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?

Goneril — Edmund — Regan

Love's Labours Lost in an unequilateral triangle

When Goneril first established her illicit relationship with Edmund she realised Regan had no love interest in Edmund. There was not the slightest suggestion that Regan did not love Cornwall, and they seemed to be in harmony in thought and deed, however frightful they may be considered. Nor was there any suggestion that Regan and Cornwall regarded Edmund as other than an exceedingly loyal subject. Before Goneril hears of the death of Cornwall she unhesitatingly sends Edmund back to Cornwall — a thing she would never do if she regarded Regan as a rival for Edmund's affection.

Back, Edmund, to my brother;
Hasten his musters and conduct his powers:

Meanwhile, in the Duchy of Cornwall: With the death of Cornwall, the situation changed dramatically. Apparently, Cornwall was not a soldier but he was a capable administrator. Undoubtedly, he would have brought the British defences to readiness against the French as was evident in the message he asked Edmund to deliver to Albany.

Advise the duke, where you are going, to a most festinate preparation: we are bound to the like. Our posts shall be swift and intelligent betwixt us.

Cornwall's death is a disaster for Regan. The Duchy of Cornwall, of which she has become the sole ruler, urgently needs to prepare for the French invasion but there is now nobody to organise the defences, nor the communication links with Albany. Being thus completely disorganised, defeat and wholesale slaughter of the populace at the hands of the French is almost inevitable. Although she is allied with Albany her army needs a commander. The obvious person to conduct her powers, as Goneril has just advised, is Edmund, who has proven his loyalty by informing on Gloster.

Goneril would understand the implications of Cornwall's death and she immediately became concerned that she might lose Edmund to the widow, Regan. Her mind, though, was quick to encompass advantageous possibilities in the changed circumstances.

........... The Duke of Cornwall's dead,
Slain by his servant ............

This letter, madam, craves a speedy answer;
'Tis from your sister.
[Aside] One way I like this well;
But being widow, and my Gloster with her,
May all the building in my fancy pluck
Upon my hateful life: another way,
The news is not so tart. — I'll read, and answer.

Simultaneously with the imminent French invasion, Cornwall's death has left Regan vulnerable from within her realm, assuming, that is, that it survives the invasion. Her subjects are unlikely to remain content to be ruled by a head of state so weak that she might be overthrown by some opportunist. They may be even more concerned that she might be dethroned by Goneril! Regan's own advisers would warn her of the dangerousness of her situation, to say nothing of the dangerous situation they themselves are in, and would recommend that she remarry as soon as possible. Regan would realise this as necessary to secure her position and immediately look around for a new husband. It seems obvious that she would regard Edmund as a most suitable prospect. We know that Edmund is self-seeking, but Regan doesn't. In her eyes he is loyal and noble and worthy of the Earldom of Gloster to which he has recently been raised. To raise him still further to be her consort would, surely, seem to her, and to her advisers, to be an extremely wise move.

This would be the situation prevailing when Edmund suddenly arrives to lead Regan's army. He would learn of the death of Cornwall and the predicament confronting the state. As a matter of extreme urgency he would be offered marriage to Regan and the crown. Nothing that follows about Regan's 'talks' with Edmund indicate anything other than a discussion of terms to establish a marriage of convenience.

The next we hear of Regan is when Oswald delivers Goneril's answer to her letter. Regan tells Oswald that she has discussed marriage with Edmund, and that Edmund has gone to descry the strength o' the enemy. Evidently, he has accepted leadership of her forces and, presumably, accepted her offer of marriage, for Edmund implies as much in a later comment; To both these sisters have I sworn my love.

Given this apparent commitment, it seems reasonable for Regan to be concerned that Goneril is sending a private message to him. What is so personal, she wonders, that Goneril does not entrust her faithful servant, Oswald, to pass on her message by word of mouth as he has often done for her? Regan recalls observing Goneril's attraction to Edmund and is also aware that Goneril does not love Albany. In the past, she took no real interest in these matters but now the situation is quite different. Regan is faced with ending the Goneril/Edmund liaison before a marriage of convenience with Edmund can be a workable arrangement.

Lord Edmund spake not with your lord at home?
No, madam.
What might import my sister's letter to him?
I know not, lady.
'Faith, he is posted hence on serious matter.
........ to descry
The strength o' the enemy.
I must needs after him, madam, with my letter.
Our troops set forth to-morrow: stay with us;
The ways are dangerous.
I may not, madam:
My lady charged my duty in this business.
Why should she write to Edmund? Might not you
Transport her purposes by word? Belike,
Something — I know not what: I'll love thee much,
Let me unseal the letter.
Madam, I had rather —
I know your lady does not love her husband;
I am sure of that: and at her late being here
She gave strange oeillades and most speaking looks
To noble Edmund. I know you are of her bosom.
I, madam?
I speak in understanding; you are; I know't:
Therefore I do advise you, take this note:
My lord is dead; Edmund and I have talk'd;
And more convenient is he for my hand
Than for your lady's: you may gather more.
If you do find him, pray you, give him this;
And when your mistress hears thus much from you,
I pray, desire her call her wisdom to her.

Later, Regan makes it clear that she has offered Edmund a handsome deal as a wedding present. Regan's worry is that if there is a real love bond between Edmund and Goneril then her marriage of convenience would be quite intolerable. Commonsense would suggest that Regan must find out exactly how things stand. Regan's actions have been interpreted by some as stemming from jealousy, but that is unlikely as she never indicates a love of Edmund. Not unreasonably, and without much beating about the bush, she draws out Edmund in an endeavour to establish the depth of his relationship with Goneril. She has to know! Edmund plays down his side of this adulterous affair and says he merely loves Goneril 'In honour'd love.' This is a brilliantly chosen expression by Edmund. Given Edmund's apparent loyalty to Regan, it is exactly the type of thing she would be susceptible to from her 'honourable' subject. Regan inquires further, quite bluntly, but is deflected again by 'honour' 'No, by mine honour, madam.' Nevertheless, Regan gives fair warning that Goneril is 'out of bounds'.

The British camp, near Dover.
Now, sweet lord,
You know the goodness I intend upon you:
Tell me — but truly — but then speak the truth,
Do you not love my sister?
In honour'd love.
But have you never found my brother's way
To the forfended place?
That thought abuses you.
I am doubtful that you have been conjunct
And bosom'd with her, as far as we call hers.
No, by mine honour, madam.
I never shall endure her: dear my lord,
Be not familiar with her.
Fear me not:

Albany's army joins forces with Regan's army before Dover. The moment Goneril sees Regan and Edmund together she expresses the depth of her concern at the possibility of losing Edmund. No longer does she think of Regan 'Whose mind and mine, I know, in that are one' but rather we now detect the animosity when she names her 'that sister.'

Enter, with drum and colours, ALBANY, GONERIL, and Soldiers
[Aside] I had rather lose the battle than that sister
Should loosen him and me

For her part, Regan takes no chances in allowing Goneril to be alone with Edmund but insists that Goneril accompany her. Whilst this would seem a simple way for Regan to interrupt, or possibly terminate, the Goneril/Edmund affair, she does not know what is in Goneril's mind. Goneril, though, by Regan's order [Regan is ruler of this particular realm - note her use of the royal plural "us"] that she accompany her, knows what is in Regan's mind. Goneril's [aside]'O, ho, I know the riddle.' makes it clear that she knows that Regan is determined to 'loosen' Edmund from her so as to marry him. Goneril's 'I will go.' may well be the moment that Regan's fate is sealed. It is virtually a death warrant! Not only has Regan revealed her intentions regarding Edmund but she has caused herself to be alone with Goneril. Goneril grasps the auspiciousness of the occasion to murder Regan just as she had premeditated and had thoughtfully brought along some poison to do the job!

Sister, you'll go with us?
'Tis most convenient; pray you, go with us.
[Aside] O, ho, I know the riddle. — I will go.

Just before the battle Edgar hands Albany Goneril's letter. Thus Albany learns of his wife's adultery and her plans to murder him. After the battle has been won Albany shows that he is determined to set things to right.

Flourish. Enter ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN, another Captain, and Soldiers
ALBANY [to Edmund]
I hold you but a subject of this war,
Not as a brother.
That's as we list to grace him.
Methinks our pleasure might have been demanded,
Ere you had spoke so far.

Despite witnessing Regan's agony from the poison that is about to kill her, Goneril cannot resist making sarcastic jibes.

..... He led our powers;
Bore the commission of my place and person;
Not so hot:
In his own grace he doth exalt himself,
More than in your addition.
In my rights,
By me invested, he compeers the best.
That were the most, if he should husband you.
Jesters do oft prove prophets.
Holla, holla!
That eye that told you so look'd but a-squint.
Lady, I am not well; else I should answer
From a full-flowing stomach.

If Edmund has agreed to become Regan's consort Regan will need to publicly declare the fact. She most assuredly will do so with alacrity if only to avoid being deposed or to discourage a coup d'etat. Before the battle, with death or defeat being possible, was obviously not the right time but now, in victory, is the ideal moment. Despite the agony from the poison that is about to kill her, and a horrible jibe from her murderer, she announces to 'the world':

..... General,
Take thou my soldiers, prisoners, patrimony;
Dispose of them, of me; the walls are thine:
Witness the world, that I create thee here
My lord and master.
Mean you to enjoy him?

Suddenly Albany reveals that he knows of the adultery and the plans to murder him. He accuses Goneril and challenges Edmund to a duel.

REGAN [To Edmund]
Let the drum strike, and prove my title thine.
Stay yet; hear reason. Edmund, I arrest thee
On capital treason; and, in thine attaint,
This gilded serpent
Pointing to Goneril
For your claim, fair sister,
I bar it in the interest of my wife:
'Tis she is sub-contracted to this lord,
And I, her husband, contradict your banns.
If you will marry, make your loves to me,
My lady is bespoke.
An interlude!

Regan is suddenly overcome by the poison and is on the point of death. Goneril gloats!

Sick, O, sick!
[Aside] If not, I'll ne'er trust medicine.
My sickness grows upon me.
She is not well; convey her to my tent.
Exit Regan, led

Edmund and Edgar then fight a duel and Edmund receives a fatal wound. Goneril, shattered by Edmund's imminent death and because of the revelation of her plan to murder Albany and marry Edmund, commits suicide.

The bodies of Goneril and Regan are brought in
Yet Edmund was beloved:
The one the other poison'd for my sake,
And after slew herself.

Although Edmund had his relationship with Goneril, an earlier comment showed he did not love her, nor did he love Regan.

To both these sisters have I sworn my love;
Each jealous of the other, as the stung
Are of the adder. Which of them shall I take?
Both? one? or neither? Neither can be enjoy'd,
If both remain alive: to take the widow
Exasperates, makes mad her sister Goneril;

Undoubtedly, Goneril was in love with Edmund. To enable herself to marry Edmund she murdered her rival, Regan, and intended murdering her husband, Albany. Although Edmund says Each jealous of the other, this does not mean Regan loved Edmund, but is evidence of Regan's demand that if a Regan/Edmund marriage is to occur then the Goneril/Edmund relationship must cease.