King Lear Scene Summaries

Summaries of all of the scenes in King Lear. 

  • Created by: Holly
  • Created on: 05-05-13 18:01

Act 1, Scene 1

  • Gloucester and Kent discuss the division of the kingdom. The conversation is diverted when Kent asks about Gloucester's son, Edmund. 
  • Gloucester explains that although Edmund is a *******, raised away from his parents, he loves his son.
  • Lear enters the stage and announces his plan to split the land between his three daughters. He will give all the responsibilities of governing to his daughters.
  • Lear demands his children say how much they love him, the greatest share of the land will go to the daughter who he sees as loving him the most.
  • Goneril and Regan respond with flattery, but Cordelia refuses to speak. When pressed for an answer she says that she loves her father exactly as much as she should.
  • An enraged Lear disowns Cordelia and gives her share to her sisters.
  • Kent is the only courtier who disagrees with the King's reaction. He scolds him for rewarding the flattery of Goneril and Regan when Cordelia clearly loves him most. So, Lear banishes him too.
  • The King of France and Duke of Burgandy wait to here which of them will marry Cordelia. Lear informs them that Cordelia has neither land nor title. Burgundy therefore withdraws his offer but France has been impressed by the honesty Cordelia displayed. She leaves without her father's blessing.
  • Goneril and Regan begin scheming. Unhappy with having total control over the kingdom they agree to destroy their father's remaining authority.
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Act 1, Scene 2 + 3

Scene 2

  • Edmund delives his soliloquy about bastards. He resents Edgar, particularly as he will inherit Gloucester's estate. He plans to get rid of Edgar and gain the rewards always denied to him. He forges a letter pretending to be Edgar plotting the death of Gloucester. 
  • Gloucester enters and Edmund deliberately exagerrates hiding the letter so that his father will ask to see it.
  • Gloucester comes to believe that his legitimate son is planning to kill him, in order to gain his inheritance. 
  • Later, Edmund speaks to Edgar, who he lies to, saying that their father is very angry with him and should be avoided. He tells him also to carry a sword at all times, all of this is arranged so Gloucestor suspects his son.

Scene 3

  • Lear is at Goneril's castle, enjoying his retirement with his knights.
  • Goneril complains to her steward, Oswald, about the behaviour of Lear's knights. She also says that Lear is an obnoxious guest.
  • Really, Goneril wants to confront her father so that she can further diminish his powers, so she orders her serving staff to behave rudely to Lear and the knights.
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Act 1, Scene 4 + 5

Scene 4

  • Kent, disguised as a peasant, places himself near Lear. Who employs him as a servant for his honesty.
  • Lear's staff have begun to notice that Goneril's servants do not obey their commands. When Lear asks Oswald where Goneril is the servant won't reply. He is deemed so disrespectful by the King that he hits him. Kent helps by tripping Oswald up.
  • The Fool arrives. In his puns and jokes he implies that Lear has made a mistake in foregoing his power.
  • Goneril enters at last. She says the knights have been so disruptive that they will be sent away.
  • Lear is shocked by Goneril, who is adamant that Lear sends away at least half of his hundred knights.
  • Lear, full of anger, says that he regrets ever giving power to Goneril and curses her. He announces that he will instead stay with Regan, who he hopes will be a truer daughter than Goneril.
  • When Lear has left, Goneril argues with her husband. Albany thinks she has been harsh. She explains that she has already written a letter to Regan, who will also not allow Lear to keep his knights.

Scene 5

  • Lear gives a message to Kent to give to Gloucester. The Fool jokes even more about Lear's decisions, he predicts Regan will treat Lear the same as Goneril. Lear leaves with his knights for Regan's castle.
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Act 2, Scene 1

  • At Gloucester's castle, Curan, a servant, tells Edmund that the Duke of Cornwall and Regan are coming to the castle. He also mentions rumours of tension between Cornwall and Albany.
  • Edmund sees he can use Cornwall in his scheme against Edgar. 
  • He calls Edgar out of hiding and tells him that Cornwall is angry with him for being on Albany's side of their disagreement.
  • Edgar is completely clueless. He is then told by his half-brother that Gloucester knows his whereabouts and that he should leave immediately. 
  • Upon hearing Gloucester coming, Edmund pretends to fight Edgar as he runs away. He cuts his arm and pretends that Edgar had wounded him after he refusing to join his "plot" against their father. Gloucester praises Edmund and sends his men out to pursue Edgar.
  • Cornwall and Regan arrive at the castle. They believe the lies Edmund tells them about Edgar. 
  • Regan asks if Edgar is one of Lear's unruly knights. Edmund says that he is, so Regan speculates that all of the knights gave Edgar the idea of killing his father, in order to acquire his wealth. She then asks Gloucester for his advice in answering the letters she has from Lear and Goneril.
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Act 2, Scene 2 + 3

Scene 2

  • Kent meets Oswald, still dressed as a peasant, outside of Gloucester's castle. Oswald fails to recognise Kent from the fight in Act 1, Scene 4. Kent verbally abuses the servant, he calls him a coward, vain, boastful, and groveling. Oswald still cannot remember who he is, so Kent attacks him.
  • Oswald's cries for help attract Cornwall, Regan and Gloucester. Their demands for an explanation are met with rude replies from Kent.
  • Cornwall orders him to be put in the stocks. Gloucester sees this as a humiliating punishment, and that it would be disrespectful to Lear - as this is his messenger.
  • Cornwall and his wife maintain that Kent deserves to be punished so he is put into the stocks.
  • Everyone leaves and Kent reads a letter he has received. It is from Cordelia, in the letter she promises that she will help the turmoil in Britain in some way from her position in France.

Scene 3

  • Whilst Kent is asleep, Edgar appears, running away from the manhunt for him. Afraid that he will be caught he strips off his clothes and covers himself in dirt, thus transforming himself into "Poor Tom."
  • He will pretend to be a beggar recently released from an asylum and wander the countryside.
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Act 2, Scene 4

  • Lear arrives at Gloucester's castle. He is shocked and dismayed to see Kent in the stocks.
  • Kent tells him that Regan and Cornwall put him there but Lear cannot believe it - he demands to speak with them.
  • The couple refuse to speak to Lear, saying they are tired from travelling, but Lear insists. He finds it difficult to control his anger but overall realises that sickness can make people behave out of character. 
  • Regan and Cornwall eventually enter the scene as Lear begins to complain about Goneril. However, Regan takes her sister's side. She says that Lear is old and unreasonable and that he should return to Goneril and ask for forgiveness. She refuses to shelter Lear. He complains even more about Goneril and curses her. Then Goneril arrives at the castle.
  • Regan, who knew she would arrive from their letters, allies against her father.
  • They tell Lear that he must give up half of his knights if he wants a home.
  • Lear says he will stay with his hundred men at Regan's home. She limits him to twenty five knights. He turns to Goneril and offers to reduce his men by fifty, if he can stay with her, but Goneril won't allow it. Eventually the sisters decide that Lear can have no servants.
  • Lear is outraged, he curses his daughters and leaves the castle. Gloucester asks Goneril and Regan to bring the king back inside as there is a storm breweing, but they will not.
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Act 3, Scenes 1 + 2

Scene 1

  • A storm is raging. Kent seeks out the king but instead runs into one of Lear's knights.
  • The knight informs him that Lear is somewhere in the area with his Fool. 
  • Kent tells the knight a secret: he has heard of the tension between Cornwall and Albany, and he knows that there are French spies in the English courts. 
  • Kent tells the knight to go to Dover where he could be able to find friends to help Lear.
  • He hands the knight a ring and orders him to give it to Cordelia. Kent then continues to search for Lear.

Scene 2

  • Lear curses the storm, at this point he appears irrational and his thoughts are erratic - although he always returns to thinking of Regan and Goneril.
  • The Fool urges him to go to his daughters, apologise and seek shelter, but he is ignored.
  • Kent finds them and tells the pair that he has found a nearby hovel. 
  • Lear agrees after a while and follows Kent. The Fool ends the scene with a prophecy.
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Act 3, Scene 3

  • Gloucester speaks with Edmund. He recounts how he felt about the way Lear was shut out by his daughters and Cornwall. When asked for permission to help Lear they became angry and took over his castle, telling to never speak of or defend Lear again.
  • He says that he has head of conflict between Albany and Cornwall. The French army is also invading and that a part of it has landed already.
  • Gloucester wants to take Lear's side and so plans to go into the storm and find him.
  • He tells Edmund that there is a letter with the news about the French forces in his room locked away.
  • He then asks him to distract Cornwall so that he can go and search for Lear. It is important that Cornwall does not notice that he has gone, else he could be killed for his actions.
  • Gloucester leaves, and privately, Edmund celebrates the opportunity that has arrived. He plans to betray Gloucester by telling Cornwall of his plans and the traitorous letter in his room.
  • By doing this, he hopes to inherit the land, title, and wealth that is currently Gloucester's.
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Act 3, Scene 4

  • Kent takes Lear to the hovel. He tries to persuade him inside but Lear will not go, he says that his mental anguish means he barely feels the storm.
  • Lear send the Fool into the shelter and prays. He realises that whilst king he did not care enough about the homeless, who had no protection from storms.
  • The Fool runs terrified out of the hovel, he claims there is a spirit inside - this turns out to be Edgar. Edgar pretends to be "Tom O'Bedlam", he says that the devil is chasing him and that he is possessed. 
  • Lear sees nothing strange about these statements, telling of his own mental stability, and sympathises with the beggar. He asks whether his daughters had ruined him as well.
  • He asks what happened to Edgar, what he had been before going mad. Edgar says that once he was a courtier who spent his days drinking and having sex.
  • Lear replicates Edgar's nakedness by tearing off his own clothes.
  • Gloucester appears, carrying a torch. Unimpressed by the company the king keeps, he tries to persuade Lear back to the castle.
  • Kent and Gloucester convince Lear to go with him, but Lear demans that Edgar must come too.
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Act 3, Scenes 5 + 6

Scene 5

  • In Gloucester's castle, Cornwall swears that he will have his revenge against Gloucester.
  • Edmund is pretending to be horrified by his father's "treason", secretly however he is ecstatic, as he now takes the title of Earl of Gloucester, bestowed upon him by his new powerful ally, Cornwall.
  • Cornwall sends Edmund to find his father. Edmund hopes to find Gloucester with Lear so that Cornwall's suspicions will be confirmed.

Scene 6

  • Gloucester, Kent, Lear, and the Fool all shelter in a small building on Gloucester's property.
  • The Earl leaves to find food for the kind. Lear, who is almost completely mad now, holds a mock trial for his daughters. 
  • Gloucester returns hurriedly, he must tell Kent that he has overheard a plot to kill the king. He begs Kent to transport Lear to Dover, where allies will be waiting. 
  • Gloucester, the Fool, and Kent all leave. Edgar stays for a moment and speaks as himself about how his own suffering does not match up to that of Lear's.
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Act 3, Scene 7

  • In Gloucester's castle, Cornwall hands the treasonous letter to Goneril, telling her to show it to Albany. 
  • Cornwall then sends his servants to arrest Gloucester. He orders Edmund to go with Goneril to Albany's castle, so that he will not have to see the violent punishment in store for his father.
  • Oswald spreads the news that Gloucester has helped Lear escape to Dover. 
  • Gloucester is brought forward. Regan and Cornwall tie him up, insult him, even pluck at his beard. Cornwall remarks that although they cannot kill Gloucester wihtout trial they can still punish him horribly.
  • Gloucester admits that he helped the king and he swears that he will avenge Lear's wrongs. Cornwall promptly tears one of his eyes from its socket. Regan demands that the other eye be put out too.
  • A servant of Gloucester suddenly steps in. Cornwall and the servant fight, the servant manages to wound Cornwall but Regan stabs him in the back. The wounded Cornwall gouges out Gloucester's last eye.
  • Gloucester calls out for Edmund to help him and Regan informs him that it was he who betrayed him. 
  • Gloucester now realises his folly in trusting Edmund over Edgar, he prays that Edgar is safe.
  • Regan and Cornwall order that Gloucester be thrown out of the castle. Cornwall realises he is bleeding heavily and so exits with Regan's help.
  • Now they are alone with Gloucester, the servants express their horror at the events. They treat his bleeding and give him to the mad beggar to be lead away.
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Act 4, Scenes 1 + 2

Scene 1

  • Edgar reflects that his situation is not as bad as it could be. Just as he says this, he sees his blinded father being led by an old man. The man has been a tenant of both Gloucester and Gloucester's father for 80 years.
  • Edgar hears his father tell his guide that touching Edgar again would be worth more to him than his eyes. 
  • Edgar chooses to remain disguised as Poor Tom, however. Gloucester asks the old man to bring clothes to cover Edgar and he asks Tom to lead him to the highest cliff in Dover. Edgar agrees.

Scene 2

  • Goneril and Edmund arrive outside her castle. Goneril is surprised that Albany has not met them. Oswald says Albany is unhappy with Goneril and Regan's actions.
  • Realising that her husband is no longer an ally, Goneril resolves to gain greater control over her husband's military. 
  • Goneril sends Edmund to Cornwall's house and tells him to raise Cornwall's troops for a fight with the French. She also announces that she will likewise take over power from her husband. Before he leaves she promises to send a message with Oswald. She kisses Edmund goodbye, a strong indication that she wants to become his mistress.
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Act 4, Scene 2 (cont.)

  • Goneril sends Edmund to Cornwall's house and tells him to raise Cornwall's troops for a fight with the French. She also announces that she will likewise take over power from her husband. Before he leaves she promises to send a message with Oswald. She kisses Edmund goodbye, a strong indication that she wants to become his mistress.
  • As he leaves, Albany enters. He is highly critical of Goneril. He doesn't know that Gloucester has been blinded, but he is disgusted that Goneril and Regan's abuse appears to have caused Lear to lose his mind.
  • Goneril says that he ought to prepare for the fight with the French, Albany retorts by condemning her and calling her monstrous.
  • A messenger delivers the news that Cornwall has died from his wound. Albany learns of the blinding and is horrified. He sees Cornwall's death as divine retribution.
  • Goneril displays mixed feelings about the death, it makes her sister less powerful, but it also leaves Regan free to pursue Edmund for herself. She leaves to answer her sister's letters.
  • Albany wants to know where Edmund was when Gloucester was being tortured. He learns that Edmund betrayed his own father and resolves to avenge Gloucester. 
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Act 4, Scenes 3 + 4

Scene 3

  • Disguised as a servant, Kent speaks with a gentleman in the French camp near to Dover.
  • The gentleman tells him that whilst the King of France had left quickly after landing and that Cordelia now has Kent's letters and is in charge of the army.
  • Kent asks how Cordelia reacted to the letters, the gentleman replies with a moving account of Cordelia's sadness about her father's mistreatment.
  • Kent says that Lear has also arrived in Dover, herefuses to see Cordelia, however, out of shame.
  • The gentleman informs Kent that Albany and Cornwall's armies are coming to fight with the French.

Scene 4

  • Cordelia enters with her soldiers. Lear is hidden from her, singing madly. 
  • Cordelia sends one hundred of her soldiers to find her father. 
  • She consults with a doctor about Lear's health. The doctor says that what Lear needs is sleep. 
  • A messenger brings news that the British armies are marching towards them. Cordelia had expected this and her army readies for a fight.
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Act 4, Scene 5

  • The play moves back to Gloucester's castle. Oswald informs Regan that Albany's army has left, even though Albany did not want it to go. Goneril seems more comfortable with war than Albany.
  • Oswald has a letter from Goneril to Edmund and Regan wants to know what is written in it, but the servant refuses to show it. She assumes that the letter concerns their affair, Regan states that she wants Edmund for herself.
  • She reveals that she had already spoken with Edmund about this, she reasons that now that she is a widow it would be much more appropriate for him to become involved with her. Whereas his involvement with Goneril is adulterous.
  • She gives Oswald something to deliver to Edmund and finally promises Oswald a reward if he can kill Gloucester.
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Act 4, Scene 6

  • Edgar leads Gloucester towards Dover. He pretends to bring him to a cliff and announces that they have reached the tallest cliff. He waits nearby as Gloucester prays for forgiveness from the gods. 
  • Gloucester is intent on commiting suicide, but instead of jumping he merely faints and falls to the gound.
  • Edgar wakes Gloucester, speaking now with the persona of an ordinary gentleman. He pretends to have seen Gloucester fall from the cliff, saying that it is a miracle that he is still alive. Clearly, the gods do not want Gloucester to die yet. He also says he saw a creature with him at the top of the cliff, a devil. 
  • Lear, who had been wandering across the plain, finds Edgar and Gloucester. He is wearing a crown of wild flowers and is clearly mad. He is both irrational and has a new strange perceptiveness and insight.
  • Lear recognises Gloucester and alludes to Gloucester's adultery and the sin of it. He pardons Gloucester for this crime. His thoughts then wander from adultery to copulation to womankind, he rants against women and sexuality. Cordelia's people enter and try to take the king to Cordelia, but Lear runs away.
  • Oswald now enters. He does not recognise Edgar, but he plans on killing Gloucester.
  • Edgar takes on another persona, he becomes a West Country peasant. He defends his father and kills Oswald. Before he dies, Oswald gives Edgar his letters.
  • Gloucester is sad not to have been killed. In the letter given to Edgar, Goneril urges Edmund to kill Albany, so that the pair can be together. Outraged, Edgar shows the letter to Albany. He buries Oswald and leads Gloucester away.
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Act 4, Scene 7

  • We are now back in the French camp. Cordelia knows Kent's real identity, but he wants it to remain a secret to everyone else. 
  • Lear is brought to see Cordelia, he half-recognises her. He admits that he knows that he is mad, he assumes that Cordelia hates him and wants to kill him - just like her sisters. 
  • Cordelia forgives him for banishing her.
  • Meanwhile, news spreads of Cornwall's death. Edmund is now leading Cornwall's troops.
  • The battle is rapidly approaching.
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Act 5, Scenes 1 + 2

Scene 1

  • Regan asks Edmund if he loves Goneril and if he has slept with her. He denies both accusations. Regan expresses her jealousy and tells Edmund not to be friendly with Goneril.
  • Goneril and Albany enter with their men. Albany states that Lear has joined the French army. Despite his sympathy toward Lear and the other dissidents, Albany intends to fight alongside the British.
  • The sisters fight over Edmund, neither allowing the other to be alone with him. The three exit together.
  • Edgar catches Albany as he leaves and gives the letter. A. must read it, if he wins the battle, he can sound a trumpet and Edgar will be a champion. He vanishes and Edmund enters - the battle is almost here. Albany exits.
  • Edmund speaks to the audience. He swore his love and devotion to both of women and realises he can't choose one without angering someone. He will leave the decision until after the battle. If Albany survives the fight, Goneril will kill him herself. Should he capture Lear and Cordelia, he will show no mercy.

Scene 2

  • The battle has begun. Edgar, dressed as a peasant, leads his father under a tree. He leaves to fight for Lear. He returns, shouting that Lear's side has lost. Lear and Cordelia have both been captured. Gloucester states that he will stay where he is, waiting to be captured or killed. Edgar argues that death is predetermined and they leave.
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Act 5, Scene 3

  • Lear and Cordelia are lead in by Edmund. Cordelia wants to confront Regan and Goneril but Lear refuses. He describes his fantasy, he and Cordelia would live together in prison, like birds in a cage.
  • Edmund sends them away. He gives the the captain, their guard, a note. The note's instructions are not made clear but Edmund speaks ominously. The captain agrees to follow the orders.
  • Albany enters with Goneril and Regan. He praises Edmund's brave fighting and orders that he bring forward Lear and Cordelia. Edmund lies and says that he sent Lear and Cordelia away, fearing that their presence would spark a mutiny in their troops. Albany rebukes him for going above his place and duty, but Regan intervenes, she declares that she plans to make Edmund her husband.
  • Goneril tells Regan that Edmund will not marry her, but Regan, who feels unexpectedly ill, says that Edmund is her husband and lord.
  • Albany arrests Edmund for treason. He challenges Edmund to defend himself against the charge in a duel. He sounds the trumpet which summons his champion, Edgar.
  • Regan is growing more and more ill and is helped into Albany's tent. 
  • Edgar appears in full armour to face his brother in combat. He defeats him, but Albany calls out to keep Edmund alive for questioning.
  • Goneril tries to help Edmund, and Albany shows her the letter, he knows of her conspiracy. Goneril runs off in desperation.
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Act 5, Scene 3 (cont.)

  • Edgar removes his helment and reveals his true identity. He reconciles with Albany and tells the crowd how he led Gloucester through the countryside. He also says that he only told Gloucester who he really when preparing to fight, upon hearing this Gloucester died.
  • A gentleman rushes in, he is holding a bloody knife. Goneril has committed suicide. She had also fatally poisoned Regan, which was why she felt sick. The two bodies are carried forward and laid out.
  • Kent enters, he asks where Lear and Cordelia are being kept. Albany demands that Edmund reveals their whereabouts.
  • Edmund repents his crimes and decides to do one good deed before he dies. He says that he had ordered for Cordelia to be hanged. They send a messenger to intervene.
  • At this moment, Lear enters carrying Cordelia's dead body in his arms.
  • Lear grieves over the body. Kent tries to speak with the king but he barely recognises him.
  • A messenger enters to announce that Edmund has just died.
  • Lear asks Edgar to loosen Cordelia's button, but just as he thinks that he can see her breathe he dies.
  • Albany returns Edgar and Kent their titles and power. He invites them to rule with him.
  • Kent refuses, he feels close to death - or some have interpreted it as wanting to commit suicide. Edgar seems to accept. The remaining survivors exit.
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