List of Characters
Lear, King of Britain—A mythical king of pre-Christian Britain, well-known in the folklore of Shakespeare’s day. Lear is a foolish king who intends to divide his kingdom among his three daughters.
Cordelia—Lear’s youngest daughter who speaks the truth.
The King of France and the Duke of Burgundy—They are both Cordelia’s suitors, but the King of France marries her.
Regan and Goneril—Lear’s selfish daughters who flatter him in order to gain his wealth and power.
Duke of Albany—Goneril’s husband whose sympathy for Lear turns him against his wife.
Duke of Cornwall—Regan’s husband who joins his wife in her devious scheme to destroy King Lear and usurp his power.
Earl of Gloucester—In the subplot, Gloucester’s afflictions with his sons parallel those of Lear’s with his daughters.
Edgar—The legitimate son of Gloucester.
Edmund—The illegitimate son of Gloucester who stops at nothing to gain power.
Earl of Kent—Kent is banished by King Lear for trying to intervene when Lear disinherits Cordelia.
Fool—The king’s professional court jester whose witty and prophetic remarks are a wise commentary on Lear’s shortsightedness.
Oswald—Goneril’s stewart who attempts to kill Gloucester.
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Lear (leer), the king of Britain. Obstinate, arrogant, and hot-tempered, he indiscreetly plans to divide his kingdom among his daughters, giving the best and largest portion to his youngest and best-loved, Cordelia. When she refuses to flatter him with lavish and public protestations of love, he casts her off with unreasoning fury. Disillusioned and abandoned by his older daughters, he is driven to madness by his age and exposure to internal and external tempests. During his suffering, signs of unselfishness appear, and his character changes from arrogance and bitterness to love and tenderness. He is reunited with his true and loving daughter until her untimely murder parts them again.
Goneril (GON-uh-rihl), Lear’s eldest daughter. Savage and blunt as a wild boar, she wears the mask of hypocritical affection to acquire a kingdom. She has contempt for her aged father, her honest sister, and her kindhearted husband. Her illicit passion for Edmund, the handsome illegitimate son of the earl of Gloucester, leads to Edmund’s, Regan’s, and her own death.
Regan (REE-guhn), Lear’s second daughter. Treacherous in a catlike manner, she seldom initiates the action of the evil sisters but often goes a step further in cruelty. She gloats over Gloucester when his eyes are torn out and unintentionally helps him to see the light of truth. Her early widowhood gives her some advantage over Goneril in their rivalry for Edmund, but she is poisoned by Goneril, who then commits suicide.
Cordelia (kohr-DEEL-yuh), Lear’s youngest daughter. Endowed with her father’s stubbornness, she refuses to flatter him as her sisters have done. In his adversity, she returns to him with love and forgiveness, restoring his sanity and redeeming him from bitterness. Her untimely death brings about Lear’s death.
The earl of Kent
The earl of Kent, Lear’s frank and loyal follower. Risking Lear’s anger to avert his impetuous unreason, he accepts banishment as payment for truth. Like Cordelia, but even before her, he returns to aid Lear—necessarily in disguise—as the servant Caius. The impudence of Oswald arouses violent anger in him. For his master, no service is too menial or too perilous.
The earl of Gloucester
The earl of Gloucester, another father with good and evil children, parallel to Lear and his daughters. Having had a gay past, about which he speaks frankly and with some pride, he believes himself a man of the world...
(The entire section is 1097 words.)