Investigate Character Relationships

  • King Lear

    King Lear is the elderly but still ruling king of Ancient Britain. He has decided to abdicate his responsibilities as king and divide his kingdom in three to be ruled over by his three daughters and their husbands. He intends to spend his retirement enjoying the companionship of his hundred knights: hunting and drinking, and staying with each of his daughters in turn. When his youngest daughter Cordelia behaves unexpectedly, he disowns her, but soon realises his remaining two daughters are not as lovingly grateful and obedient towards him as he expected them to be.

    Facts we learn about King Lear:

    • He has ruled the kingdom for many years.
    • He is used to gratitude and respect from his family and his subjects.
    • He believes that by dividing his kingdom between his daughters and their husbands he will prevent them from fighting over the kingdom in the future.
    • His favourite child is Cordelia.

    Things they say:

    ‘I loved her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery.’ (Lear, 1:1)

    Lear says publicly that he loved Cordelia more than his other daughters and hoped to spend most of his retirement with her. This suggests that the sisters already know that Cordelia is their father’s favourite, which may have affected their relationships in the past.

    ‘they told me I was everything: ’tis a lie, I am not ague-proof. ’ (Lear, 4:5)

    Lear begins to realise that being flattered all his life because he is king was not helpful in making him see his own weaknesses.

    ‘I am a very foolish fond old man, / Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less, / And to deal plainly, I fear I am not in my perfect mind’ (Lear, 4:6)

    Towards the end of the play, Lear recognises the limitations of being over 80 years old. He tells Cordelia he feels foolish and silly and fears his mental health has suffered.

    Things others say about them:

    ‘'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.’ (Regan, 1:1)

    King Lear’s judgement has got worse with age but his daughters don’t think he was ever very self aware.

    ‘You strike my people, and your disordered rabble / Make servants of their betters.’ (Goneril, 1:4)

    Lear allows his followers to be rowdy.

    LEAR: Dost thou call me fool, boy?

    FOOL: All thy other titles thou hast given away, that thou wast born with. (1:4)

    Lear doesn’t always behave wisely or sensibly.

  • Cordelia

    Cordelia is the youngest daughter of King Lear and known to be his favourite. He has arranged for her to marry either the Duke of Burgundy or the King of France. When called upon to make a public expression of love for her father, Cordelia does not feel she can make a flattering speech in the way her sisters do. Her father is angry with her and disinherits her so she has no entitlement to the portion of the kingdom he was going to give as a dowry. The King of France agrees to marry her without this land and she leaves with him. She is concerned that her sisters will not care for their father as she would have done and returns to Britain with a French army to fight against them. She is eventually reunited with her father who asks her forgiveness for his poor judgement regarding her. The French troops lose the battle and Cordelia is imprisoned with her father and murdered.

    Facts we learn about Cordelia:

    • She is unmarried at the start of the play but leaves Lear’s court to marry the King of France.
    • The Earl of Kent and the Fool, two of Lear’s most loyal companions, are very fond of her.
    • Although she loves her father, she feels unable to make a flattering speech about how much she loves him.

    Things they say:

    ‘I love your majesty / According to my bond, no more nor less.' (Cordelia, 1:1)

    Cordelia loves her father as much as any child loves their parent but does not feel she can flatter her father by making him feel there is no room in her heart for any other love.

    ‘If for I want that glib and oily art / To speak and purpose not, since what I will intend / I’ll do’t before I speak’ (Cordelia, 1:1)

    Cordelia prefers to show rather than describe her feelings.

    'No blown ambition doth our arms incite, / But love, dear love, and our aged father’s right‘ (Cordelia, 4:3)

    Cordelia proclaims that she is leading a French invasion against the British army out of love for her father, not political ambition.

    Things others say about them:

    ‘she whom even but now was your object, / The argument of your praise, balm of your age, / The best, the dearest’ (France, 1:1)

    As a visitor to Lear’s court, France has been led to believe that Cordelia is very much Lear’s favourite child and worthy of his praise.

    ‘You have obedience scanted, / And well are worth the want that you have wanted.' (Goneril, 1:1)

    Goneril suggests that her younger sister has not done her duty in refusing to flatter the King in public and deserves to be rejected for not showing such love.

  • Goneril

    Goneril is the eldest of King Lear’s three daughters. She is married to the Duke of Albany and does not yet seem to have any children. She makes a flattering speech declaring her love for her father, for which she is rewarded with a third of the kingdom to rule over with her husband. This increases to half the kingdom when her younger sister is disinherited by their father. Her marriage does not seem to be a happy one and Albany does not support her in the arguments arguments with Lear about how his knights behave in their house and he grows increasingly disgusted by how she treats her father. Goneril later falls in love with Edmund and plots with him to get rid of Albany so that she can marry Edmund instead.

    Facts we learn about Goneril:

    • She feels her father has shown poor judgement in banishing Kent and disowning Cordelia.
    • She resents how her father allows his knights to behave in her house.
    • She has a loyal and trusted servant called Oswald who carries messages for her.
    • She does not love her husband.

    Things they say:

    ‘Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter, / Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty’ (Goneril, 1:1)

    Goneril knows how to play the game her father sets up and makes a flattering and effective public speech about her love for her father.

    ‘By day and night he wrongs me: every hour / He flashes into one gross crime or other / That sets us all at odds.’ (Goneril, 1:3)

    Goneril is offended by how her father treats her and how he behaves in her house.

    ‘I had rather lose the battle than that sister / Should loosen him and me.’(Goneril, 5:1)

    Edmund has become the most important thing in Goneril’s life and she is determined not to lose him to her sister.

    Things others say about them:

    ‘she hath tied / Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here‘ (Lear, 2:2)

    Lear says that his daughter’s behaviour towards him feels like a vulture pecking at his heart.

    ‘See thyself, devil! / Proper deformity seems not in the fiend / So horrid as in woman’ (Albany, 4:2)

    Albany calls his wife a fiend and a devil and implies her evil behaviour is all the worse because she is a woman.

  • Regan

    Regan is the middle of King Lear’s three daughters. She is married to the Duke of Cornwall and does not yet seem to have any children. She makes a public speech at the start of the play in which she tries to outdo her older sister Goneril in expressing her love for her father. She is rewarded with a third of the kingdom and, when her youngest sister Cordelia is disinherited, she rules half the kingdom alongside Goneril. Regan follows Goneril’s lead in refusing to accept Lear bringing his knights to stay in her home. She meets her father at Gloucester’s house where she and Goneril let Lear walk off into the storm rather than allow him to bring his knights into their homes. She regards Gloucester as a traitor for helping Lear escape to Dover and supports her husband in gouging out Gloucester’s eyes. When Cornwall dies, she puts Edmund in charge of her army and declares her intention to marry him.

    Facts we learn about Regan:

    • She seems happy in her marriage to the Duke of Cornwall.
    • She agrees to work with Goneril in order to control their father’s behaviour.
    • She encourages Cornwall in his violence towards Gloucester.
    • She is attracted to Edmund.

    Things they say:

    ‘I am made of that self-mettle as my sister, / And prize me at her worth. In my true heart, / I find she names my very deed of love: / Only she comes too short‘ (Regan, 1:1)

    Regan knows how to flatter her father, publicly declaring her love to be even greater than her sister’s.

    ‘It was great ignorance, Gloucester’s eyes being out, / To let him live: where he arrives he moves / All hearts against us.’ (Regan, 4:4)

    This shows Regan’s callous attitude towards the suffering of Gloucester, but also her understanding that others will feel sorry for Gloucester and that this might make them take sides against her.

    ‘My lord is dead: Edmund and I have talked, / And more convenient is he for my hand / Than for your lady’s’ (Regan, 4:5)

    In telling Oswald to warn Goneril away from Edmund, Regan seems very practical in deciding that she should marry Edmund.

    Things others say about them:

    ‘thou better know’st / The offices of nature, bond of childhood, / Effects of courtesy, dues of gratitude: / Thy half o’th’kingdom hast thou not forgot, / Wherein I thee endowed.’ (Lear, 2:2)

    Lear believes that Regan is different to her older sister and that she will be grateful to him for all he has given her.

    ‘I would not see thy cruel nails / Pluck out his poor old eyes‘ (Gloucester, 3:7)

    Gloucester accuses Regan of cruelty in how she has treated her father.

  • Gloucester

    The Earl of Gloucester is a rich, powerful and loyal subject of King Lear. He has two sons: his eldest son Edgar is legitimate - the son of Gloucester’s wife; the younger son Edmund is illegitimate - the son of a woman with whom Gloucester committed adultery. Gloucester says he loves both sons the same, but it is only Edgar who will inherit his wealth and title. Gloucester believes Edmund’s story that Edgar is plotting against his life in order to inherit sooner. Edmund then betrays his father’s confidence by telling Cornwall that Gloucester has news of an invading French army and plans to help the King. Gloucester is tortured and has his eyes gouged out because of this. He then learns that it is Edgar who is loyal to him, not Edmund. He tries to throw himself off a cliff but Edgar, in disguise, cares for him until Gloucester finally dies near the end of the play.

    Facts we learn about Gloucester:

    • He is loyal to King Lear.
    • He is superstitious.
    • He is very ready to believe what Edmund tells him.
    • He tries to do what he thinks is right in helping Lear.

    Things they say:

    ‘O, madam, my old heart is cracked, it’s cracked!’ (Gloucester, 2:1)

    Gloucester tells Regan that his heart is broken by the discovery that his son Edgar has been plotting against him.

    ‘my duty cannot suffer / T’obey in all your daughters’ hard commands’ (Gloucester, 3:4)

    Gloucester feels a strong sense of duty and loyalty to the old king which is stronger than his sense of duty to obeying the new rulers when their commands seem cruel.

    ‘I stumbled when I saw.’ (Gloucester, 4:6)

    Gloucester realises that he was blind to the truth when he still had his eyes and was mistaken in how he judged his sons.

    Things others say about them:

    ’A credulous father’ (Edmund, 1:2)

    Edmund thinks his father is easily fooled.

    ‘a published traitor’ (Oswald, 4:5)

    Gloucester has been proclaimed as a traitor by the lawful leaders of the country.

  • Edmund

    Edmund is the younger and illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester. He resents being treated differently to his older, legitimate half-brother Edgar and secretly plots against both his father and his brother in order to gain their lands and title. He impresses the Duke of Cornwall when he shows his father up as a traitor for secretly receiving letters about the French invasion. Cornwall rewards Edmund by making him Duke of Gloucester in place of his father. Edmund swears his love to both Goneril and Regan and, when Cornwall dies, Regan puts him in charge of her troops and intends to marry him. After the battle against the French, because of all his betrayals, Edmund is challenged to a duel by Edgar, who kills him.

    Facts we learn about Edmund:

    • Edmund’s mother was not Gloucester’s wife.
    • Edmund resents the fact that as ‘a bastard’, he will not inherit his father’s lands.
    • He has been away from the court for nine years and is due to go away again soon.
    • Edmund seems to have a good relationship with his brother at the start of the play.
    • Both Goneril and Regan are attracted to him.

    Things they say:

    ‘My father compounded with my mother under the dragon’s tail and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. I should have been that I am had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.’ (Edmund, 1:1)

    Edmund does not believe in the superstitions of astrology that say he should be a certain way because of the position of the stars when he was born.

    ‘This seems a fair deserving and must draw me / That which my father loses: no less than all. / The younger rises when the old doth fall.’ (Edmund, 3:3)

    Edmund seems to believe that when the old behave foolishly, the young should take their place. He suggests his father deserves to be betrayed and that he deserves to take all his father’s wealth.

    ‘Yet Edmund was beloved: / The one the other poisoned for my sake / And after slew herself.’ (Edmund, 5:3)

    Edmund feels that Goneril and Regan’s fatal jealousy proves they did love him. This might suggest it is the first time he has felt loved.

    Things others say about them:

    ’I have so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to’t.’ (Gloucester, 1:1)

    Gloucester talks openly with Kent about Edmund’s illegitimacy, suggesting that Edmund may often have heard people talk about him in this way.

    Maugre thy strength, place, youth and eminence, / Despise thy victor sword and fire-new fortune, / Thy valour and thy heart, thou art a traitor: / False to thy gods, thy brother and thy father, / Conspirant gainst this high illustrious prince’ (Edgar, 5:3)

    Edmund has achieved what he set out to achieve, taking his father’s place and achieving victory in the battle, but he has betrayed his religion, his family, and his country in the process.

  • Edgar

    Edgar is the Earl of Gloucester’s son and heir. He has a younger half-brother called Edmund who is illegitimate. Edmund tricks their father into believing that Edgar is plotting against his life. Edmund then makes Edgar believe that he is trying to help him and, on Edmund’s advice, Edgar runs away. Edgar gives up all his comforts and disguises himself as a ‘Bedlam beggar’ called ‘Poor Tom’. As ‘Poor Tom’ he meets King Lear during the storm. He then meets his father when Gloucester is turned out of his own home, blinded. Dressed as ‘Poor Tom’, Edgar guides his father to Dover. While there, in order to try and give his father hope, Edgar tricks Gloucester into believing he has thrown himself from the top of a cliff. Gloucester later dies and Edgar challenges Edmund to a duel and he defeats Edmund.

    Facts we learn about Edgar:

    • Edgar is Gloucester’s eldest son and is heir to his lands and title.
    • He seems to have a good relationship with Edmund at the start of the play.
    • Edgar disguises himself as ‘Poor Tom’ and even his father does not realise who he is.
    • Edgar forgives his father and tries to help him.

    Things they say:

    ‘Poor Turlygod, poor Tom! / That’s something yet: Edgar I nothing am.’ (Edgar, 1:1)

    Edgar has to give up everything including his home, his comforts and his identity, in order to become ‘Poor Tom’.

    ‘A most poor man, made tame to fortune’s blows, / Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows, / Am pregnant to good pity.’ (Edgar, 4:5)

    Although he is speaking in disguise as ‘Poor Tom’, Edgar also seems to be speaking about himself as he tells his blinded father of how his misfortunes have made him more sympathetic to the misfortunes of others.

    ‘Men must endure / Their going hence, even as their coming hither: / Ripeness is all’ (Edgar 5:2)

    Edgar is trying to encourage his father to keep going but this also seems to suggest something about his beliefs – that we must be ready to deal with whatever life sends us and keep going.

    Things others say about them:

    ‘a brother noble, / Whose nature is so far from doing harms / That he suspects none: on whose foolish honesty / My practices ride easy.’ (Edmund, 1:2)

    Edmund regards his brother as honest, trustworthy and someone easy to fool because he believes that everyone else is as honest and trustworthy as him.

    'Methought thy very gait did prophesy / A royal nobleness’ (Albany, 5:3)

    Albany sensed that Edgar was a gentleman of royal blood by the way he walked and presented himself.

  • The Fool

    The Fool is King Lear’s jester and close companion. The Fool does not appear until after the division of the kingdom when Lear and his knights are staying at Goneril’s house; he then stays by Lear’s side and is Lear’s only companion in the storm until Kent and Gloucester find them. The Fool has no further lines after Lear leaves Gloucester’s house to go to Dover. At the end of the play Lear says, ‘And my poor fool is hanged’, although he may be referring to Cordelia. In the six scenes in which he appears, the Fool uses his wit and his songs to help Lear realise what he has lost.

    Facts we learn about the Fool:

    • Lear is very fond of him and allows him to say things he does not allow others to say.
    • The Fool is very loyal to Lear and tries to help him.
    • The Fool is very fond of Cordelia.

    Things they say:

    ‘But I will tarry, the fool will stay, / And let the wise man fly: / The knave turns fool that runs away, / The fool no knave, perdy.' (The Fool, 2:2)

    The Fool is loyal to Lear and stays with him despite understanding that others are abandoning him because of his change in fortunes .

    ‘This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.’ (The Fool, 3:4)

    As the Fool sees Lear and Poor Tom behaving and speaking as though they have lost their minds, his own comments become more straightforward.

    Things others say about them:

    ‘A bitter fool’ (Lear, 1:4)

    The Fool’s role is to speak the truth to those in power. Many of the Fool’s jokes reflect the truth to Lear, which can seem bitter to him, rather than being funny.

    ‘your all-licensed fool’ (Goneril, 1:4)

    Lear allows the Fool to get away with behaviour that other servants would not get away with.

    ‘Since my young lady’s going into France, sir, the fool hath much pined away.’ (Knight, 1:4)

    The Fool seems to have been close to Cordelia and misses her.

  • Kent

    The Earl of Kent is a rich and powerful man who is loyal to King Lear. When Lear disinherits Cordelia, Kent tries to step in and advise the King but Lear banishes him from the kingdom. Kent returns in disguise as a working man called ‘Caius’ and gains the King’s trust in order to become his servant. Kent’s defence of Lear gets him into trouble with Cornwall and Regan when he fights with Goneril's messenger Oswald. Kent stays loyal to Lear during the storm and helps Lear to escape to Dover. In Dover, Kent is reunited with Cordelia and they both continue to support the King.

    Facts we learn about Kent:

    • Kent is banished from Lear’s kingdom on pain of death for speaking up when Lear disinherits Cordelia.
    • He returns in disguise as ‘Caius’ and Lear employs him as his trusted messenger.
    • Kent keeps in touch with Cordelia, through exchanging letters.
    • Kent remains fiercely loyal to Lear throughout the play.

    Things they say:

    ‘My life I never held but as pawn / To wage against thine enemies, ne’er fear to lose it, / Thy safety being motive.’ (Kent, 1:1)

    Kent is fiercely loyal to Lear and his loyalty includes speaking up when he feels the king needs advice.

    LEAR: Will’t break my heart?
    KENT: I had rather break mine own. (3:4)

    Kent tells King Lear he will put his life before his own.

    ‘It is the stars, / The stars above us govern our conditions, / Else one self mate and make could not beget / Such different issue.’ (Kent, 4:3)

    Kent, like Gloucester, believes that people’s characters are made by the position of the stars at their birth.

    Things others say about them:

    ’And the noble and true-hearted Kent banished! His offence, honesty! ’Tis strange.’ (Gloucester, 1:2)

    Kent seems to be regarded by other courtiers, such as Gloucester, as a good man who is loyal to the king.

    ‘This ancient ruffian’ (Oswald, 1:2)

    Because of his insults, attitude, and insistence on fighting , Oswald, Cornwall and Regan regard the disguised Kent as an old thug.

    ‘O thou good Kent, how shall I live and work / To match thy goodness? My life will be too short, / And every measure fail me.’ (Cordelia, 4:6)

    Cordelia is deeply grateful to Kent for looking out for her father at such risk to himself.

  • Albany

    The Duke of Albany is married to King Lear's eldest daughter Goneril. When the kingdom is divided between Goneril and Regan, it is their husbands, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, who rule half the kingdom each. Albany believes Lear should be allowed to continue behaving as he wishes and does not support his wife in her complaints against Lear’s knights. Throughout the play, rumours abound and grow about division between the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall. Albany grows increasingly disgusted at the behaviour of his wife and her sister but fights with them against Cordelia and her invading French army. At the end of the play Albany is left to rule, along with Edgar.

    Facts we learn about Albany:

    • He is married to Goneril.
    • Goneril and Albany do not seem to have any children yet.
    • Albany is loyal to the king and dislikes the way his wife treats her father.

    Things they say:

    ‘Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile: / Filths savour but themselves.’ (Albany 4:2)

    Albany believes he is right to feel loyalty to the king rather than siding with his wife, who seems vile and filthy to him.

    ‘Where I could not be honest, / I never yet was valiant.’ (Albany 5:1)

    Albany regards honesty as an important value.

    Things others say about them:

    ’never man so changed. / I told him of the army that was landed, / He smiled at it: I told him you were coming, / His answer was ‘The worse’’ (Oswald, 4:2)

    Albany seems happy that the French army has landed and unhappy that his wife has returned home. Oswald feels this is a change in his master’s attitude.

    Milk-livered man, / That bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs’ (Goneril, 4:2)

    Goneril regards her husband as a coward who does not know what he is doing.

Explore their relationships

King Lear

  • King Lear - Kent

    Kent is loyal to the king and sees it as his duty to question the king’s judgement in disowning Cordelia. Lear feels Kent has betrayed him by challenging him in this way and banishes him.

    ‘Royal Lear, / Whom I have ever honoured as my king, / Loved as my father, as my master followed, / As my great patron thought on in my prayers’ (Kent, 1:1)
    ‘Five days we do allot thee for provision / To shield thee from disasters of the world, / And on the sixth to turn thy hated back / Upon our kingdom: if on the next day following / Thy banished trunk be found in our dominions, / The moment is thy death’ (Lear, 1:1)

    Kent returns to serve the king loyally, disguised as a servant ‘Caius’. Kent remains loyal to the king to the very end of the play. When Albany asks him to help rule the war-torn kingdom, Kent refuses, suggesting he cannot live any longer now Lear is gone.

    ‘I have a journey, sir, shortly to go: / My master calls me, I must not say no’ (Kent, 5:3)

  • King Lear - Gloucester

    Gloucester is a trusted courtier at the start of the play and remains loyal to Lear throughout. Gloucester risks making Regan and Cornwall angry to protect the king and get him safely to Cordelia in Dover. As a result, Gloucester loses both his influence and his eyes. When he meets Lear again on the beach at Dover, he is still loyal.

    ‘O let me kiss that hand’ (Gloucester, 4:5)

  • King Lear - Albany

    Kent and Gloucester suggest in the first line of the play that Lear had favoured Albany over Cornwall, but he has divided the land equally so that can’t be true. Albany seems loyal to the king, and does not support Goneril’s complaints about Lear’s hundred knights.

    Albany reluctantly sides against King Lear by fighting Cordelia’s French forces. When the battle is over, he declares that he will give all his power back to Lear, but Lear dies a few lines later.

    ‘For us we will resign / During the life of this old majesty / To him our absolute power’ (Albany, 5:3)

  • King Lear - Goneril

    At the start of the play, Goneril makes a speech about her love for her father that pleases him and he rewards her with a third of his kingdom. She knows she is not his favourite child and is concerned about how he might behave as he gets older.

    ‘Then must we look from his age to receive not alone the imperfections of long-engrafted condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them’ (Goneril, 1:1)

    Goneril grows impatient with the riotous knights who are Lear’s followers. He becomes furious with her when she suggests he needs fewer followers and curses her with infertility.

    'Into her womb convey sterility, / Dry up in her the organs of increase, / And from her derogate body never spring / A babe to honour her’ (Lear, 1:4)

    Lear refuses to listen to Goneril and Regan when they both insist he get rid of his followers. He insults them and curses them. Goneril lets him walk off into the storm. She suggests he deserves to suffer because of his own foolishness.

    ‘No, you unnatural hags, / I will have such revenges on you both’ (Lear, 2:2)
    ’Tis his own blame hath put himself from rest / And must needs taste his folly’ (Goneril, 2:2)

  • King Lear - Cordelia

    At the beginning of Act 1, Lear thinks of Cordelia as his favourite child and intends to spend much of his retirement with her. She loves him but is not sure how to express her love.

    ‘I loved her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery’ (Lear, 1:1)
    'I am sure my love’s / More ponderous than my tongue’ (Cordelia, 1:1)

    When Cordelia is unable to express her love for her father in a way that pleases him, he completely disowns her.

    ‘Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this for ever’ (Lear, 1:1)

    By the time Lear is reunited with Cordelia, he believes again that she is the daughter who loves him most and asks her forgiveness for how he treated her. She readily forgives him.

    'If you have poison for me, I will drink it. / I know you do not love me, for your sisters / Have, as I do remember, done me wrong: / You have some cause, they have not.' (King Lear, 5:1)
    'No cause, no cause.' (Cordelia, 5:1)

  • King Lear - Regan

    At the start of the play, Regan makes a speech about her love for her father that pleases him and he rewards her with a third of his kingdom. She feels that her father is behaving more oddly as he grows older but comments that he has never been very self-aware.

    ’Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself’ (Regan, 1:1)

    When Lear realises that Regan is siding with Goneril and against him, he curses her. She lets him walk off into the storm, suggesting that it is the only way he will learn to behave more reasonably.

    ‘No, you unnatural hags, / I will have such revenges on you both’ (Lear, 2:2)
    'O, sir, to wilful men / The injuries that they themselves procure / Must be their schoolmasters. / Shut up your doors’ (Regan, 2:2)

  • King Lear - The Fool

Cordelia

  • Cordelia - King Lear

    At the beginning of Act 1, Lear thinks of Cordelia as his favourite child and intends to spend much of his retirement with her. She loves him but is not sure how to express her love.

    ‘I loved her most, and thought to set my rest / On her kind nursery’ (Lear, 1:1)
    'I am sure my love’s / More ponderous than my tongue’ (Cordelia, 1:1)

    When Cordelia is unable to express her love for her father in a way that pleases him, he completely disowns her.

    ‘Here I disclaim all my paternal care, / Propinquity and property of blood, / And as a stranger to my heart and me / Hold thee from this for ever’ (Lear, 1:1)

    By the time Lear is reunited with Cordelia, he believes again that she is the daughter who loves him most and asks her forgiveness for how he treated her. She readily forgives him.

    'If you have poison for me, I will drink it. / I know you do not love me, for your sisters / Have, as I do remember, done me wrong: / You have some cause, they have not.' (King Lear, 5:1)
    'No cause, no cause.' (Cordelia, 5:1)

Goneril

  • Goneril - Edmund

    On the way back to Goneril’s house from Gloucester’s castle, Goneril and Edmund form an attachment. He swears his love to her and she promises to marry him once her husband is out of the way. Edmund, however, also promises his love to Regan.

    ‘Wear this; spare speech. / Decline your head: this kiss, if it durst speak, / Would stretch thy spirits up into the air. / Conceive, and fare thee well’ (Goneril, 4:2)

    Edmund seems touched that Goneril was so loyal to him as to kill her sister out of jealousy for him and then to kill herself when she realises she cannot marry him.

    'The one the other poisoned for my sake / And after slew herself’ (Edmund, 5:3)

  • Goneril - King Lear

    At the start of the play, Goneril makes a speech about her love for her father that pleases him and he rewards her with a third of his kingdom. She knows she is not his favourite child and is concerned about how he might behave as he gets older.

    ‘Then must we look from his age to receive not alone the imperfections of long-engrafted condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them’ (Goneril, 1:1)

    Goneril grows impatient with the riotous knights who are Lear’s followers. He becomes furious with her when she suggests he needs fewer followers and curses her with infertility.

    'Into her womb convey sterility, / Dry up in her the organs of increase, / And from her derogate body never spring / A babe to honour her’ (Lear, 1:4)

    Lear refuses to listen to Goneril and Regan when they both insist he get rid of his followers. He insults them and curses them. Goneril lets him walk off into the storm. She suggests he deserves to suffer because of his own foolishness.

    ‘No, you unnatural hags, / I will have such revenges on you both’ (Lear, 2:2)
    ’Tis his own blame hath put himself from rest / And must needs taste his folly’ (Goneril, 2:2)

Regan

  • Regan - King Lear

    At the start of the play, Regan makes a speech about her love for her father that pleases him and he rewards her with a third of his kingdom. She feels that her father is behaving more oddly as he grows older but comments that he has never been very self-aware.

    ’Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself’ (Regan, 1:1)

    When Lear realises that Regan is siding with Goneril and against him, he curses her. She lets him walk off into the storm, suggesting that it is the only way he will learn to behave more reasonably.

    ‘No, you unnatural hags, / I will have such revenges on you both’ (Lear, 2:2)
    'O, sir, to wilful men / The injuries that they themselves procure / Must be their schoolmasters. / Shut up your doors’ (Regan, 2:2)

Gloucester

  • Gloucester - King Lear

    Gloucester is a trusted courtier at the start of the play and remains loyal to Lear throughout. Gloucester risks making Regan and Cornwall angry to protect the king and get him safely to Cordelia in Dover. As a result, Gloucester loses both his influence and his eyes. When he meets Lear again on the beach at Dover, he is still loyal.

    ‘O let me kiss that hand’ (Gloucester, 4:5)

  • Gloucester - Edgar

    Gloucester tells Kent at the start of the play that he loves Edmund as much as Edgar. Edgar seems to believe that he has a good relationship with both his father and his half brother.

    ‘I have a son, sir, by order of law, some elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account’ (Gloucester, 1:1)

    Gloucester threatens Edgar’s life, believing Edmund’s lies that Edgar wants to kill Gloucester.

    ‘Let him fly far: / Not in this land shall he remain uncaught, / And found — dispatch’ (Gloucester, 2:1)

    Gloucester realises he has been mistaken about Edgar when Regan tells him it was Edmund that betrayed Gloucester to them. Edgar is horrified to see his father being turned out of his own home after having his eyes gouged out. Edgar then looks after Gloucester, disguised as 'Poor Tom’.

    ‘O, my follies! Then Edgar was abused. / Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him!’ (Gloucester, 3:7)
    ‘Met I my father with his bleeding rings, / Their precious stones new lost, became his guide, / Led him, begged for him, saved him from despair’ (Edgar, 5:3)

  • Gloucester - Edmund

    Gloucester tells Kent that he loves Edmund as his son even though he is illegitimate. Edmund tells the audience of his anger at being treated differently for being illegitimate.

    ‘though this knave came something saucily to the world before he was sent for: yet was his mother fair, there was good sport at his making and the whoreson must be acknowledged’ (Gloucester, 1:1)
    ‘Why brand they us / With base? With baseness? Bastardy? Base, base?’ (Edmund, 1:2)

    Edmund’s forged letter and lies have convinced Gloucester that Edmund is the son he can trust and Edgar has betrayed him. Gloucester promises Edmund that he will inherit the Gloucester wealth instead of Edgar.

    ‘and of my land, / Loyal and natural boy, I’ll work the means / To make thee capable’ (Gloucester, 2:1)

    Edmund betrays his father’s trust by telling Cornwall about the letters Gloucester has received from France and about his intentions to help the king. This leads to Gloucester being tortured and hunted for his life.

    ‘This courtesy forbid thee shall the duke / Instantly know, and of that letter too: / This seems a fair deserving and must draw me / That which my father loses: no less than all. / The younger rises when the old doth fall’ (Edmund, 3:3)

Edmund

  • Edmund - Goneril

    On the way back to Goneril’s house from Gloucester’s castle, Goneril and Edmund form an attachment. He swears his love to her and she promises to marry him once her husband is out of the way. Edmund, however, also promises his love to Regan.

    ‘Wear this; spare speech. / Decline your head: this kiss, if it durst speak, / Would stretch thy spirits up into the air. / Conceive, and fare thee well’ (Goneril, 4:2)

    Edmund seems touched that Goneril was so loyal to him as to kill her sister out of jealousy for him and then to kill herself when she realises she cannot marry him.

    'The one the other poisoned for my sake / And after slew herself’ (Edmund, 5:3)

  • Edmund - Gloucester

    Gloucester tells Kent that he loves Edmund as his son even though he is illegitimate. Edmund tells the audience of his anger at being treated differently for being illegitimate.

    ‘though this knave came something saucily to the world before he was sent for: yet was his mother fair, there was good sport at his making and the whoreson must be acknowledged’ (Gloucester, 1:1)
    ‘Why brand they us / With base? With baseness? Bastardy? Base, base?’ (Edmund, 1:2)

    Edmund’s forged letter and lies have convinced Gloucester that Edmund is the son he can trust and Edgar has betrayed him. Gloucester promises Edmund that he will inherit the Gloucester wealth instead of Edgar.

    ‘and of my land, / Loyal and natural boy, I’ll work the means / To make thee capable’ (Gloucester, 2:1)

    Edmund betrays his father’s trust by telling Cornwall about the letters Gloucester has received from France and about his intentions to help the king. This leads to Gloucester being tortured and hunted for his life.

    ‘This courtesy forbid thee shall the duke / Instantly know, and of that letter too: / This seems a fair deserving and must draw me / That which my father loses: no less than all. / The younger rises when the old doth fall’ (Edmund, 3:3)

Edgar

  • Edgar - Gloucester

    Gloucester tells Kent at the start of the play that he loves Edmund as much as Edgar. Edgar seems to believe that he has a good relationship with both his father and his half brother.

    ‘I have a son, sir, by order of law, some elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account’ (Gloucester, 1:1)

    Gloucester threatens Edgar’s life, believing Edmund’s lies that Edgar wants to kill Gloucester.

    ‘Let him fly far: / Not in this land shall he remain uncaught, / And found — dispatch’ (Gloucester, 2:1)

    Gloucester realises he has been mistaken about Edgar when Regan tells him it was Edmund that betrayed Gloucester to them. Edgar is horrified to see his father being turned out of his own home after having his eyes gouged out. Edgar then looks after Gloucester, disguised as 'Poor Tom’.

    ‘O, my follies! Then Edgar was abused. / Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him!’ (Gloucester, 3:7)
    ‘Met I my father with his bleeding rings, / Their precious stones new lost, became his guide, / Led him, begged for him, saved him from despair’ (Edgar, 5:3)

The Fool

  • The Fool - King Lear

Kent

  • Kent - King Lear

    Kent is loyal to the king and sees it as his duty to question the king’s judgement in disowning Cordelia. Lear feels Kent has betrayed him by challenging him in this way and banishes him.

    ‘Royal Lear, / Whom I have ever honoured as my king, / Loved as my father, as my master followed, / As my great patron thought on in my prayers’ (Kent, 1:1)
    ‘Five days we do allot thee for provision / To shield thee from disasters of the world, / And on the sixth to turn thy hated back / Upon our kingdom: if on the next day following / Thy banished trunk be found in our dominions, / The moment is thy death’ (Lear, 1:1)

    Kent returns to serve the king loyally, disguised as a servant ‘Caius’. Kent remains loyal to the king to the very end of the play. When Albany asks him to help rule the war-torn kingdom, Kent refuses, suggesting he cannot live any longer now Lear is gone.

    ‘I have a journey, sir, shortly to go: / My master calls me, I must not say no’ (Kent, 5:3)

Albany

  • Albany - King Lear

    Kent and Gloucester suggest in the first line of the play that Lear had favoured Albany over Cornwall, but he has divided the land equally so that can’t be true. Albany seems loyal to the king, and does not support Goneril’s complaints about Lear’s hundred knights.

    Albany reluctantly sides against King Lear by fighting Cordelia’s French forces. When the battle is over, he declares that he will give all his power back to Lear, but Lear dies a few lines later.

    ‘For us we will resign / During the life of this old majesty / To him our absolute power’ (Albany, 5:3)

Teacher Notes

On this page students can arrange the characters on the screen, showing the connections between the characters and their relationships. They can then print this using the button on the page and label them with their own quotes.

The following activities are also great ways of exploring specific relationships in the classroom.

Lear and the Fool (2016)

This activity can be found on pages 6-7 and takes approximately 30 minutes.

Edmund and Edgar (2016)

This activity can be found on page 8 and takes approximately 20 minutes.

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