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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1476

Act I
Lear opens at the site of a wall King Lear is having built in order to keep enemies out of his kingdom. Two workers carry a dead laborer onstage just before Lear enters with Lord Warrington and Lear's daughters, Bodice and Fontanelle, among others When Lear sees the dead man, his primary concern is with the resulting delay to the building of the wall, and he shoots the worker who accidentally caused the man's death. Bodice and Fontanelle object to Lear's violence and reveal their own plans to marry Lear's enemies, the Duke of North and the Duke of Cornwall, respectively. Lear's daughters believe their marriages will lead to peace, but Lear believes that only the wall can protect his people. After Lear and the others leave, Bodice and Fontanelle reveal the plans they share with their husbands to attack Lear's armies. In Scene 2, as Lear prepares for war, Warrington informs him that each daughter has written separately, each asking Warrington to betray Lear, then the other daughter In Scene 3, each of the daughters complains about her husband and reveals plans to have him killed.

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In Scene 4, the audience discovers that the sisters' armies have been victorious, but Bodice and Fontanelle each has failed at having her husband killed Warrington, now a prisoner whose tongue has been cut out, is brought before the sisters. Bodice calmly knits while Warrington is tortured by her soldiers Fontanelle calls for increased violence against Warrington, then deafens him by poking Bodice's knitting needles into his ears. Warrington is taken out by a soldier.

In Scene 5, Lear, m the woods, finds bread on the ground and eats it. Warrington, crippled, and for whom the bread is intended, sneaks up behind Lear with a knife but leaves when the Gravedigger's Boy arrives with bread and water for Lear. The Boy asks Lear to stay with him and his wife. Scene 6 takes place at the Boy's house, where Lear finds out how the Boy lives. The Boy has two fields and his pregnant wife, Cordelia, keeps pigs. When Lear goes out with the Boy, Warrington returns with a knife, and the Boy\s wife calls out, saying that the Wild Man has returned. While Lear sleeps, Warrington returns with a knife, attacks Lear, then leaves.

In Scene 7. the Boy complains to Lear about the king who caused so much suffering for the workers building his wall, but asks Lear to stay. A sergeant and three soldiers come on stage looking for Lear. Warrington's body is discovered plugging the well. The soldiers kill the Boy, rape Cordelia, and kill the pigs. The Carpenter arrives and kills the soldiers. Lear is taken prisoner.

Act II
In the first scene, saying Lear is mad. Bodice and Fontanelle bring him before a judge. When asked about Bodice and Fontanelle, Lear denies that they are his daughters. Bodice has her mirror given to Lear, as she believes that madmen are frightened of themselves. Lear sees himself in the mirror as a tortured animal in a cage. He is found mad and taken away. Bodice tells Fontanelle that there are malcontents in the kingdom and that there will be a civil war. Fontanelle replies that the rebels are led by Cordelia.

In Scene 2, the Gravedigger's Boy's Ghost appears to Lear in his cell. Lear asks the Ghost to bring him his daughters. The apparitions that appear are of Bodice and Fontanelle as young girls. Lear and his daughters talk as the two girls sit with their heads on his knees. Lear asks the daughters to stay, but they leave him. The Ghost reappears and asks Lear if he can stay with him. Lear agrees, saying they will be comforted by the sound of each other's voices.

In Scene 3, Cordelia appears with her soldiers, one of whom was wounded in a skirmish with Bodice and Fontanelle's troops. The Carpenter arrives. A soldier captured by Cordelia's men asks to join their forces, but Cordelia has him shot because he does not hate. The others go offstage, leaving the wounded soldier to die alone. In Scene 4, Bodice and Fontanelle, talking at their headquarters, reveal that their husbands have tried to desert. Fontanelle is given Lear's death warrant by Bodice and signs it. The Dukes of North and Cornwall arrive and are told they are to be kept in cells unless there is a need for them to be seen in public. Left alone. Bodice reveals that she started to have the wall pulled down, but that she needed the workers as soldiers.

In Scene 5, Cordelia's soldiers, who appear leading Lear and other prisoners, have lost their way. Lear says that he only wants to live to find the Ghost and help him. Fontanelle is brought in, a prisoner also. In Scene 6, Lear and the other prisoners, including Fontanelle, are in their cell. The Ghost arrives. He is cold and thin. Lear says he wishes he'd been the Ghost's father and looked after him. Fontanelle tells Lear that if he helps her, she will protect him if Bodice is victorious At the Carpenter's command, a soldier shoots Fontanelle A medical doctor who is also a prisoner arrives to perform an autopsy on Fontanelle. Lear is awed by the beauty of the inside of her body, in contrast to her cruelty and hatred when alive.

Bodice arrives as a prisoner, indicating that Cordelia's forces have defeated the last remnants of the daughters' regime. Lear tells his daughter that he destroyed Fontanelle. Bodice too has been sentenced to death. The soldiers stab her with a bayonet three times. Cordelia, now the Carpenter's wife, has asked that Lear not be killed. Using a "scientific device,'' the doctor removes Lear's eyes. In terrible pain, Lear leaves the prison with the Ghost. In Scene 7, Lear meets a family of farmers by the wall. They reveal that the father will go to work on the wall and the son will become a soldier. Lear feels pity and tells them to run away. Lear says that Cordelia does not know what she is doing and that he will write to tell her of the people's suffering.

Act III
In Scene 1, Lear is living in the Boy's old house with Thomas, his wife Susan, and John, all of whom care for Lear in his blindness. A deserter from Cordelia's wall arrives; the Ghost wants him to leave for the sake of everyone else's safety. Soldiers arrive, looking for the deserter, but Lear hides the fugitive Unable to find him, the soldiers leave. The others want the deserter to leave as well, but Lear insists that he—and all escapees who come to the house—can stay.

Scene 2 occurs some months later. At the Boy' s house, Lear tells a group of people a fable. The audience learns from Thomas that hundreds gather to hear Lear's public speeches, but Thomas believes it is dangerous for Lear to continue speaking out against the government. An officer arrives with Lear's old Councilor and accuses Lear of hiding deserters. The deserter from Scene 2 is taken away to be hanged. The Councilor tells Lear that Cordelia has tolerated Lear's speaking, but now he must stop. The Councilor and those who came with him leave. Lear complains that he is still a prisoner; there is a wall everywhere. The Ghost enters; he is thinner and more shrunken. The Ghost suggests that he poison the well so the others will leave; he will take Lear to a spring to drink. Lear sleeps, and John tells Susan that he is leaving and asks her to come with him John leaves, Thomas enters, and Susan, crying, asks Thomas to take her away from Lear. Thomas tells Susan to come into the house.

In Scene 3, Lear is alone in the woods. The Ghost arrives; he is deteriorating rapidly and appears terrified The Ghost believes he is dying and weeps because he is afraid. Cordelia and the Carpenter enter. Cordelia speaks of how the soldiers killed her husband and raped her and of the way in which her new government is creating a better way of life The Ghost watches his former wife, wishing he could speak to her. Cordelia asks Lear to stop working against her. Lear tells Cordelia she must pull the wall down, but she says the kingdom will be attacked by enemies if she does. When Lear continues saying he will not be quiet, Cordelia says he will be put on trial, then leaves.

The Ghost is gored to death by pigs that have gone mad. In Scene 4, Lear is taken to the wall by Susan. He climbs up on the structure in order to dig it up. The Farmer's Son, now a soldier, shoots Lear, injuring him. Lear continues to shovel. The Farmer's Son shoots Lear again, killing him Lear's body is left alone onstage.

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Themes