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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

King Lear

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

Setting: 800 BCE Britain


My really abridged plot summary: King Lear is old and has bad judgement. He's manipulated by his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, when dividing up his lands. His youngest, Cordelia, is the only one who truly cares and says she cannot put into words her love for him. Lear disowns her over this answer (lol what?), but the King of France still agrees to marry her even without her inheritance (we stan him) and they leave for France. The illegitimate son of Gloucester, Edmund, convinces him that his legitimate son, Edgar, is trying to kill him. Confused yet? There's a big storm. Gloucester tries to help Lear escape to Dover, but Regan & Co. blind him (um ew). Edgar, disguised as a beggar, helps guide his father towards Dover. Cordelia leads French troops to try to rescue her father. Goneril and Regan both have a thing with Edmund, cuz why not? Goneril poisons Regan over this, and then *dies* herself when her husband finds out about her treason. Edmund leads the English troops against the French and wins, taking Lear and Cordelia captive. Edgar kills Edmund in a duel and Gloucester dies. Cordelia is needlessly executed in prison, and Lear dies out of grief. Maybe 3 people survive this play~ this is peak tragedy.

My favorite quotes:

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave

My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty

According to my bond, no more nor less

~Cordelia, I.i

The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman!

~Edgar, III.iv Ratings:

  • Overall Impression: 9- There's a reason why this is considered one of his greatest plays. It's just tragic and epic.

  • Use of Language: 8- The symbolism in the language of this play is incredible. Freud believed that Cordelia represents death in this play and I couldn't agree more. It is also speculated that the three sisters represent the Fates from Greek mythology.

  • Protagonist Arc: 10- Lear's descent into madness and then brief emersion into semi-awareness at the end is devastating. We are watching the people he loved more than anything betray him and destroy his world, and then his treatment of Cordelia is gut-wrenching.

  • Female Characters: 10- Goneril, Regan and Cordelia are all queens. The love Cordelia has for her her dad is just devastating. Goneril and Regan are evil queens and we stan. The only issue is that they both are in love with Edmund, but can you really blame them? #badboy. They all show such a range of character. They show power, strength, intelligence and vulnerability.

  • Genre Fit: 10- I mean this is peak tragedy. So many deaths, and Cordelia died unnecessarily, right after her and Lear made amends.

  • Overall Enjoyment: 9- The plot was a little confusing and hard to keep up with, but I really love this play.

  • Hype Worthy: 10- This play speaks for itself.

  • Emotional Impact: 10- I cried so much. This play is a must-read and is basically the epitome of Tragedy.

Total: 76/80 Average: 9\ *5 out of 5 stars*


Now, let's talk about some tea:

I was doing some research on this play because for some reason I thought this play was not going to be so early on in the order. Here's the thing, I KNOW it isn't in the history cycle because its not based on history, but I would have never guessed that it fell in the middle of all these plays about Ancient Greece and Rome. I was curious about the origins of King Lear, and I found this article:

10 Dramatic Facts About King Lear, and I want to talk about it.

  • King Lear is loosely based on the legend of an ancient King of Britain called Leir, and it's speculated that he lived in the 8th century BCE.

  • While I think this play is incredible, there is one thing that I wish it had, a scene between Edgar and Cordelia. We have these two strong characters who have lived through *heck* and they deserved stage time together, and I will die on this hill. Well, turns out my wish was granted. In 1681 Nahum Tate wrote an alternative happy ending to the play in which Cordelia survives to becomes Queen and marry Edgar. Maybe the romance aspect could have been left out, but I wish we had any interaction between the two before Cordelia dies. While I LOVE the concept of Cordelia surviving, I think it completely undermines what makes this play so tragic. We would lose the gut-wrenching final scene with Lear as he mourns the loss of his daughter and dies out of grief. If Cordelia dying is the sacrifice we have to make to keep this play as one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, then so be it.

  • Another interesting factoid about this play concerns every Americans' favorite monarch (a la 1776) King George III. So we all know how he was a little bit mad, right? Well aparently this play was a little too relevant for the people of England with Lear's"madness" which he shared with King George III. The play was even banned out of sensitivity for the King's own mental state.

  • I don't know why we never talk about how Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace) hated Shakespeare? Like hello? This is some major drama between two literary king pins. I will be reading Tolstoy on Shakespeare now.

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