Which characters in the play King Lear have learned from their experience? Give examples from the text.

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two characters who come to mind are King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester. Lear makes the colossal mistake of trusting the flattery of his two daughters Goneril and Regan. He disavows his honest daughter Cordelia who refuses to tell him she loves him more than everyone and everything, including her husband. He tells her, “Better thou / Hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better.”

Now that Lear has given away his kingdom, Goneril and Regan immediately vie for control and refuse to treat their father like a king. Lear gradually realizes that not one but two daughters have betrayed him: “Hast thou given all to thy two daughters? / And art thou come to this?” When he eventually reunites with Cordelia, he calls himself “a very foolish fond old man” and prays for forgiveness.

Gloucester demonstrates similarly bad judgment when it comes to his children. His illegitimate son Edmund tricks him into thinking his legitimate son Edgar is his enemy. Edgar flees and takes on the persona of mad beggar Tom. After Edmund is partially responsible for the attack on Gloucester in which his eyes are gouged out, Gloucester repents of his misjudgment, suggesting that he could barely see when he had eyes: “I have no way, and therefore want no eyes; / I stumbled when I saw.” Like Lear, Gloucester is reunited with his loyal son, and upon the reconciliation, “his flaw'd heart, / ... 'Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief, / Burst smilingly.”

Lear and Gloucester are not the only characters in King Lear who learn from experience—Albany and even Edmund come to different realizations—but they are the most prominent examples of understanding and redemption.