King Lear (Folger Shakespeare Library)
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King Lear Characters

by William Shakespeare

Character List

Lear, King of Britain

An old king, he originally divides the kingdom among his three daughters but ends up refusing it to Cordelia as she will not flatter him like her sisters. He banishes her, though regretting this action once living with Regan and Goneril who are ungrateful and treat him horribly. He escapes to the woods and encounters poor Tom, a madman, with whom he sympathizes. He wishes to reduce himself to essential man. He then goes mad. Kent and Gloucester help him to Dover where he is reunited with Cordelia. They lead the battle with France against Albany and Edmund, but lose and Cordelia and Lear are taken prisoner. After Cordelia's death, Lear grieves and dies.

King of France

A suitor for Cordelia, France is not turned away by Cordelia's lost inheritance but finds her more attractive. He marries her and helps her try to avenge the maltreatment of Lear. He is absent for the large battle at the end.

Duke of Burgundy

The other suitor for Cordelia, he refuses to accept her without the promised inheritance.

Duke of Cornwall

Regan's husband, Cornwall matches her for cruelty and vileness. He puts Kent in the stocks and places his trust in Edmund once Edmund betrays his father. Most cruelly, he blinds Gloucester. He receives a fatal blow from a servant who defends Gloucester.

Duke of Albany

Goneril's husband, he appears at first to be similar to Cornwall. We soon learn that there is a conflict, likely for land, between the two of them. Once Albany learns of Goneril and Regan's harsh treatment of Lear, he becomes highly moral and is enraged with Goneril, calling her a monster. He leads the fight versus France but intends to take mercy on Cordelia and Lear. He aids Edgar in killing Edmund and tries to right some of the wrongs at the end by reinstating Lear's absolute power. After Lear dies, he names Kent and Edgar as joint rulers.

Earl of Kent

Outraged by Lear's disinheritance of Cordelia, he steps in to support her decision. He too is banished. Ever loyal, he returns in disguise as a servant named Caius and aids Lear in this position. He exchanges communication with Cordelia and accompanies Lear to Dover. He reveals himself finally but the King is too mad to realize who Kent is and thus may never know. Kent is dying at the end and thus does not accept Albany's offer to rule jointly with Edgar.

Earl of Gloucester

The parallel character to Lear in the subplot, Gloucester is tricked by his bastard son Edmund into thinking that Edgar wishes to kill him. He trusts Edmund with his secrets until it is revealed that Edmund has betrayed him. He is blinded for being a traitor and helping Lear escape to Dover. Edgar, as poor Tom, leads him to Dover where he is tricked out of committing suicide. He sees Lear in his madness and wishes it upon himself. The news of Edgar's true identity overwhelms him, cracking his heart.

Edgar, son to Gloucester

Hunted by Gloucester's men due to Edmund's trickery, Edgar disguises himself as poor Tom of Bedlam, a demonic madman, who believes the foul fiend is torturing him. He provides a character for Lear to sympathize with during his encroaching madness and leads his blinded father to Dover where he saves him from suicide. Using many different disguises, he kills Oswald, alerts Albany to Goneril's adultery, and slays Edmund. Once his identity is revealed, he informs the audience of the events they missed and becomes King at the end.

Edmund, bastard son to Gloucester

Resentful of his illegitimacy and having a cruel drive for power, he plots against his brother and father and succeeds. Once Cornwall dies, he gains even more power and Goneril and Regan vie for his hand. He plans to kill Cordelia and Lear after beating them in battle so that he can rule over a united Britain. He is forced to confess his crimes by Albany and killed by Edgar.

Old Man, tenant to Gloucester

A faithful attendant to Gloucester, he leads him through the woods after he is blinded. Gloucester chooses poor Tom to continue leading him but asks the old man to meet them later with clothes for Tom.

Doctor

Cordelia's physician, he gives Lear a sleeping pill in an attempt to restore him to sanity.

Lear's Fool

The hired court Fool, he attends Lear regularly and points out the truths which are missed or ignored. Upset by Cordelia's banishment, he ridicules Lear for being foolish enough to banish the good daughter and trust the evil ones. He further mocks his decision to give up his authority so fully. Once Lear goes mad, the Fool seems incredibly sane, making Lear remain dressed and playing along with his ideas of a trial versus Goneril and Regan.

Oswald, steward to Goneril

Loyal to Goneril, Oswald helps her insult Lear. As a result, Kent's argument with him at Gloucester's castle lands Kent in the stocks. He acts as messenger between Goneril and her sister and Edmund. He alerts Goneril that Albany has changed and he carries her love letter for Edmund. Edgar intercepts it and kills him.

A Captain under Edmund's command

He is given instructions by Edmund to hang Cordelia and then is killed by Lear when he is in the process of doing so.

Gentleman loyal to Lear

Kent sends him to Dover with news of Lear's condition and a ring to identify him to Cordelia. Kent later finds him in Dover and he reports to Kent on Cordelia's reaction to the information which he had brought earlier in the play.

Goneril, daughter to Lear

The eldest daughter, she contrives to strip Lear of his power from the beginning, flattering him and leading her sister in how to act. She drives Lear from her house with coldness and then aids Regan in rejecting him and throwing him out into the storm. Disgusted by her husband's weakness, she tries to persuade Edmund to kill him so they can marry. Her letter allows Albany proof against Edmund and herself. She poisons Regan out of jealousy and then stabs herself when she realizes that Albany knows of her intentions.

Regan, daughter to Lear

The other evil daughter, Regan conspires with Goneril to strip Lear of his power. She assists in sending Lear out in the storm and also helps Cornwall punish Gloucester. She herself grabs the sword and kills the servant who defends Gloucester. She wants Edmund for her husband after Cornwall's death and is very jealous that he is intimate with Goneril. She is poisoned by Goneril and dies.

Cordelia, daughter to Lear

The good daughter, Cordelia refuses to insincerely flatter her father with false estimations of love and is disinherited. France marries her and she becomes Queen. We hear of her knowledge of Lear's mistreatment and her movement to Dover with the French army through Kent. She takes Lear to a doctor to treat his madness. She and Lear are captured by Edmund when the French lose the war. Lear hopes to spend quality time with her, but she is hanged by Edmund before Albany can send help. Lear carries her body into the final scene and dies with her in his arms.

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