Plot summary: Act one begins with Gloucester and Kent, two noble men discussing the fact that Lear will be dividing his country (Britain) between his three daughters, this brings up the topic of Gloucester’s bastard son and how he wishes for Kent to introduce him to the king.
We meet King Lear in the throne room full of noble people where he announces that he shall be dividing and giving away his kingdom into thirds, one for each daughter. He proposes that they shall have to pronounce their love for him and whomever shall express a bigger love shall reap the rewards.
After two of her sisters (Reagan and Goneril) Cordelia the usual favourite of the king’s decides that she shall not buy into her fathers digging for complements, she shares that she does not believe that she needs to confess her love for her father for he should know that she loves him already. He becomes increasingly angry and proceeds to banish Cordelia, she is left with no dowry and one of her suitors backs out for lack of dowry, but the french king agrees to marry her with no dowry as he took pride in her courage and honesty.
Kent confronts the king and expresses his distaste with how Lear handled the situation with Cordelia because he can see that she is truly the one who loves him the most and does not have ulterior motives toward Lear and the kingdom. Lear banishes him because of his honesty and because his anger cannot be directed at anyone else.
Reagan and Goneril plot together against their father, they both see the opportunity to make him put all of his wasted trust from Cordelia into them and they can take away his power even more than they already will with having equal parts of the kingdom.
Edmund plots against his father and frames his half brother, Gloucester now thinks that his legitimate son is plotting to kill him not Edmund.
Lear arrives at Goneril’s palace/ castle to spend time with her and live as he is no longer a king backed by a country nor followers to support him. Goneril tells her servants and all staff to tread Lear her father with less respect and unlike he has ever been treated. She then announces that his servants and knights are causing a ruckus and that they must be send away, this upsets Lear and causes him to say some very callous words to her, he then gets more upset and decides to leave her and stay with Reagan instead.
We then meet the Fool, who ‘entertains’ Lear but actually tells him some harsh truths against his daughters and the people who wish for him to diminish and take his power.
Dramatic irony: Burgundy offers to wed Cordelia, but when the terms of no portion of the kingdom arises he abandons his promise because of lack of compensation and power.
Gloucester’s and Lear’s families both hold irony within them, as they are in some ways parallel as both fathers are “blind to the characters of their children” both of their children are plotting against them in some way or another yet they are truly blind to the fact that they have no compassion for them, they only want the inheritance and power.
The fact that Lear banished Cordelia for being honest yet she was the one that truly had compassion and love form him, he is lied to and tricked by his two other daughters.
- At the end of scene 1, Goneril and Regan discuss their father’s behavior. What does this dialogue add to our knowledge of the two sisters, their father and the relationships in the family?: They see that he does not know them as well as he know Cordelia for she was the youngest and favoured sister, therefore he will not be able to recognise their deceit when they slowly bring him down accordingly in order to seize everything.
- How does Edmund set his trap for Gloucester and Edgar? Is there anything in particular that ensures it is successful? Edmund forges a letter in which he frames his older and legitimate brother to be plotting against their father, by doing this he undermines them both because he is really the one who is plotting, and in order to take control he needs his older brother out of the picture.
- How does Goneril believe Lear is behaving now he has abdicated his power? What does she intend to do about it (scene 3)? She sees him as an old man, not the king he once was and she will do anything to make him believe so too, by treating him like a man not a king she orders her people to treat him like someone who is not a priority, someone who is a nuisance.
- Explain the situation in scene 4. What is making Goneril so angry with her father? Do you think that Lear is the victim in this scene? Why/why not?
- What is the fool trying to tell Lear in scene 5?