Does anyone have notes on how Act I of "King Lear" sets up the rest of the play?
The center of any play - really any story - is its conflicts. There are a number of conflicts in this play, in both the main plot and the subplot. There is the conflict of King Lear vs. himself, Lear vs. his daughters, and in the subplot, Gloucester vs. himself and his sons.
Act one is used for exposition, the part of the plot that establishes the characters and introduces the conflicts. We learn that King Lear is a very proud man, and that he values his daughters on the love they demonstrate to him. He is also a self-conscious man, who needs clear demonstrations of love to believe in them and who doubts himself. We see this in the fact that he banishes Cordelia for not being able to express her love, in his behavior when his other daughters and their servants begin to treat him with disrespect, and in the fact that he begins to question his own sanity after others suggest he is losing it.
Act one also establishes the characters of all the daughters. Regan and Goneril are immediately established as selfish and uncaring daughters, and Cordelia as both an honest and caring one.
With all this established, the story becomes not about what the daughters will do to their father - we already know that - but what the father will do in response.
The same characterization and conflict development is shown in the Gloucester, Edgar, Edmund triangle as well.