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?

The last word — Albany or Edgar?

Speak what we feel

The situation in Britain at the time is a guide as to who spoke the final words of the play. Britain was divided into two autonomous states which became allies to fight the French invaders. The kingdom of Albany, of which Goneril was the ruler, was in the north. The Duke of Albany became its de facto ruler on Goneril's death. The kingdom of Cornwall, of which Regan was the ruler, was in the south, but since her recent death, and the earlier death of the Duke of Cornwall, was then without a ruler. Albany, therefore, became its de facto ruler, and thus the ruler of all of Britain. It needs to be remembered that what was to be Cordelia's realm, has been shared between Albany and Cornwall, but that the Dover region where the battle and final scene took place was in the kingdom of Cornwall.

In the final scene, note that Albany talks as an absolute monarch. He is the one giving the orders. He uses the royal plural. He talks about resigning his absolute power back to Lear, but, as he clearly points out, only for the duration of Lear's remaining life. Presumably, Albany will want it back on Lear's death. What Albany would then do with it would be entirely up to Albany.

You lords and noble friends, know OUR intent.
What comfort to this great decay may come
Shall be applied: for US, WE will resign,
During the life of this old majesty,
To him OUR absolute power:

Initially, Albany tells Kent and Edgar they can return to what is rightfully theirs, with boot and additions. There is no suggestion whatsoever that they will rule anything.

ALBANY (To Edgar and Kent)
You, to your rights:
With boot, and such addition as your honours
Have more than merited.

Albany's plan to reinstate Lear is thwarted when Lear suddenly dies. Albany has a quick rethink of what to do about Britain. At this very moment he is the sole ruler of Britain and could continue to do so and nobody would object. He, though, has other ideas and comes up with a surprise. He invites Edgar and Kent to become joint rulers of Cornwall. He describes Cornwall as the gored state which is appropriate given that this is where several of the leading personalities, both good and bad, have suffered violent deaths and where the battle took place. Because the earldoms of Gloster and Kent are in the kingdom of Cornwall, Edgar and Kent are the obvious persons to be in charge to bring Cornwall back to normality. Albany would remain as the ruler of the kingdom of Albany.

ALBANY (To Kent and Edgar)
Friends of my soul, you twain
Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain.

Kent refuses to accept the offer, and it is therefore natural to expect a response from Albany who made him the offer, particularly as it will now require another change of plans. Kent's refusal to accept half of the kingdom is certainly not an open invitation for Edgar to grab the lot! In fact, given that Albany's proposal cannot now proceed, would he grant the young, inexperienced Edgar anything to rule over alone once Kent's stability and wise head is unavailable? That seems highly unlikely. Edgar has been but a poor player who frets but rarely struts. Given that both of Albany's snap decisions have failed to come into effect, he may choose not to make a third or, at least, would take some time to think it out. Under the circumstances, Albany may choose to shoulder the entire responsibility of ruling all of Britain.

Albany has dominated proceedings throughout and given the orders. The final words, therefore, must be his. When he says we that are young he is clearly not directing them to the 48-year-old Kent. But is he directing them to Edgar as an equal? Is he telling Edgar that he is now a brother king? That makes no sense if Albany considers Edgar unfit to rule without Kent. Albany may not be addressing Edgar or anyone! He might simply be soliloquizing and continuing to use the royal plural we.

The weight of this sad time WE must obey;
Speak what WE feel, not what WE ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: WE that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.