How we cite our quotes:
Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: (1.1.2)
Here, King Lear says he wants to divide his kingdom into three parts. But, anyone who's seen the play Henry IV Part 1 and remembers the rebels' plans to divide Britain into three territories knows that this is a big no-no.
History Snack: Although the play is set in ancient Britain, Lear's division of the kingdom would have had some contemporary resonance. Around the time the play was written, King James I of England (a.k.a. King James VI of Scotland) attempted to unite England and Scotland under his rule when he was crowned King of England in 1603 so, the very idea of the division of Britain would have been troubling to Shakespeare's contemporaries.
[…] and 'tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen'd crawl toward death. (1.1.2)
When Lear announces his decision to divvy up his kingdom among his daughters, he says he's transferring the burdens of kingship and responsibility to "younger strengths" (his daughters and sons-in-law) while Lear, an aging king, "crawl[s] toward death." In this passage, Lear conjures an image of a feeble old man who cannot walk upright and must "crawl" like an infant, which suggests that King Lear's retirement (and old age in general) are infantilizing – leaving one as weak and vulnerable as an infant. Lear's decision to give up his crown to "younger strengths" seems like a pretty poor choice, don't you think? Check out what Lear's Fool has to say about this at 1.4.15 below.
Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now. The princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answer'd. Tell me, my daughters,--
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,--
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. Goneril,
Our eldest-born, speak first. (1.1.2)
Because Lear has no sons to inherit his crown after he dies, Lear believes that dividing up his kingdom now (among his daughters and sons-in-law), he will prevent any "future strife" that might result if he dies without an heir. Although Lear says he's going to divide the kingdom into three equal parts, here, he stages a kind of love test (based on who says they love Lear the most) to determine who will get the largest portion of his kingdom. (Check out "Language and Communication" if you want to know more about the nature of this "love test.")