Key moments

Every director will choose their own key moments in King Lear depending on how they are interpreting the play. Here we've listed some important moments in the order in which they appear in the play:

  1. Lear divides his kingdom (Act 3 Scene 1)
    King Lear announces his intention to divide his kingdom into three and asks which of his daughters loves him most. He banishes Cordelia and splits his land between his other two daughters.

  2. Edmund deceives Gloucester (Act 1 Scene 2)
    In parallel to Lear's actions, Gloucester is deceived by his son Edmund and doubts the loyalty of his other son, Edgar.

  3. Lear is cast out (Act 2 Scene Two)
    Enraged by his daughters' refusal to allow him to keep 100 knights to attend him, Lear and his Fool depart into the stormy night alone.

  4. 'Poor Tom' (Act 3 Scene 4)
    Lear, Kent and the Fool meet Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom, on the heath and are persuaded to take secret refuge in Gloucester's home.

  5. Gloucester is blinded (Act 3 Scene 5)
    Gloucester is accused of treachery by Goneril and Regan for having sent Lear to Dover to meet Cordelia's army. His eyes are pulled out and he is thrown out of his home unattended. Cornwall is killed by one of his own servants.

  6. Cordelia searches for her father (Act 4 Scene 3)
    As they prepare for battle, Cordelia and her army hear news of the mad king and set out to find him.

  7. Gloucester and Lear are rescued (Act 4 Scene 5)
    Gloucester, led by Poor Tom, is saved from suicide by his son's trickery. They then meet Lear and are reconciled. Lear is found and helped by Cordelia's troops.

  8. Lear and Cordelia are reunited (Act 4 Scene 6)
    The king recovers his wits and is reconciled with Cordelia.

  9. Edmund's plot (Act 5 Scene 7)
    Edmund reveals that he has seduced both sisters and that he intends to kill both Lear and Cordelia if his side wins the battle.

  10. The tragic ending (Act 5 Scene 3)
    Cordelia's army loses and both she and Lear are sent to prison. Edmond's plotting is exposed and he is killed by Edgar in a duel. Goneril kills herself after poisoning Regan. Cordelia is hanged on Edmund's instructions. Lear dies of grief when he learns that both Gloucester and the Fool are also dead.

Compiled by Kath Bradley, MPhil (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham) © RSC
Kath has worked for the RSC in a variety of roles since 2005.

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