Lear's dilemma - future of Britain & Cordelia

Tripartition of Britain - Lear's grand plan

Kent & Gloster - Lear's attitude to Cornwall

Act 1 Scene 1 - Enter KING LEAR

The flattery game - Goneril & Regan

Sharing the kingdom - a third more opulent

Lear and flattery - did he love it or hate it?

Duke of Burgundy - the dowerless suitor

King of France - in choler parted

Edmund - sectary astronomical

Duke of Albany - worthy prince

Queen Goneril - King Lear's successor?

Oswald - this detested groom

Goneril - under the influence

Regan - is she worse than Goneril?

Goneril/Edmund/Regan - unequilateral triangle

Division 'twixt Albany and Cornwall - rumour

Lear's sanity - recovery

The final tableau - Lear endures his going hence

The last word - Albany or Edgar?

Act 1 Scene 1 — Enter KING LEAR

It is Lear's birthday but he gives the presents

Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster.
I shall, my liege.
Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.

Cordelia's marriage is the 'lighter' purpose.

Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: and 'tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburden'd crawl toward death. — Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,

Lear gives his main reason for division of the kingdom

We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now.

and here is the event which makes the division appropriate 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.

Background to Lear's plans: He loves his daughters and he now likes both of his sons-in-law equally. He has already worked out exactly what each one is going to get. He plans to extend the dukedoms of Albany and Cornwall but leave their present palaces as headquarters. Lear's own palace, the most opulent, will be given Cordelia as her dowry. Lear will continue to live in it with Cordelia caring for him as he declines with age. Lear has been running the country, with the assistance of his 100 knights. These knights will form the nucleus of Cordelia's administration and give her a power base and the loyalty they have given Lear. When Cordelia is in France on her royal duties as Queen of France, Lear will run her duchy. That he should 'still retain the name, and all the additions to a king' for these duties is quite sensible.

Lear's birthday starts out as the happiest day of his life but what is so special about this particular day?

  • it is his eightieth birthday.
  • he is the most powerful ruler in the known world.
  • he has many loyal subjects absolutely devoted to him.
  • it is the biggest event ever in the history of Britain.
  • the most important day in the lives of the participants.
  • his kingdom is going very well and has its foreign affairs resolved.
  • his kingdom will have a water-tight alliance to secure its peaceful future.
  • his favourite daughter is going to get a husband.
  • that husband will be either the King of France or the Duke of Burgundy.
  • Lear is going to give his kingdom to his daughters.
  • each daughter's inheritance is trouble free. They inherit no worries.
  • he is going to retire and enjoy his favourite sport of hunting.
  • he has a secure retirement future under the care of Cordelia.

Despite all of these things going for him, he is supposed on this day, for the only time in his eighty years, to be wanting to be flattered! Are we to believe this? And why to be flattered? Is it to help him make his final decisions about splitting up Britain? Are we to suppose that Lear has left the actual details and final decisions to do with the subdivision of the kingdom to some arbitrary, impromptu, last minute comments of his daughters?

............. The princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love,—
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,

Marriages were the way alliances were sealed. Negotiating the terms of an alliance was the real reason France and Burgundy were 'Long in our court.' The marriage was something of an automatic spin-off. Are we seriously to believe that the arrangements Lear has been negotiating with the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy for so long could be brushed aside on a casual remark by one of his daughters?

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.—
Our eldest-born, speak first.