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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

This tragic play centers on a complicated plot and subplot, develops many complex characters, and explores a mass of intense emotions. In spite of the complexity of the plot, everything in the play is directed towards the battle of good versus evil. Although Shakespeare seems to indicate in the play that evil is inherent in most human-beings, it becomes a powerfully destructive force in those who allow the evil to dominate their lives, as seen in Regan, Goneril, Edmund; in the end they are destroyed, dying in pain and misery. Other characters such as Lear and Gloucester make grave errors in life and suffer for them; but they do not allow evil to rule them. Instead, the play becomes their quest for spiritual redemption. In the end, both of them are allowed to beg forgiveness from the children they have wronged and die a peaceful death. Finally, there are other characters, such as Edgar and Albany, who come into evil and fight against it, clearly redeeming themselves through their noble actions. The one pure character in the play is Cordelia, who unfortunately has an untimely death due to the evil Edmund, who tries to redeem himself too late.

Both the main plot, centering on King Lear, and the subplot, centering on Gloucester, are developed in a classic manner. In the beginning, the play introduces the two worlds of Lear and Gloucester, showing their positions in life, their relations with their families and with one another, and their basic characters. It is clearly intentional that the worlds of both Lear and Gloucester are very similar. They are both secure about the power that they wield, but lack the wisdom to see their children for what they were. During the course of the play, the blindness to the truth that they both possess will be fatal for them.



The rising action begins in the first act as Shakespeare deals with both inner (psychological) conflict and external (physical) conflict. Lear misjudges his children, giving the kingdom to Regan and Goneril and banishing Cordelia. In a similar manner, Gloucester misjudges Edmund and Edgar, gives his estate to Edmund and banishes Edgar. As a result of their error in judgement, both men suffer greatly. Lear is treated unmercifully by both of his daughters, who refuse to welcome him in their homes and who strip him of his army, his dignity, and his power. In a similar manner, Edmund abuses and tortures Gloucester.

The climax occurs when Lear is driven to insanity by the cruelty of his daughters, and his emotional rage is symbolized by the violent storm that surrounds him. The storm, in turn, becomes a symbol of the universe that has become disordered and chaotic in the hands of power-hungry people, such as Edmund, Goneril, and Regan. In a similar manner, Gloucester is physically blinded by the cruelty of his son. The darkness in which he must live is symbolic of man's ignorant and misguided existence.

The falling action centers on the search of Lear and Gloucester for redemption. Both men accept the wrong that they have done, come to a new compassion for humanity, and are allowed to again meet the children they have banished and be forgiven. As a result, they both die with some measure of peace. Unfortunately, their errors in judgement lead to a totally tragic conclusion. Cordelia, Regan, Goneril and Edmund are all dead. Of all the children of Gloucester and Lear, only Edgar is left to bring order out of the chaos.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare masterfully intertwines King Lear's plot with Gloucester's subplot. Every mistake that the King makes and every misery that he must endure is soon echoed by Gloucester.

In the end, both protagonists are able to redeem themselves to some degree by acknowledging their grave errors and accepting the forgiveness of the generous Cordelia and Edgar. The plot and the subplot also work together to develop the main Themes of the play, especially good vs. evil.

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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Synopsis
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