King Lear

Story of King Lear, the Shakespearean Tragedy

King Lear Weeping Over the Body of Cordelia
King Lear Weeping Over the Body of Cordelia (Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3) by Francis Legat is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

King Lear was old and tired. He desired nothing more than to spend the remainder of his life in peace with his three daughters. The names of his daughters were Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Two of his daughters were wed to the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, while the Duke of Burgundy and King of France competed for the hand of his youngest daughter, Cordelia.

Lear gathered his three daughters and informed them that he intended to divide his kingdom among them. “But first,” he said, “I want to know how much you love me.”

Goneril, who was really a very cruel lady who did not love her father at all, said she loved him more than words could describe; she loved him more than eyesight, space, or freedom; more than life, grace, health, and beauty; and more than honor.

Regan said, “I love you as much as my sister and even more, since I care only for my father’s affection.”

Lear was thrilled with Reagan’s performance and then turned to his youngest daughter, Cordelia. “Now, our delight,” he said, “but last but not least, I have reserved the finest portion of my kingdom for you.” “What can you say?”

“Nothing,” said Cordelia to her father.

Nothing can result from nothing. “Speak again,” the king responded.

And Cordelia said, “I adore your Majesty to the extent of my duty, neither more nor less.”

She said this because she was embarrassed by how her sisters pretended to love their old father even though they didn’t feel any obligation to do so.

“I am your daughter,” she said, “and you have raised me and loved me; therefore, I return to you the obligations you have bestowed upon me: I will obey you, love you, and greatly respect you.”

Cordelia was the daughter whom Lear loved the most, and he desired that she make more spectacular declarations of love than her sisters. “Go,” he murmured, “and be my heart’s and my own eternal stranger.”

The Earl of Kent, one of King Lear’s favorite courtiers and commanders, attempted to speak on Cordelia’s behalf, but King Lear refused to listen. He gave half of the kingdom to each of his two daughters, Goneril and Regan, and told them that he would only keep 100 knights and live with each of them in turn.

When the Duke of Burgundy discovered that Cordelia would not inherit the throne, he ceased his courting of her. The King of France, however, was more intelligent and said, “Thy dowerless daughter, King, is Queen of us, of ours, and of our beautiful France.”

“Take her, take her,” the king said, “because I shall never see her face again.”

Therefore, Cordelia became queen of France, and the Earl of Kent, who had attempted to support her, was exiled. The King now went to live with his daughter, Goneril, who had received everything he had to offer and had grown to resent even the hundred knights he had set aside for himself. She was cruel and unkind to him, and her employees either disobeyed his commands or pretended not to hear them.

When the Earl of Kent was exiled, he said he would flee to another nation, but actually he returned disguised as a servant and joined the King’s service. The King now had two loyal friends: the Earl of Kent, whom he had only known as his servant, and his Fool. Goneril reminded her father that his knights merely served to fill her court with celebration and feasting, appealing to him to retain just a few elderly men, such as himself.

“The soldiers in my train are well-versed in all facets of duty,” remarked Lear. “Goneril, I will not further disturb you, but I have left another daughter behind.”

With his horses saddled, he went off with his followers towards Regan’s castle. But she, who had previously outdone her sister in expressions of affection for the King, now seemed to outdo her in ungrateful behavior and attitude, saying that fifty knights were too many to wait on him, while Goneril (who had rushed there to prevent Regan from showing kindness to the old King) said that five knights were too many since her servants could serve him.

When Lear realized that their true intent was to expel him, he left them. It was a dark and stormy night, and he walked aimlessly over the moor with just the wretched fool for company. His servant, the noble Earl of Kent, eventually convinced him to rest in a miserable hut. The Earl of Kent took his royal master to Dover in the morning and went to the Court of France to inform Cordelia of what had happened.

Cordelia’s husband sent her an army, and with it she arrived at Dover. Here she discovered King Lear strolling the countryside while wearing a nettle and weed crown. They returned him to his home, fed and dressed him, and Cordelia kissed him.

Lear remarked, “You must be patient with me; forget and forgive.” “I am an elderly idiot.”

Now he understood which of his children loved him the most and who was deserving of his affection.

Goneril and Regan joined forces against Cordelia’s army and were victorious; Cordelia and her father were imprisoned. Then, Goneril’s husband, the Duke of Albany, who was a good man and had no idea how wicked his wife was, heard the truth of the entire story, and when Goneril discovered that her husband knew her for the wicked woman she was, she committed suicide, having previously poisoned her sister Regan out of jealousy.

However, they had planned for Cordelia to be executed in jail, and despite the Duke of Albany sending messengers immediately, it was too late. The old King staggered into the Duke of Albany’s tent, carrying the body of his beloved daughter Cordelia.

And shortly afterwards, with words of love for her on his lips, he fell to his death with her still in his arms.

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