greatest tragedy, and has been performed consistently since it was first written in the early 17th century.
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• Key themes and symbols
• Questions for further reflection
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ENGLISH PLAYWRIGHT AND POETBorn in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564.Died in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616.Notable works:King Lear (1623), playA Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600), playRichard III (1597), play
William Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet, and is generally considered the most influential writer in the English language. He worked in several modes including comedy, history, tragedy, the narrative poem and the sonnet, and was active during an extraordinary flowering of creativity during the Elizabethan Renaissance – not just as a playwright, but also as an actor and as the eventual co-owner of the Globe theatre in London. Shakespeare spent 20 years in London, where he wrote all of his famous works and staged them with his own acting company, The King’s Men, and others. Shakespeare’s plays are universal in their scope, as they explore all the complexities of the human experience, from politics to love and death. Played constantly all around the world and revered for their complex characters and deft use of language, Shakespeare’s plays are now considered one of the crowning jewels of English and international literary heritage.
A TRAGIC FAMILY DRAMAGenre: playReference edition: Shakespeare, W. (1997) King Lear. London: The Arden Shakespeare.1stedition: 1623Themes: power, virtue, father-daughter relationships, ambition, responsibility, order and justice, legitimacy, blindness
The aged King Lear, tired of the responsibilities of royalty, decides to abdicate his throne and divide Ancient Britain between his three daughters, precipitating a sharp decline into madness and tragedy for all concerned. This tragedy is both Shakespeare’s bleakest and is often considered his greatest. Originally written in 1605 or 1606 and published in the First Folio edition of 1623, the performance and literary history of the play have often been characterised by attempts to address its apparent nihilism and endorsement of a tragic view of life. From the 17th-19th centuries, the play was even amended with a ‘happy’ ending and presented in sanitised versions. Since the 19th, and especially during the 20th century, however, Lear has been endlessly adapted, discussed and appreciated as a constantly relevant examination of both the potential evil inherent to mankind alongside the possibility for redemption.
The aged and cantankerous Lear, King of Britain, is about to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, according the largest share to whichever one of them loves him the most. In a grand court gathering, the two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, flatter their father’s pride in the hopes of gaining the largest share. Meanwhile, his youngest (and most beloved) child, Cordelia, remains silent and says nothing, except that she loves him as a daughter ought. Lear takes this reticence for coldness, and disowns her of any share of the kingdom, causing the Duke of Burgundy to withdraw his proposal of marriage to her. However, the King of France, touched by Cordelia’s honest nature, offers to marry her instead.
The Earls Gloucester and Kent both tell Lear that, in dividing his Kingdom between his two elder daughters, he has also given their husbands, the Dukes Albany and Cornwall, equal stakes in it as well. Kent goes on to object to Lear’s treatment of Cordelia. In a further rage, Lear banishes Kent from the land.
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