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King Lear-Plot/Act summaries

Act 1 Scene 1
King Lear, intending to divide his power and kingdom among his three daughters, demands public professions of their love. His youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses. Lear strips her of her dowry, divides the kingdom between his two other daughters, and then banishes the Earl of Kent, who has protested against Lear’s rash actions. The King of France, one of Cordelia’s suitors, chooses to marry her despite her father’s casting her away. Lear tells his daughters Goneril and Regan that they and their husbands should divide his powers and revenues; he himself will keep a hundred knights and live with Goneril and Regan by turns.

Act 1 Scene 2
Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester’s illegitimate son, plots to displace his legitimate brother, Edgar, as Gloucester’s heir by turning Gloucester against Edgar. He tricks Gloucester into thinking Edgar seeks Gloucester’s life.`

Act 1 Scene 3
Goneril, with whom Lear has gone to live, expresses her anger at Lear and his knights. She orders her steward, Oswald, to inform Lear that she will not see him and to treat Lear coldly.

Act 1 Scene 4
The Earl of Kent returns in disguise, offers his services to Lear, and is accepted as one of Lear’s followers. Goneril rebukes Lear for his knights’ rowdiness and demands he dismiss half of them. After attacking her verbally for her ingratitude, he prepares to leave for Regan’s.

Act 1 Scene 5
Lear, setting out for Regan’s with his Fool, sends the disguised Kent ahead with a letter to Regan.

Act 2 Scene 1
Edmund tricks Edgar into fleeing from Gloucester’s castle. After more of Edmund’s lies, Gloucester condemns Edgar to death and makes Edmund his heir. Cornwall and Regan arrive at Gloucester’s castle, hear the false stories about Edgar, and welcome Edmund into their service.

Act 2 Scene 2
Kent meets Oswald at Gloucester’s castle(where both await answers to the letters they have brought Regan) and challenges Oswald to fight. The disturbance and Kent’s explanations provoke Cornwall into putting Kent into the stocks for punishment.

Act 2 Scene 3
Edgar disguises himself as a madman beggar to escape his death sentence. (Although Kent remains onstage, a new scene begins because the locale has shifted away from Gloucester’s castle, from which Edgar has fled. )

Act 2 Scene 4
At Gloucester’s castle, Lear is angered that his messenger has been stocked and further angered that Regan and Cornwall refuse to see him. When Goneril arrives, Lear quarrels bitterly with her and with Regan, who claim that he needs no attendants of his own. When each daughter says that he may stay with her only if he dismisses all his knights, he rushes, enraged, out into a storm. Cornwall, Regan and Goneril shut Gloucester’s castle against Lear.

Act 3 Scene 1
Kent, searching for Lear, meets a gentleman and learns that Lear and the Fool are alone in the storm. Kent tells the gentleman that French forces are on their way to England.

Act 3 Scene 2
Lear rages against the elements while the Fool begs him to return to his daughters for shelter; when Kent finds them, he leads them toward a hovel.

Act 3 Scene 3
Gloucester tells Edmund that he has decided to go to Lear’s aid. He also tells him about an incriminating letter he received about the French invasion. After Gloucester leaves to find Lear, Edmund announces his plan to betray his father to Cornwall.

Act 3 Scene 4
Lear, Kent and the Fool reach the hovel, where they find Edgar disguised as Poor Tom, a madman beggar. When Gloucester finds them, he leads them to the shelter of the house.

Act 3 Scene 5
Edmund tells Cornwall about Gloucester’s decision to help Lear and about the incriminating letter from France; in return, Cornwall makes Edmund earl of Gloucester.

Act 3 Scene 6
Lear, in his madness, imagines that Goneril and Regan are on trial before a tribunal made up of Edgar, the Fool, Kent and himself. Gloucester returns to announce that Lear’s death is being plotted and to urge Kent to rush Lear to Cordelia at Dover.

Act 3 Scene 7
Cornwall dispatches men to capture Gloucester, whom he calls a traitor. Sending Edmund and Goneril to tell Albany about the landing of the French army, Cornwall puts out Gloucester’s eyes. Cornwall is himself seriously wounded by one of his own servants, who tries to stop the torture of Gloucester

Act 4 Scene 1
Edgar, still in disguised as Poor Tom, meets the blinded Gloucester and agrees to lead him to Dover.

Act 4 Scene 2
Goneril and Edmund arrive at Albany and Goneril’s castle. After Goneril has sent Edmund back to Cornwall, Albany enters and fiercely rebukes Goneril for her treatment of Lear. A messenger reports Gloucester’s blinding and the death of the duke of Cornwall.

Act 4 Scene 3
In the French camp Kent, and a Gentleman discuss Cordelia’s love of Lear, which has brought her back to Britain at the head of the French army; they say that Lear is in the town of Dover, and that, though he is sometimes sane, his shame at his earlier action makes him refuse to see Cordelia

Act 4 Scene 4
In the French camp Cordelia orders out a search party for Lear

Act 4 Scene 5
Regan questions Oswald about Goneril and Edmund, states her intention to marry Edmund and asks Oswald to dissuade Goneril from pursuing Edmund

Act 4 Scene 6
To cure Gloucester of despair, Edgar pretends to aid him in a suicide attempt, a fall from Dover Cliff to the beach far below. When Gloucester wakes from his faint, Edgar(now in the disguise of a peasant) tells hm that the gods intervened to save his life. The two meet the mad Lear, wh talks with Gloucester about lechery, abuses of power and other human follies. Lear runs off when some of Cordelia’s search party come upon him. When Oswald appears and tries to kill Gloucester, Edgar kills Oswald and finds on his body a letter from Goneril to Edmund plotting Albany’s death.

Act 4 Scene 7
In the French camp, Lear is waked by the doctor treating him and is reunited with Cordelia

Act 5 Scene 1
Albany joins forces with Regan’s (led by Edmund) to oppose the French invasion. Edgar, still in disguise, approaches Albany with the letter plotting Albany’s death and promises to produce a champion to maintain the authenticity of the letter in a trial combat. Edmund then enters and, when alone, reflects upon his possible marriage to either Goneril or Regan and upon his intention to have Cordelia and Lear killed if the British forces are victorious

Act 5 Scene 2
Cordelia’s French army is defeated

Act 5 Scene 3
Edmund sends Lear and Cordelia to prison and secretly commissions their assassination. Albany confronts Edmund and Goneril with their intended treachery against him and calls for the champion that Edgar said he would produce. Edgar himself, in full armor, appears to accuse Edmund of treachery. In ensung trial by combat, Edgar mortally wounds Edmund. Edgar reveals his identity, tels about his life as Poor Tom, and describes Gloucester’s death. A messenger announces the deaths of Regan(who has been poisoned by Goneril) and Goneril(who has committed suicide). Kent, no longer in disguise, arrives in search of Lear. Edmund confesses that he has ordered the deaths of Lear and of Cordelia. While a messenger rushes to the prison to save them, Lear enters bearing the dead Cordelia. As Albany makes plans to restore Lear to the throne, Lear himself dies.

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