Who was King Lear?

      You may have heard stories of parents being abandoned in their old age after their off-spring take away everything from them. King Lear was such an unfortunate father, who, in his old age, learned the lesson that ‘not all that glitters is gold’.

      King Lear had three daughters. In his old age, he wanted to retire from his duties as a King; and therefore, he decided to divide it among his daughters. He planned to offer the largest share to the daughter who loved him the most. Cordelia was Lear’s favourite and he had loved her very much. Two of his daughters, Goneril and Regan, who spoke first, flattered their father with praises and declarations of love and were given their shares.

       When it was the turn of Cordelia, she declared that she loved him, as she must, as a daughter to her father, no more no less! King Lear had not anticipated this. He had expected that his favourite daughter would shower him with praises and flattery. Enraged, he gave away Cordelia’s share equally divided between the deceptive daughters. The French king, impressed by Cordelia’s honesty, married her even without her inheritance. Lear had plans to stay with his daughters; however, they were not interested in accommodating the old man with an irritable temper. He was eventually banished from the homes of both his daughters.

       Lear succumbed to madness in the stormy wilderness. Only a fool and the Earl of Kent accompanied him. Meanwhile, another confidante of Lear, the Earl of Gloucester had been undergoing mistreatment by his son, He had two sons, Edgar, his legitimate son and Edmund, his illegitimate. Edmund had wanted his father to disown Edgar and thus had been plotting treacherous tricks on his father. When the King of France landed in Britain to save Lear, he betrayed his father Gloucester to the daughters of Lear. The British army won the war and Edmund deceitfully sent Lear and Cordelia to be executed. Although, Edgar intervened and mortally wounded Edmund, the executioner killed Cordelia. Goneril and Regan had horrible deaths as the former committed suicide and the latter was poisoned to death. While Cordelia was executed, Lear escaped the executioner. However, he too succumbed to death in the end.

      One of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, the story is based on a legend of Leir of Britain, a pre-Roman Celtic king. A popular expression, ‘a man more sinned against than sinning’, is from King Lear.


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