The King Lear play is set in the BCE period, somewhere in England, usually thought of as being what is Leicestershire today. The action in the first two acts shifts among the castles of Lear, Gloucester, and those of Lear’s two daughters, Goneril and Regan. The rest of the action takes place in the frozen countryside, mainly on a blasted heath with violent weather, symbolizing the state of Lear’s mind. Read more about King Lear settings.

Date written: 1603-1606

Genre classificationKing Lear is regarded as a Tragedy

Read the full, original King Lear text

Read King Lear in simple, modern English

Main characters in King LearKing Lear is the king of pre-Christian Britain. He has three daughters – GonerilRegan and CordeliaThe Earl of Gloucester is a senior duke in Lear’s kingdom. He has two sons, Edmund, an illegitimate son and Edgar, a legitimate son.

The Earl of Kent is a fiercely loyal nobleman, sticking by Lear in spite of Lear’s atrocious treatment of him. The Fool is the court jester, developed well beyond the jesters that appear in Shakespeare’s and other writers’ earlier plays. See a full list of characters in King Lear.

King Lear themes: This is a play about family – a thorough exploration of family relationships, particularly filial ingratitude, where the cruelty and disregard for their father by Goneril and Regan are contrasted with those of the love and loyalty of Cordelia in spite of the ruthless treatment she has experienced at her father’s hands. There is also a deep exploration of legitimate versus illegitimate offspring. Good versus evil is presented through the evil of the two older sisters against the saintliness of the youngest.

Other themes are those of old age and authority. and attitudes to those; painjustice, and the ever present theme in Shakespeare’s plays: appearance and reality.

Barry Rutter as King Lear

Barry Rutter plays King Lear on stage

3 replies
  1. Bill Comstock
    Bill Comstock says:

    Attached is a link to the version of KING LEAR I edited for Michael Moriarty‘s New York Shakespeare company back in 1977. I was working as a dramaturge at the time, and set about reconstructing Shakespeare’s original staging. I believe that the play’s performance elements are an integral part of its artistic structure, which cannot be displaced without changing its meaning and form. (The document is best downloaded on a computer because of the many hyperlinks.) I strongly believe that the editions you are familiar with grossly misinterpret the play, and falsely represent the text as a fact.


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