When the play opens, King Lear is at the point where he wants to retire and divide his kingdom between his daughters. What is interesting, however is that he wants to be retired, but also wants to retain his authority. So effectively, he does not want to have to do the job, but wants the benefits of the job. Think of it as if he wants to keep getting paid for a job he no longer has, wants to still have authority to boss people around, and make all the decisions, even though he is no longer in the office.
"Lear's expectations about his life in retirement are unrealistic. Lear, who uses the royal "we" to refer to himself, announces that
'tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen'd crawl toward death."
I think it is safe to say, that at the beginning of the play King Lear has a perception problem. He does not see reality, but rather an idealized, whitewashed, fantasy world according to his design. For example, his two daughters, Goneril and Regan, he wants them to declare their love for him.
"Tell me, my daughters,- / Since now we will divest us both of rule, / Interest of territory, cares of state,- / Which of you shall we say doth [does] love us [King Lear] most? That we our largest bounty may extend / Where nature doth with merit challenge" (Tell me my daughters since I will now divest my rule, assets and responsibilities of state, which of you shall say you love me most that my largest bounty or reward may extend or go where nature meets with merit or is deserving)", (Lines 50-55).
When Cordelia will not pledge her total love for her father like her sisters, who have said what he wanted to hear and really feel nothing for him, she is punished, given nothing, and Lear becomes angry at her. He has decided to stay with his two other daughters, alternating locations.
Plunged into a depth of despair by the rejection and disrespectful behavior of Goneril and Regan, King Lear experiences a degree of madness, it is defined by a deep sadness and feelings of loss and isolation.
"When Lear emerges from his mad state, through the gentle ministrations of Cordelia's doctors, he seems to have a different image of himself. In response to Cordelia's request that Lear bless her, he says, "Pray, do not mock me: / I am a very foolish fond old man" (IV.vii.58-59). He has learned to be weak."
His pride and arrogance gone, Lear appears to be a broken man, now realizing the Cordelia is the only daughter that really loved him.
"Lear's character flaw is a variation of the classical notion of hubris, or excessive pride, and like many of the heroes of ancient Greek tragedy (Oedipus, for example), Lear is blind to this fatal fault. To be sure, Lear acknowledges that he is not in his right mind."