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Plot in King Lear

Double Plot: Two plots in King Lear occur simultaneously, complementing one another by making parallels easy to notice. While King Lear is dealing with treachery from his deceitful daughters, Gloucester is tricked by his illegitimate son, Edmund, into fearing betrayal by Edgar. Both Lear and Gloucester are blind to their children’s true loyalties, and both must come to understanding of their children’s loyalty and wickedness to attempt familial resolution.

Plot Examples in King Lear:

Act I - Scene I

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"moiety..."   (Act I - Scene I)

An archaic term, “moiety” means a half, or a part or a portion of something. In this case, the Earls of Kent and Gloucester are discussing Lear’s plans to give up the throne and give it to his daughters.

"my power..."   (Act I - Scene I)

These are ominous words. By investing his daughters and their husbands with his power, Lear is divesting himself of it. Without his power he is nothing, as he will soon discover. 

"if this letter speed, And my invention thrive..."   (Act I - Scene II)

In addition to Edmund revealing his ambitious desires, we also learn here of how he will begin to realize them. The mention of a letter in conjunction with the phrase “invention thrive” (which means that a fabrication or a lie does what it is intended to do) tells us that Edmund has created a letter meant to accomplish a certain goal. We shall shortly see what the goal is and the contents of the letter.

"By day and night he wrongs me..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Contrary to how she expressed her feelings in scene one, Goneril has become increasingly frustrated with Lear to the point of showing a complete lack of sympathy or personal regard for him. With her new political power, she plans to subvert the power of the father-daughter relationship.

"Poor Turlygod! poor Tom!..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Having removed his fine clothes and dressed himself as a bedlam beggar, Edgar takes the final step in acquiring his new identity: choosing a name for himself. Edgar becomes Poor Tom to better protect himself from those who seek to hunt him down.

"footed: ..."   (Act III - Scene III)

The French forces have already landed, or “footed,” on English soil, and Cordelia is with them. We see here that Gloucester hopes that the French army will be able to defeat Goneril and Regan, and in doing so, restore order. Little does he know, Edmund plans to use this knowledge to his own advantage, further emphasizing that Gloucester has placed his hopes in the wrong son.

"True or false, it hath made thee earl of Gloucester...."   (Act III - Scene V)

Cornwall is grateful that Edmund has turned in his father as a traitor, believing that this was supposedly difficult to do. He tells Edmund that he will be made Earl of Gloucester as a reward for his integrity.

"to a most festinate preparation..."   (Act III - Scene VII)

The verb “to festinate” has similar meaning to the verb “to hasten” although here it is used as an adjective to modify the noun “preparation.” So, Cornwall is telling Edmund to inform the Duke of Albany to make fast preparations regarding the reports of the French army’s landing on English soil.

"my Gloucester ..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Notice that by “my Gloucester” Goneril means Edmund. But later in this scene Albany will use “Gloucester” to refer to Edmund’s father. Because Goneril knows that Gloucester was blinded and banished to the countryside, she uses Edmund’s new title to refer to him.

"Know, my name is lost; By treason's tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit:..."   (Act V - Scene III)

“Canker-bit” means eaten away by canker grubs, which are insects that feed on the teak tree and shrubs. When Albany asks for Edgar’s name and rank, Edgar (in disguise) says that he has lost his name and title to treason. The term “canker-bit” reminds us of Edmund’s parasitic treachery. Edmund has taken the title of the Earl of Gloucester by any means necessary, even though by traditional political order, Edgar should have been the rightful heir. Edgar once again disguises his identity here, as he feels that it has been stolen from him.

"And my poor fool is hanged! ..."   (Act V - Scene III)

Many scholars have speculated about what happens to King Lear’s fool within this play since he disappears in Act III, scene vi. Lear’s assertion that “my poor fool is hanged” however does not refer to the Fool from the first three Acts. “Fool” was a term of endearment in this time, and in this line Lear uses it to refer to Cordelia who has just been hung by the captain. The “thou” in line 367, which refers to Cordelia, affirms this reading of “fool.”

"Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain...."   (Act V - Scene III)

Notice that at the end of the play Edgar, Albany, and Kent are the only people left alive. While the play is overtly a tragedy because the principal characters die, Shakespeare spares these three men to repair the social order: there are still three noblemen who can restore and lead their parts of the country. The final lines of the play reinforce this idea of repair. Albany reminds Kent and Edgar that their job is to “rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain” to remind the audience that the tragedy ends with order.

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