King Lear condensed

It’s been said that in 845 B.C. Lear was king of the land known as Britain.  He was not a young man and his days of using good judgment were pretty much behind him.  He had decided to divide his kingdom into three parts, giving a part to each of his three daughters.  Transferring his kingdom to his daughters turned out to be a terrible mistake, the three parts never coming to be.  It was a decision that left him homeless and without authority.

Act 1. For whatever reasons, Lear tests his daughters, asking them “which of you shall we say doth love us most.”  The two older daughters, Goneril and Regan, both married, let him know that he means about everything to them.  Cordelia, the youngest, who he has called “our joy,” tells him that “when I shall wed, that lord shall carry half my love with him.”  Ego-driven Lear lashes out at her, cutting her off from a third of his kingdom.  The king’s aide, Kent, suggests the king reconsider his treatment of Cordelia, causing the king to lash out at Kent, saying “come not between the dragon and his wrath.”  Lear banishes Kent from Britain. Having been courting Cordelia, the French king enters. Lear tells him “she’s there, and she is yours.”  The king of France says fine, she’ll “be the queen of our fair France.”  They exit. King Lear divides his kingdom into two parts, one part each for his two older daughters.  The earl of Gloucester, a long time friend of Lear’s, has two sons, the younger, Edmund, being illegitimate.  The one year older Edgar is quite the class act. Edmund writes a forged letter to his father, purporting to be from Edgar, suggesting the two brothers kill their father and split his estate.  Naïve (and probably demented) Gloucester turns on Edgar. By now, along with his entourage, Lear has gone to live with Goneril, his oldest daughter.  The arrangement doesn’t work very well.  He angrily leaves for Regan’s home. Meanwhile, we learn that good guy Kent hasn’t left the country at all, but rather in disguise has convinced Lear to hire him as a servant.

Act 2. Unaware of the forged letter that purports that he wants to take his dad’s life, Edgar lets Edmund convince him that their father is very angry with him.  Edgar runs off when he’s told his father is arriving. Edmund tells his father of how dishonorable Edgar is, Gloucester saying “he who finds him will be thanked, bringing the murderous coward to the stake.” Edgar soon returns as “Poor Tom,” a madman-beggar.  With his entourage hanging on, Lear now irritates Regan who forces him out of her home, just as a terrible storm is brewing.  Lear leaves “in high rage.”

Act 3. The disguised Kent sends a gentleman to seek help from Cordelia, giving the man one of the king’s rings. With disguised Kent’s help, Lear and a friend or two find some safety from the weather in a hovel, finding it occupied by Edgar, masquerading as “Poor Tom.” It is a terrible time for all, Lear deteriorating quickly.  Edmund, learning that the French have landed in Britain, tells Regan’s husband, Cornwall, that his father is a traitor.  He claims his father has offered intelligence to the French. Lear’s two older daughters want Gloucester to be severely punished.  Cornwall, Regan’s dastardly husband, captures Gloucester and forces out his eyes.  A distraught servant wounds Cornwall. Regan kills the servant. The now blind Gloucester learns that it was Edmund who has claimed he has been a traitor.

Act 4. Gloucester’s disguised son Edgar finds his father and agrees to lead his him to the Cliffs of Dover.  Goneril flirts with Edmund, giving him a kiss.  Goneril and her husband Albany have a name-calling serious argument.  Albany is one of the good guys. We learn that Cornwall has died as a result of the wound from the servant’s sword.  Albany now learns that Gloucester has lost his eyes. Cordelia is in Britain and is desperately searching for her father, she having received her father’s ring from the gentleman. Regan, now a widow, courts Edmund.  But the married Goneril still has her eye on him.  Edgar leads his father near to the Cliffs of Dover, Gloucester hoping to fall over the Cliffs and die.  But Edgar leads him close to the Cliffs, but not too close. Gloucester just falls over when he falls and falls harmlessly. A disoriented and demented Lear enters, further discouraging Gloucester and his son Edgar. An aide to Goneril enters. He sees the weak, disabled and harmless Gloucester and draws his sword.  Somehow finding a sword, the disguised Edgar protects his blind father, fatally stabbing the aide. Edgar finds a letter in the aide’s pocket, a letter from Goneril to Edmund plotting Albany’s death.

Act 5.  By now Regan is not only upset with her sister’s interest in Edmund, but with Edmund as well for showing interest in Goneril, Regan noting that she is the available widow.  At first, Edmund denies to Regan that he has any interest in Goneril, but later acknowledges that “to both these sisters have I sworn my love.” Now disguised-as-a-peasant Edgar gives Goneril’s letter intended for Edmund to Albany. Lear and Cordelia are captured. When Edgar suggests his father move to a more comfortable place, Gloucester responds “No further.” He soon dies. Edmund plans to send the captured Lear and Cordelia to prison, a demented Lear cheering the news, saying to his daughter “Come, let’s away to prison. We two alone will sing like birds in th’ cage.”  Edmund shouts “Take them away,” telling the captain to make certain they don’t leave prison alive. Feeling ill, Regan exits. Still disguised Edgar challenges Edmund to a duel. Edmund falls, seriously wounded. Goneril quietly exits. Albany embraces Edgar. We learn Goneril had fatally poisoned Regan and has now fatally stabbed herself. Edgar discards his disguise telling Edmund “I am no less in blood than thou art, Edmund.” Edmund dies, acknowledging that he had given instructions that Cordelia be hanged in prison. A sad and confused Lear enters, carrying in his arms the body of his sweetheart of a daughter Cordelia.  Kent, having stayed close to Lear all along, enters, noting that “he hates him that would upon the rack of this tough world stretch him out longer.”  Lear dies. Albany tells Kent and Edgar that they must be successor rulers of the realm and must “sustain the state.” 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2010 Condensed Shakespeare

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