King lear is a misfortune composed by William Shakespeare. Act-1 full summary, Act-2 full summary, and scene, Act-3, Act-4 and Act-5 explained in detail in this article.
Table of Contents
King lear chapter-wise Summary
Act 1 scene 1
Kent and Gloucester are at the court of King Lear, debating Lear’s decision to give up his authority and share it between his children. Kent is introduced by Gloucester to his illegitimate son, Edmund, who stands nearby.
Gloucester notes that while Edmund is a “knave” born out of wedlock (1.1.21), Gloucester likes him no less than the other “baby” he has “by statute” (1.1.19) (1119) (i.e., Edgar).
With Albany, Cornwall, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, and their attendants, Lear enters. Lear declares that he has split his realm into three parts, having sent Gloucester to fetch Cordelia’s suitors, the lords of France and Burgundy.
He plans to “shake from his age all treatment and business,/conferring them to younger strengths” so that he can “crawl unburdened to death”.
First, Lear asks each of his girls to say how much she loves him. First, Goneril declares that she loves her father “more dear than eyesight, space, and independence” (1.1.61); accordingly, Lear grants her a third of his empire.
Regan then says that she loves her father far more than Goneril does; she is a “killer of all other pleasures” but of his “heart of dear Highness” In exchange, Lear grants her a third.
Cordelia gets anxious as her sisters talk, recognizing that she would prefer to “love and be quiet” (1.1.68) than to make such a public announcement of her love for her father. And, yes, Cordelia can only say “None, my lord,” when her turn comes to speak.
Lear urges her to give another response, but she insists that she loves him “no more, no less, according to [her] bond” (1.1.102).
Enraged by this unwillingness to play along and vowing “all the action of the orbs” (1.1.124), Lear forever renounces Cordelia’s “paternal treatment” (1.1.127). When Kent tries to intercede on behalf of Cordelia, Lear reiterates: “Here I offer the heart of her father” (1.1.141-2).
He notes that from now on, he will remain with his two other daughters for alternating months, having only 100 knights on reserve to be his supporters. “When Kent tries to warn him about such a reckless judgment, Lear, on pain of death, banishes him: “out of my sight! (1.1.179). Kent departs after consoling Cordelia and exhorting Goneril and Regan to live up to their declarations of affection.
Gloucester, France, and Burgundy are going back. First of all, Lear addresses Burgundy, telling him that Cordelia was disowned. Cordelia interrupts, begging her dad to confirm that she has done nothing wrong: her sole fault is to miss, like her sisters, a “still-soliciting eye and such a mouth” (1.1.266). Burgundy says, is Lear not going to give the dowry he has proposed? Lear responds that he’s going to send ‘nothing’ (1.1.283).
Burgundy apologizes, then, that he cannot marry Cordelia. France, however, states that his affection was only intensified by the neglect of the gods: he pronounces Cordelia his wife and queen. Through his attendants, Lear accepts and leaves.
Then Cordelia takes Goneril and Regan’s leave, claiming that she knows their flaws, but that she wishes they will live up to the affection they have proclaimed. Cordelia and France are departing. “Left alone, Goneril observes that Lear’s old age is “full of changes” (334) and that Cordelia was thrown off by “bad judgment” (337). The “infirmity of his age” (339) is to blame for his mistake, Regan admits. Goneril notes that they can not encourage their father to practice any true authorship in these “infirm and choleric years” (345).
Act 1 scene 2
Edmund enters the scene, set in the house of the Earl of Gloucester, talking to himself out loud. Edmund figuratively questions Nature, in this soliloquy, that society treats him as inferior to his brother Edgar merely because he is not the rightful firstborn of his father.
The soliloquy by Edmund reveals his intention to compromise the position of his brother by tricking his father with a forged letter, which he introduces in this scene to Gloucester.
Edmund also succeeds in telling Edgar that he is watching out for the welfare of his brother as he suggests that Edgar bears a weapon as defense from the rage of their father, a wrath that is aimed towards Edmund, Edmund intimates.
Act 1 scene 3
Set in Goneril and the Duke of Albany’s castle, this scene opens with Goneril asking her steward, Oswald, if Lear hit him for making fun of the Fool of the King. The experience proves Oswald. Enraged, Goneril instructs Oswald to keep Lear waiting until he wants anything, and he should be advised to move to Regan’s palace if the king is uncomfortable with this treatment.
Goneril then orders her servants to handle the company of the king with coldness because the lewd conduct of the knights causes a nuisance in her household.
Act 1 scene 4
A hall in Goneril’s palace is the atmosphere. Kent, previously exiled by Lear, reappears as Caius in disguise. Lear comes in and starts asking Kent questions about his identity and his intent. The answers given by Kent are unclear; however he asserts his allegiance and commitment to serve the king. Lear is fascinated by Kent’s apparent appreciation.
Oswald leaves when the king demands to see Goneril, without listening to the message. Goneril is unwell and inaccessible, a knight says. The knight also informs Lear that all the members of the household of Goneril are treating the entourage of the king rudely.
Goneril, moaning about the Fool of the King and his unruly knights, joins. Goneril requests that Lear limit the number of knights in his service. The king announces in the rage that he will pack up his subjects and travel to the palace of Regan, where he will certainly receive a warmer welcome.
Act 1 scene 5
The atmosphere is outside Goneril’s palace for this brief scene. Kent is told by Lear to go to Regan’s palace at once to send a message. The Fool tries to distract the king with silly remarks as Kent exits, but their substance points ironically to the acts of Lear. As he laments his treatment of Cordelia, the torment of the king is clear.
Lear reveals his first fear for his sanity, a premonition. The horses are ready shortly, and the king begins his journey into the palace of his second daughter.
Act 2 scene 1
The background is the castle of the Earl of Gloucester. As the scene opens, Curran, a messenger that Regan and Cornwall will arrive that evening, informs Edmund. Curran also addresses reports of a Cornwall-Albany feud.
Edmund shows joy about the visit to Cornwall because he feels he will include the duke in his plans to undermine Edgar. As a means to that end, as he coaxes Edgar to sneak away under the shade of darkness, Edmund suggests brotherly concern. Edmund suggests that Edgar is accused by Cornwall of supporting his rival, Albany. Edgar, naive and naive of all of this conspiracy, agrees to escape to defend himself.
Edmund joins his brother in a phony fight in another attempt to defile Edgar’s reputation, purposely injuring himself to gain Gloucester’s sympathy. Gloucester vows to locate Edgar and bring him to justice, in response to Edmund’s clarification of his brother’s assault. Gloucester is therefore dedicated to making Edmund his successor.
Join Regan and Cornwall. They fell for Edmund’s tale immediately and join in condemning Edgar. Cornwall says Edmund is going to join forces with him. Regan and Cornwall are flattering Gloucester by asking him for advice on an acceptable response to Lear and Goneril’s letters.
Act 2 scene 2
The atmosphere is just outside a castle in Gloucester. Kent and Oswald arrive to deliver letters to Regan separately. Oswald did not remember Kent instantly. As Kent denounces him, the steward is puzzled and condemns his lack of dignity. Kent draws his sword while Oswald denies recognizing him and proceeds to beat the steward.
The cry of Oswald for help draws the attention of the occupiers of the castle, who come to his rescue. Kent assaults Oswald’s demeanour, his sense of integrity, and also his look, in response to Cornwall’s question about the encounter. Cornwall is defending Oswald and ordering that stocks be put in Kent. Gloucester intervenes, telling Regan and Cornwall that the King would consider their action against his month.
All exits, except Gloucester, who apologizes to Kent for his abuse. Kent reads a letter from Cordelia while he is left alone, which says that she will interfere on her father’s behalf somehow.
Act 2 scene 3
The scene opens with Edgar in the woods alone. Edgar relates in his soliloquy that he is mindful of his outlaw status. He has so far escaped capture by hiding in the “happy hollow of a tree” (II.3.2), but he realizes that he must cover himself to stay free.
Edgar sets out a scheme in which he will dress like a beggar of Bedlam, smearing mud on his face and body, knotting his hair, and blanketing his body. He would be known as Bad Tom in this outfit.
Act 2 scene 4
Lear arrives at Gloucester’s castle with his supporters. Kent hails the king, who asks immediately who has put his messenger in stock. Lear refuses to accept that Regan and Cornwall will imprison anyone in the employ of the king and humiliate them.
Regan and Cornwall declined to speak to the king, pretending to be tired from their journey. As Gloucester seeks out the pair and secures the release of Kent, in prose and verse, the king’s fool provides a steady commentary on surrounding events.
Ushered to the scene by Gloucester, with seeming love, Regan welcomes her father, and Lear describes the anguish that Goneril has caused him. Regan advises Lear to discipline himself and live like a man of his age should be. Regan also urges Lear to seek salvation from Goneril, which causes the king to wrath and curse. Cornwall reveals to Lear, with Oswald and Goneril now present, that he ordered Kent’s punishment.
When Regan refuses to host her father and his entire complement of knights, Lear’s disgust and disillusionment are further compounded. Conspiring with her sister, Goneril suggests that Lear dismiss the whole of his entourage. The king, upset by the refusal of his children, calls for his horse.
Lear notes that he would like to live under the stars outdoors or inquire for shelter in France rather than remain in the company of those who disrespect his proper position as father and ruler. Gloucester is told by Regan and Goneril not to avoid their father venturing into the darkness. Regan and Goneril remain unmoved and unconcerned that there is a major storm going on with the old king.
Act 3 scene 1
Heath in a roaring storm is the setting. Kent discovers that Lear and his fool are out in the storm by interacting with a gentleman, a character strategically put to enlighten Kent and the crowd. Kent notes that Albany and Cornwall claim to be friendly.
Kent also announces that the King of France has been informed of this information and is moving to assist Lear with an invasion army. The gentleman is told by Kent to go to Dover immediately, and while there, to make clear the treatment that Lear has suffered. Kent gives the messenger a ring for delivery to Cordelia. This signet jewelry will expose the name of Kent. Kent goes out in pursuit of Lear.
Act 3 scene 2
On the Heath, the wind begins. The mood of Lear fits the severity of the turbulence of nature as he rages against the violent treatment of his daughters. The Fool tries to argue with his king, noting that the protection of a dry house is preferable to a stay in the wrath of the wind, even one earned by losing face. Nevertheless, there will be no part of Lear’s submission, especially before his daughters. Kent arrives and points to a hovel nearby, which promises some security, as he returns to the castle of Gloucester to ask the king to be accepted. To pronounce a prophecy, the Fool, alone, remains on board.
Act 3 scene 3
Gloucester’s castle, where Gloucester and Edmund converse, is the setting. Gloucester informs his son that when he begged Regan and Cornwall to go, they confiscated his house so that he could give assistance to Lear.
Still, in his own house, Gloucester is nothing more than a slave, forbidden to even speak to the king. Gloucester also informs Edmund that he has learned of a plot to avenge the wounds of the king, oblivious that he is revealing the preparations to a spy. Exits from Gloucester. Alone, by unveiling the scheme to help the king, Edmund plans to win Cornwall’s favor.
Act 3 scene 4
The king refuses to defend himself from the wind, while Kent guides Lear to a hovel for cover. The fool races from the hovel, exclaiming that the shelter has been taken over by a ghost. Edgar, dressed as Poor Tom, a pitiful pauper, is the ghost that soon appears. The king strips his own clothes off, making himself look like Bad Tom, unclad. Gloucester, holding a torch, joins the scene. He has found the king’s warm shelter and food, but Lear refuses, saying he wants to speak to the Bedlam beggar more. The masked Edgar is moaning about the cold, and they all hurry into the shelter.
Act 3 scene 5
Gloucester’s castle is the setting. By revealing the specifics of France’s plot to help the king, Edmund betrays his father and gains Cornwall’s approval. Edmund receives the title and the lands of Gloucester as a gift.
Act 3 scene 6
Gloucester heads off, leaving the king and his party in a farmhouse next to the castle, to find bread. In Lear’s mock trial of Regan and Goneril, The Fool and Edgar take part. Gloucester comes in and announces that he has heard of a scheme to destroy the king. The party is planning to send Lear to Dover, where friends are ready to come to his assistance.
Act 3 scene 7
The background changes back to the castle of Gloucester. Cornwall is sending Goneril a letter to Albany warning him about the King of France’s attack. Cornwall is ordering Gloucester to be identified and taken to him.
Edmund is ordered to accompany Goneril so that he is not present for the sentence of Gloucester. Oswald enters with the news before Edmund and Goneril can depart, that Gloucester has alerted the King and helped his escape to Dover. Cornwall orders him bound to a chair as soon as Gloucester arrives on the scene. Regan plucks at Gloucester’s beard viciously, branding him a traitor.
Cornwall gouges out one of Gloucester’s eyes as he intensifies the torture. Regan draws a sword and assassinates the steward as a servant attempts to escape the torture. Cornwall gouges out the other eye of Gloucester. Regan discovers that it was Edmund who misled his father when the old man called Edmund for help.
After this, Gloucester eventually knows that Edgar was misjudged by him. Regan saves Cornwall, who was injured in the fray, after tossing Gloucester out to pursue his own route to Dover, and both depart for Dover.
Act 4 scene 1
Heath is the environment. An old man, one of his tenants, leads a blind Gloucester. The ailing earl regrets that he has treated Edgar poorly and asks for the chance to touch his son again because he can no longer see him.
Gloucester hears the sound of Edgar and recalls Poor Tom from the night of the hurricane. Gloucester sends his tenant for some clothes in an act of kindness, so that the Bedlam beggar might be clothed. Gloucester is worried that the Old Man might suffer, so he dismisses him and asks Tom to be his guide to Dover, where he is searching for the highest cliff.
Act 4 scene 2
The atmosphere is just outside the palace of the Duke of Albany, where Goneril and Edmund are present now. With the news that Albany is a changed man, Oswald joins. The steward relates that Albany was delighted to learn of France’s proposed invasion and disappointed when he learned that his younger son, Edmund, had replaced Gloucester, who had deceived his father. Goneril takes with this announcement Goneril, as part of them, offers Edmund a favor of her love and a kiss of farewell. Goneril reflects on the favorable impression he creates in contrast to her poor husband after Edmund leaves.
Albany comes in and accuses Goneril violently of being an abnormal daughter. Goneril and Regan are also accused of being like tigers, who attacked their aged parent. With the news that Cornwall has died of the wounds he received after blinding Gloucester, a messenger enters. Albany is appalled at the news of torture by Gloucester and considers Cornwall’s death divine justice. Albany Vows Vengeance
Act 4 scene 3
It is set in a French camp near Dover. Kent hears that he was forced to return to his own country by the King of France. Kent asks a gentleman if Cordelia has expressed any feelings after reading his letters, and discovers that she has managed to hold her feelings under control. Kent reacts by acknowledging the presence of the stars, which made Cordelia so distinct from her sisters. Kent, who is still in disguise, says he is going to carry the Gentleman to Lear in Dover and reveal his own identity at the right moment.
Act 4 scene 4
The French camp near Dover continues to be the setting. It is now the duty of Cordelia to lead the French army to protect her father. Having heard of the worsening mental state of her father, Cordelia sends an officer quickly to search for Lear.She asks the doctor whether the king’s mental acuity can be recovered in some way and prays that the sanity of her father is not lost forever. A messenger arrives with news of the arrival of the English Army within moments, and Cordelia prepares to use the French forces to help protect her father.
Act 4 scene 5
Gloucester’s castle is the setting. Oswald reveals to Regan that the armies of Albany were deployed, but with a great deal of hesitation. Regan is more interested in the letter from Goneril to Edmund that Oswald is carrying. Regan insists that she be given the letter, since she is aware of the amorous looks of Goneril towards Edmund. Oswald is told by Regan that Edmund should be reserved for her, as she is now a widow. Oswald is also instructed by Regan to kill Gloucester if he encounters him.
Act 4 scene 6
The country near Dover is the setting. Edgar directs his father to an area near the cliffs, which Edgar tells the suffering earl. Gloucester thanks his guide after Edgar explains the harrowing view of the beach below the cliffs and gives him a jewel as a reward for having completed his service. Gloucester sinks over and loses consciousness, delivering a final prayer. Edgar quickly convinces his father when Gloucester awakens that he has somehow survived the fall from the cliffs and that the poor beggar who led him was simply a kind of fiend. Instead of approving his death, according to Edgar, the gods saved Gloucester. Gloucester vows to be more tolerant of the afflictions he faces by accepting this explanation.
Lear’s entering. Gloucester acknowledges the speech of Lear, whose plain babbling invokes the sympathy of Gloucester. The dialogue between Lear and Gloucester discusses the role of justice, but the king dissolves into madness at the end of it.
Having been sent to find Lear by Cordelia, a gentleman and attendants arrive. The king, however, is terrified and runs from his rescuers. The Gentleman informs Edgar before he leaves to join Lear that battle is imminent, as both sides are nearby. Oswald joins as Edgar prepares to lead Gloucester to safety. Oswald exclaims when he sees Gloucester that Gloucester is the reward he’s been waiting for and that he’s going to kill the old man. Edgar interferes; the conflict ends in a fight and Oswald is killed. Edgar is requested by the dying steward to deliver his letters to Edmund.
Act 4 scene 7
The scene opens in a tent in the French camp. Cordelia is expressing her gratitude to Kent for the services he has tendered. Within moments, a sleeping Lear is brought into the tent, where Cordelia welcomes him with characteristic gentleness. The puzzled king asks, when his senses return, if he is in France, and Kent tells Lear that he is in his own kingdom. Lear, Cordelia, and the doctor departed, leaving to discuss the most recent military advancements with Kent and a gentleman.
Act 5 scene 1
A British camp near Dover is where Regan, Edmund, and members of their army assemble. Regan quizzes Edmund about Goneril’s feelings for him. Edmund assures Regan that he and her sister are not going to be intimate. Join Goneril and Albany. Albany says that against the French invaders, he plans to protect the empire. The war is not a domestic dispute, Goneril says, but a defense against an outside enemy.
The letter which Goneril wrote ordering Edmund to kill her husband, Edgar, still disguised as Poor Tom, appears and hands Albany the letter he removed from Oswald’s body. Edgar leaves, and with the news that the opposing forces are close, Edmund enters.
Act 5 scene 2
A field between the British and French camps is the setting. Cordelia, Lear, and their armies are heading in the direction of the war. Edgar joins, searching for Gloucester’s safe place to wait out the fight. Edgar leaves after putting Gloucester in a sheltered spot, and the sounds of fighting are heard. Edgar returns in a few moments and tells Gloucester to pursue him to a safer spot because the armies of Lear have been lost and the king and Cordelia have been taken, prisoner.
Act 5 scene 3
The scene opens at a camp in Britain near Dover. As inmates, Lear and Cordelia are followed in, with Edmund as their jailer. As the two are led off to jail, Edmund gives an officer a note and demands that the directions for the note be followed immediately.
Edmund is joined by Albany, Goneril, and Regan. Albany insists that they give the two inmates over to him. Edmund resists, saying that Lear and Cordelia will be kept in custody so that the allegiance of the soldiers is not divided by their presence. Albany orders the arrest of Edmund and Goneril for treason.
Albany is asking any man who is willing to help Edmund’s charges to appear. Edgar enters, and he tells Albany that he is as noble as Edmund, but he is not going to reveal himself. The brothers begin to struggle with this argument, and Edmund falls. Albany discloses the letter when Goneril announces that Edmund has been betrayed, which she does not refute. Goneril flees instead.
The allegations against him are truthful, Edmund admits. Edgar reveals his identity and informs his brother of recent events, including the news that Gloucester’s heart proved too fragile to survive the news after revealing his identity to his father. Edmund also claims that Kent was in disguise, having been close enough in recent times to assist his king.
A gentleman comes in with news that Goneril had killed herself, but not before Regan, who is now dead, had been poisoned. When Albany finds out about Goneril’s plot to destroy both Lear and Cordelia, he immediately orders an officer to intercede, but it’s too late. With a dead Cordelia in his arms, Lear enters.
Albany accepts that Lear is king and his faithful subjects will obey him, but the king dies within minutes, his body covering that of his youngest daughter. Kent and Edgar are told by Albany that they must now rule the kingdom together, but Kent responds that soon he will leave the world to join his master. The sad weight of these incidents, which everybody now has to bear, is left to Edgar to write about.