It was 30 years ago that I read multiple works of Shakespeare as part of my university course, among them King Lear, which I thought was the most boring. I was only twenty years of age, but was it okay for a literature student to not appreciate a great work by one of the greatest literary figures ever!
And suddenly this morning it all clicked into place, the essence and truth of the theme of King Lear. IT IS AN AGELESS PLOT, but you can only comprehend it fully when you get to live it, in life!
This morning, at 4am,as I reread the scenes, I can’t stop my tears from streaming down , for in this now, the scenes unfold with such clarity and meaning it hurts me real painful.
The story briefly:
The story opens in ancient Britain, where the elderly King Lear decides to give up his power and divide his realm amongst his three daughters, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril, intending to give the largest piece of his kingdom to the child who professes to love him the most, certain that his favorite daughter, Cordelia, will win the challenge. Goneril and Regan, corrupt and deceitful, lie to their father with sappy and excessive declarations of affection. Cordelia, however, refuses to engage in Lear’s game, and replies simply that she loves him as a daughter should.
KING LEAR: Now, our joy,
Although the last, not least; to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interess’d; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
CORDELIA Nothing, my lord.
KING LEAR Nothing!
KING LEAR Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
CORDELIA Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.
KING LEAR How, how, Cordelia! Mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.
CORDELIA Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
KING LEAR But goes thy heart with this?
CORDELIA Ay, good my lord.
KING LEAR So young, and so untender?
CORDELIA So young, my lord, and true.
Her lackluster retort, despite its sincerity, enrages Lear, and he disowns Cordelia completely.
Meanwhile, the King of France, present at court and overwhelmed by Cordelia’s honesty, asks for her hand in marriage, despite her loss of a sizable dowry. Cordelia accepts the King of France’s proposal, and reluctantly leaves Lear with her two cunning sisters. Now that Lear has turned over all his wealth and land to Regan and Goneril, their true natures surface. Lear goes to live with Goneril, but she reveals that she plans to treat him like the old man he is while he is under her roof. So Lear decides to stay instead with his other daughter, but soon realizes that Regan is conspiring with her sister against him.
News arrives that Cordelia has raised an army of French troops that have landed.
Tired from his ordeal, Lear sleeps through the battle between Cordelia and her sisters. When Lear awakes he is told that Cordelia has been defeated. Lear takes the news well, thinking that he will be jailed with his beloved Cordelia – away from his evil offspring. However, the orders have come, not for Cordelia’s imprisonment, but for her death.
Despite their victory, the evil natures of Goneril and Regan soon destroy them. Both in love with Edmund (who gave the order for Cordelia to be executed), Goneril poisons Regan. But when Goneril discovers that Edmund has been fatally wounded, Goneril kills herself as well.
As Edmund takes his last breath he repents and the order to execute Cordelia is reversed. But the reversal comes too late and Cordelia is hanged. Lear appears, carrying the body of Cordelia in his arms.
KING LEAR: “Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’ld use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!
Mad with grief, Lear bends over Cordelia’s body, looking for a sign of life. The strain overcomes Lear and he falls dead on top of his daughter.