King Lear is a celebrated tragedy by William Shakespeare, the renowned English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as one of the greatest dramatists of all time. The play is based on the chronicle history of a legendary pre-Roman king of Britain, and it explores themes of love, power, betrayal, and madness.
The story revolves around Lear, an aging monarch who decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on how much they profess to love him. The eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, flatter their father with exaggerated declarations of love, but Cordelia, the youngest and most sincere daughter, refuses to play along and expresses her love only according to her bond with Lear. This leads Lear to disinherit Cordelia and banish her from the kingdom, which sets in motion a tragic chain of events.
As Lear’s mental state deteriorates, he becomes a pawn in the power struggle between his scheming daughters, who strip him of his dignity, possessions, and loyal followers. At the same time, the story follows the parallel plot of Gloucester, a nobleman who also falls victim to deceit and treachery from his own family. Gloucester’s illegitimate son, Edmund, plots to overthrow his legitimate brother Edgar and gain control over his father’s estate.
The play reaches its climax as Lear, accompanied by his loyal courtier Kent, his Fool, and the disguised Edgar, faces the harsh elements of the heath and confronts the meaninglessness of his former power and status. Cordelia, who has become a queen in France and assembled an army to help her father, returns to Britain to save him, but their reunion is short-lived as they are captured by their enemies. In a tragic denouement, Cordelia is put to death, Lear dies of grief, and the kingdom is left in disarray.
Shakespeare’s mastery of language, characterization, and dramatic tension has ensured that King Lear remains a timeless classic of world literature. The play has been adapted into various forms and languages, and it continues to inspire scholars, performers, and audiences around the globe.