A quick overview of what happens in King Lear. 
  • King Lear divides his kingdom into three parts for his three daughters and their husbands, but his youngest daughter Cordelia disappoints him and he therefore gives her share to the other two.

    Did you Know? Divided Kingdoms

    King Lear was written soon after King James had become ruler of England as well as Scotland in 1603. He wanted to formally unite the kingdoms but parliament was against the idea and the Act of Union did not actually happen until 1707. The play was performed for the King at Whitehall.

  • The King of France agrees to marry Cordelia despite what has happened and she goes with him to France.

  • The Earl of Gloucester’s youngest son Edmund fools his father into believing that his older son, Edmund’s half-brother Edgar, wants to kill Gloucester.

  • Edmund tells Edgar to run away because his life is in danger and Edgar disguises himself as a ‘mad’ beggar called ‘Poor Tom’.

  • King Lear goes to stay with his oldest daughter Goneril. She asks him to reduce the number of his followers because of their noise and behaviour. He is deeply offended and goes to stay with his daughter Regan instead. Regan makes sure she is not at home and goes to Gloucester’s house.

  • Outside Gloucester’s house, Goneril and Regan unite against their father. He refuses to give up his followers and instead walks off into a storm.

  • Lear meets ‘Poor Tom’ in the storm. Gloucester then finds Lear, gives him food and shelter and sends him to Dover to meet up with Cordelia.

  • Regan and her husband Cornwall torture Gloucester for helping Lear and gouge out his eyes. ‘Poor Tom’ then finds his blind father and helps him travel to Dover to meet the king.

  • Goneril and Regan’s British armies, supported by Edmund, defeat Cordelia's invading French forces. Lear and Cordelia are captured and she is later killed.

  • Edgar kills Edmund in a duel. Goneril poisons Regan and kills herself. Lear dies mourning Cordelia.

Teacher Notes

The following activity is a great way to introduce the story of King Lear to a group of students who are getting to know the play and introduces them to the plot.

The Story in scenes (2016)

The activity can be found on page 3 and takes approximately 30 minutes.

You can also print the ten lines on this page and ask students to work in pairs to arrange them in the order they take place in the play.