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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
Despite witnessing Regan's agony from the poison that is about to kill her, Goneril cannot resist making sarcastic jibes.
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':
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]
Regan is suddenly overcome by the poison and is on the point of death. Goneril gloats!
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
Although Edmund had his relationship with Goneril, an earlier comment showed he did not love her, nor did he love Regan.
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.