Act I scene i

  • The King of England wants to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, the size of which to be determined by their testimonies in court.
  • Gloucester has two sons, the elder legitimate, the younger illegitimate.
  • The two eldest daughters profess their love for Lear to be “boundless” in speeches of flattery.
  • Cordelia states that she loves him according to her bond, no more.
  • Lear completely rejects his “favourite” and has her banished
  • Kent speaks up and is also banished
  • Normandy rejects Cordelia, but the prince of France takes her as his wife
  • Cordelia farewells her sisters and says that she knows them for what they are but expresses the hope that they will love their father well
  • Goneril and Regan decide to work together to keep Lear under control

Act I scene ii

  • Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, appeals to nature and scoffs at the idea that mere custom holds him to be inferior because he is a bastard child
  • He reveals how he wishes to dupe his brother Edgar
  • He drafts a letter which suggests that the two brothers kill their father and divide his wealth between themselves
  • He deceives his father to believe that Edgar is plotting evil
  • Edmund tells Edgar that their father is so enraged that Edgar had best arm himself for protection
  • Edmund gloats over the ease with which both father and brother have been deceived

Act I scene iii

  • Goneril learns that Lear has struck her steward Oswald for scolding the king’s fool
  • Oswald is instructed not to wait on Lear with usual efficiency and to say that she is sick if he should ask for her
  • Goneril speaks of Lear as an “Idle old man” who foolishly believes that he still possesses the authority he has given away
  • She declares that Old men should be treated like babies and that if Lear does not like the treatment, let him go to Regan
  • Goneril leaves promptly to see to it that Regan follows her course in dealing with Lear and his knights

Act I scene iv

  • Kent, disguised, remains devoted to Lear who declares that Kent be allowed to follow him around,serve him
  • Lear calls for Goneril and his fool but Oswald is rude to him, Lear criticises and strikes him and Kent pushes Oswald out of the hall.
  • The Fool performs jests and rhymes which provide commentary on Lear’s folly
  • Goneril is stubborn and Lear denounces her, he orders his horses and followoers leave immediately
  • Albany urges Lear to be Patient
  • Lear now regrets preferring Goneril over Cordelia when he leaves Albany expresses utter bewilderment
  • Goneril instructs Oswald to deliver a letter to Regan, and scolds her husband for his unreasonable softness in his attitude toward Lear

Act I scene v

  • Lear instructs Kent to deliver a letter to Regan in anticipation of his arrival
  • The Fool tries to lighten the king’s spirits but Lear soon moves to expressions of self-reproach and melancholy

Act II scene i

  • Edmund learns of potential hostility between the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany (conflict between sisters); and that Cornwall and Regan will be staying at his (Gloucester’s) castle that night
  • Edmund urges Edgar to flee and convinces Gloucester that Edgar is a villain
  • Gloucester proclaims Edgar an outlaw
  • Cornwall and Regan seek Gloucester’s council

Act II scene ii

  • Kent and Oswald meet at Gloucester’s castle. Kent berates Oswald and beats him
  • Edmond enters with rapier drawn, Cornwall orders the peace but sides with Oswald and  Kent ends up in the stocks
  • Kent stoically accepts his fate

Act II scene iii

  • In a soliloquy Edgar explains that know he’s been proclaimed an outlaw
  • He escapes capture by being disguised as a beggar

Act II scene iv

  • Lear, the Fool and attendants arrive at Gloucester’s castle
  • Lear protests against “such violent outrage” as to place his messenger, Kent, in the stocks and demands that Cornwall and Regan be brought to him
  • Gloucester returns with Cornwall and Regan who finally meet with the king, and Kent is set free
  • Lear asks who placed Kent(Caius) in the stocks when Goneril arrives. The suggestion of conspiracy is increased when Lear discovers that Cornwall also sided against Kent
  • Regan attempts to convince her father to return to Goneril’s castle, but he thinks he can stay with her
  • Argument between Lear and Regan where she tries to convince him why he needs even one follower
  • Lear then denounces both daughters as “unnatural hags”  and decides to leave just as a violent storm is heard
  • Lear utters “O, Fool! I shall go mad!” before leaving into a violent storm, Goneril., Regan and Cornwall are unmoved by the king’s circumstances

Act III scene i

  • Kent meets with a gentleman  who reveals that Lear wanders alone with only his jester
  • Kent informs the gentleman of the growing hostilities between the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, and that the king of France is about to lead an invasion of England
  • The Gentleman is instructed to go to Dover and hopefully meet with Cordelia
  • Kent gives the Gentleman a ring with which he can identify himself

Act III scene ii

  • In the wind, rain and thunder, Lear Passionately denounces ingratitude. He call the whether the “servile ministers” of his “two pernicious daughters”
  • Kent arrives and persuades Lear to seek shelter

Act III scene iii

  • At his castle, Gloucester takes Edmund completely into his confidence
  • Gloucester reveals that he has a letter which could incriminate Cornwall, and that there is a foreign power which may come to the king’s aid
  • Gloucester decides to go and find Lear
  • Edmund decides to betray Gloucester and tell Cornwall all that he has learned

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1 Comment on "King Lear Plot Summary (Act I-III)"

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Juan
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Thank you for reading.The secens where talk of love culminates with a character’s declaring nothing (the first scene especially, but it recurs) first made me think of it. Then I started seeing Edmund’s soliloquies as a sort of anti-Pauline a-theology, a denial of all super-nature because it props up weakness in favor of Nature-worship because it rewards treachery. (Edmund would call it natural ability, but it’s treachery nonetheless.) There are other bits of Paul in there, but I’m going to save them for tomorrow after I teach act three to my sophomores.

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