What is the short summary of King Lear?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

King Lear is a play that explores the relationship between appearance and reality, and the tragic consequences of trusting in appearance more than reality.

Lear divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, because they express their undying love and devotion to him in exaggerated language. Cordelia, who is disgusted by her sisters' phoniness, refuses to flatter her father, so in a rage, he disinherits her and banishes her. She marries the King of France, who will later lead an army against her sisters.

Lear very soon learns that his older two daughters' words were empty promises made simply so they could seize power. Once they have his land and goods, he becomes a nuisance. They humiliate him and cast him aside.

In a parallel plot, the Earl of Gloucester is manipulated by his illegitimate son, Edmund, into thinking that his real son, Edgar is plotting against him. Both powerful men are humbled by their realization that they were deceived.

By the end of the play, both Lear and the Earl of Gloucester have learned the hard way who is faithful to them. In acts of poetic justice, Goneril and Regan are deceived by Edmund, Goneril kills Regan then commits suicide, and Edgar kills Edmund. Cordelia is hanged by Edgar's decree, and Lear dies of sorrow. Nevertheless, order is restored in the kingdom.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

King Lear by William Shakespeare is a tragedy written mainly in blank verse concerning the downfall of King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester due to the ingratitude of their children. It was first performed in 1606. 

King Lear is an aging monarch with no male heir. He decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters and their husbands. He requires them to give speeches proving their love for him. The evil sisters Goneril and Regan use exaggerated flattery, but the good sister Cordelia speaks plainly and simply. Lear disinherits Cordelia and splits his kingdom between the evil sisters. The evil sisters cause Lear to become a homeless beggar, and he goes insane. 

Meanwhile, Gloucester's evil bastard Edmund plots against the good son Edgar and his father Gloucester. Cordelia's French husband mobilizes an army against Goneril and Regan's kingdoms. Edgar helps Lear. Edmund, Goneril, and Regan are involved in a love triangle. 

Eventually, Lear regains his sanity and is reunited with Cordelia, but they both die. Goneril kills Regan. Edgar kills Edmund. Justice and order are restored to the kingdoms. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team