At a Glance

  • King Lear, ruler of ancient Britain, who decides to abdicate the throne and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. He dies of grief after the death of his daughter Cordelia.
  • Cordelia, who refuses to flatter Lear when he promises to give the biggest part of the kingdom to the daughter who best expresses her devotion to him. After being banished, she marries the King of France. She is later taken prisoner during the war and sentenced to death.
  • Goneril, Lear's oldest daughter. She manipulates her father into giving her a larger portion of the kingdom, then causes him to lose half his followers. At the end of the play, she stabs herself after poisoning her sister Regan.
  • Regan, Lear's second oldest daughter. Like Goneril, Regan is selfish and contemptuous. She appears to suffer from what is now called middle child syndrome.
  • The Earl of Kent, Lear's loyal follower, who returns to help Lear in disguise after Lear banishes him for speaking in Cordelia's defense.
  • The Earl of Gloucester, who allows himself to be manipulated into believing that his son Edgar is plotting against him.
  • Edmund, Gloucester's illegitimate son, who turns him against Edgar and later commands the British forces in the war against the French.
  • Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son, who disguises himself as Tom o'Bedlam after being accused of treachery. He later acts as his father's guide after Gloucester is blinded.

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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

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lear

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

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,...

(The entire section is 1,301 words.)