King Lear the play: EPISODE 1
For those of you who are curious about the parts of the play that are not in our web-series, and would like to see how the episodes correlate with the Acts and Scenes in the Arden version of King Lear, here you go!
At the start of Episode 1, Lear is King of Britain. He has three daughters: Goneril, the eldest, is married to the Duke of Albany; Regan is married to the Duke of Cornwall; and the youngest, and at the start of the play Lear’s favourite, is Cordelia. The King of France and the Duke of Burgundy, are at court hoping to marry her.
There would be dozens of courtiers in the first scene but important for the story are the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent. When Lear gets angry with Cordelia and disinherits her, Kent stands up for her and is banished on pain of death.
The King of France decides to marry Cordelia even without a dowry.
Lear divides his kingdom between his two older daughters, giving them all his power and authority. But he stipulates that he will live with each of them a month at a time; he will have a hundred knights as his retinue and they will pay for it.
Lear leaves for what he hopes is to be his happy retirement!
Before we see Lear again, Goneril and Regan come to an understanding that Lear is going senile and must be kept under control. Cordelia also tells her sisters what she thinks of them before leaving to become Queen of France.
(Act 1 Scene 1)
Next we see the start of the subplot concerning Gloucester and his two sons: they are Edgar, who is legitimate, and Edmund, who is not! We see the start of Edmund’s plot against his brother. This starts with a famous soliloquy by Edmund ending: “Now, Gods, stand up for Bastards!”
(Act 1 Scene 2)
Goneril has a conversation with her steward, Oswald, telling him that Lear, who is staying in her castle, is being impossible and that she wants him to provoke an argument.
(Act 1 Scene 3)
Meanwhile Kent tells us, in a soliloquy, that he will disguise himself, “raze my likeness”, and find a way to follow and serve Lear, without Lear knowing.
Immediately after this, Lear comes back to Goneril’s castle from a day’s hunting. He meets Kent, does not recognise him but hires him anyway.
Oswald comes in and disrespects Lear, as instructed by Goneril. Kent takes Lear’s side, trips and humiliates Oswald.
Here we meet the Fool, Lear’s jester for the first time. Fools were comics, who were allowed to make fun of the King and tell him things no one else would dare to, to tell truth to power! The Fool loves Cordelia and tells him he’s been an idiot! Foolery, in Shakespeare’s day, was sometimes referred to as “licensed madness”. To illustrate the point, if someone tells you a particularly unexpected joke, you probably wouldn’t call them mad; but you might say, “That’s crazy”!
The episode ends as Goneril enters from her castle to confront her father.
(Act 1 Scene 4)