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King Lear Timeline and Summary

  • 1.1 Lear has decided that he wants to retire and pass along the tiring work of running the kingdom to his daughters and their husbands. He tells his three daughters that he is going to divide the kingdom according to which of them loves him the most. When he puts them on the spot, his first two daughters play along and flatter him. But Lear's favorite daughter, Cordelia, refuses to participate in the love test. Furious, Lear disowns and banishes her.
  • 1.4 Lear had planned to live with Cordelia when he retired. Since that's no longer possible, he's now splitting his time between his other daughters, Goneril and Regan. His stay at Goneril's house isn't going so well. Lear is enjoying hunting and hanging out with his entourage of knights and listening to his Fool's standup comedy routine. Then Goneril confronts him with complaints about the bad behavior of his entourage. Lear is furious that his daughter would dare to question him. He curses Goneril, calls her an ungrateful child, and then storms off to stay at Regan's house instead.
  • 1.5 Waiting for the horses that will take him to Regan's, Lear realizes that he misjudged his daughters. He admits to himself that he treated Cordelia unfairly. Then he broods bitterly about Goneril's disrespect. Before he leaves, he prays that his daughter's ingratitude will not drive him mad.
  • 2.2 Regan is not at home, so Lear goes to Gloucester's house, where Regan is staying. When he gets there, he finds his messenger in the stocks outside the castle. Naturally, this only adds to his anger. Lear complains to Regan about Goneril's terrible treatment of him. However, Regan seems to be on Goneril's side – a fact confirmed by Goneril showing up. The two daughters unite against their father and tell him that if he wants to stay with either of them, he has to get rid of the massive entourage. Lear curses them and leaves Gloucester's house in a rage.
  • 3.2 Defying the thunder and rain, Lear wanders around the countryside ranting at the heavens and cursing the ingratitude of his children. Kent and his Fool finally convince him to come in out of the rain, in order to avoid getting struck by lightning in the face, which was a common fear and curse.
  • 3.4 Lear's suffering in the storm makes him realize that he should have done more for the poor and homeless people of his kingdom. Lear meets Poor Tom, a crazy beggar, and starts acting crazier himself. He tries to take off his clothes so he can be like Poor Tom.
  • 3.6 Lear is becoming progressively more mentally ill. He starts hallucinating that his daughters are in the room, and demands that Poor Tom, the Fool, and Kent help him act out a criminal trial for the women. He wants to hold them responsible for their cruelty to him. After Lear has finally fallen asleep, Kent has to get him up and take him away to Dover, since Regan and Goneril are plotting against his life.
  • 4.3 Kent reveals that Lear has refused to see Cordelia, even though they're both now in Dover. Kent says Lear is ashamed of the way he treated her before.
  • 4.6 Gloucester and Edgar are onstage when Lear wanders around wearing a wreath of weeds on his head instead of a crown. Lear starts ranting about his daughters and how power and justice are each a huge fraud. "When we are born we cry / that we are come to this great stage of fools," Lear says. He finally recognizes Gloucester. When Cordelia's soldiers come to retrieve Lear, he acts as if he will go with them, but then dashes away.
  • 4.7 Lear wakes up and doesn't know where he is. First he thinks he's in the afterlife, but then he realizes that the woman next to him is his daughter, Cordelia. Lear begs her forgiveness.
  • 5.3 Cordelia's soldiers lose the battle against Regan and Goneril's army, and, as a result, Lear and Cordelia are captured by Edmund. Lear tells Cordelia he doesn't mind going to prison – it's better for them to be in prison together than to take part in the endless and pointless struggle for political power.
  • 5.3 One of Edmund's soldiers hangs Cordelia. Lear comes onstage with her dead body in his arms; the grief of her loss is too much for him. He dies still looking at Cordelia's lips in the hopes that she will breathe again.