King Lear Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2 Summary

     The Tragedy of King Lear, written by William Shakespeare, focuses on the titular character King Lear, who rules over Britain. He has three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, to whom he wants to leave his kingdom. Although he loves his youngest, Cordelia, the most, in scene one he decides to have a contest to see who gets the biggest share of the land. He asks his daughters to profess their love for him to prove who loves him the most. Lear's good friend, the earl of Gloucester, attends the contest along with Gloucester's illegitimate son, Edmund. Also in attendance are Goneril's husband, the Duke of Albany, Regan's husband, the Duke of Cornwall, and two suitors from Burgundy and France who are vying for Cordelia's hand in marriage.

     Goneril begins by playing along with Lear's game and lying about how tremendously she loves her father. Regan follows suit and swears she loves her father even more than her older sister does. Finally, when Cordelia's turn comes, she does not know what to say. She can't put her feelings into words, and she doesn't like the false praise that has come from her sisters, so she chooses to say nothing. Her father is appalled by this response and chooses to punish Cordelia by leaving her without a dowry. Kent, Lear's trusted advisor, tries to point out that this decision is a mistake, but Lear's pride has been hurt, so he won't listen, ultimately banishing Kent as a punishment for speaking the truth. Lear then turns to the two suitors and asks them if they still want to marry Cordelia, knowing she comes without any land. Burgundy admits he is not interested. The King of France, however, cannot believe how Lear is treating his youngest daughter and happily agrees to marry her because she alone is a prize. Before she goes, Cordelia tries to tell her sisters to take care of their father, but they do not want to be bossed around by her. Goneril then offers to have Lear come live with her for a time, and then he can live with Regan the following month. They both worry about his infirmity as he is very old and clearly not making sound decisions.

     Scene two begins with a soliloquy by Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, who is complaining about how his older brother Edgar will inherit all the land. Therefore, he decides to find a way to make himself the one who will inherit his father's wealth. He finds his father and reads a fake letter to him that he says Edgar has written. In this letter, Edgar writes of how to get rid of Gloucester, since he is old and should no longer rule, in order that he can claim his inheritance. Gloucester immediately buys into his son Edmund's lies just as Lear believed his daughters' lies. Gloucester asks Edmund to speak to his brother to find out what his plan is. Edmund then runs into Edgar and mentions that their father seems unhappy with Edgar as if he had somehow offended their father. Edmund pretends to worry that someone is trying to make Edgar look bad, when ironically it is he that is doing so, and encourages Edgar to stay armed and be prepared to defend himself if necessary.

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