King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear is one of William Shakespeare's most famous tragedies. It was believed to have been written between 1605-1606, and was based on a legend of the Leir of Britain, a pre-Roman Celtic king from mythology. Shakespeare's King Lear brilliantly depicts the senility and increasing madness of its title character as he splits his kingdom into portions for his daughters' based on their false declarations of love for him.

King Lear, wanting to retire from the duties the monarchy demands of him, makes the decision to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters. Courting flattery and praise, he announces he'll give the largest share to the daughter who loves him the most. His eldest daughter, Goneril, first proclaims her love in the most fulsome description, delighting Lear and causing him to award Goneril her share as soon as she is finished speaking. Not wishing to be outdone, his second daughter Regan uses similarly flowery and language to convince her father of her adoration. She as well is awarded her share of his realm.

His youngest daughter Cordelia sees the false flattery her two sisters have heaped upon her father. Cordelia was always Lear's favorite and most-loved daughter, she herself is unable to bring herself to lie to her father in the same way. She at first refuses to say anything, and then when prodded speaks honestly and tells him she does not have words to express her love. Lear is infuriated and disinherits Cordelia, dividing the share that would be hers among Regan and Goneril.

It is observed that King Lear, by dividing his wealth between just two daughters has also given shares of his realm to their husbands, Goneril's Duke of Albany and Regan's Duke of Cornwall. Cordelia is the only sister that remains unmarried, though there are two suitors present vying for her hand, the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy. The Earl of Kent also observes that Cordelia has been treated unfairly and objects to the King's reasoning. This also infuriates King Lear and he speaks his mind, earning him abuse from King Lear. At the same time, the Earl of Gloucester has introduced his other illegitimate son to the Earl of Kent.

Lear makes it clear to his daughters that he will divide time between their two residences. He has reserved to himself a retinue of 100 people, a group of nobles and servants, that will stay with him at all times. Goneril and Regan profess to have believed their father to be a silly old man and that their declarations of love were contrived.

The Earl of Kent returns under disguise from his exile under the name of Caius and is hired by King Lear as a servant. Lear discovers that his two daughters do not respect him as he believed they would, and Goneril reduces his retinue. Lear is enraged and leaves for Regan's home, on the way he is mocked by a fool.

Lear grows furious with both daughters and develops into a total madman. As Gloucester's son Edmund grows more jealous of his legitimate older brother Edgar, he betrays Lear and leads him towards impending war. Both Goneril and Regan began to fall in love with Edmund, and Goneril's affections lead her to poison her sister, but not before her honest husband joins forces with the Lear and becomes disgusted with his Goneril's actions. Cordelia helps to lead the French army along with her husband, but in the end the Earl of Kent and Cordelia take charge of the mad King Lear.

As the French and English fight, Cordelia is executed . Goneril commits suicide after Cordelia appears dead in her father's arms. The ending of the story implies that Albany will be crowned king.