Lear Alone Episodes
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!
King Lear the play
EPISODE 1: “Abdication”
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)
EPISODE 2: “Dissolution”
Episode 2 starts where we left off: Goneril enters to tell Lear that his hundred knights are behaving disgracefully: they are treating her palace as if it were a pub on a Saturday night. She refuses to put up with it. She tells Lear to get rid of some of them and to make sure that those that remain are old like him.
The Fool provides an ironic commentary to this confrontation.
Just before Lear leaves, he discovers that Goneril has dismissed 50 of his hundred knights without even consulting him.
Lear says that he is going to Regan who will, he is sure, be on his side. He also threatens to take back his kingdom.
Goneril’s husband, Albany, comes in on this. He has no idea what is going on: Goneril obviously did not consult him. He tries ineffectually to keep the peace.
After Lear leaves, Goneril sends her servant, Oswald, with messages to Regan.
(End of Act 1 Scene 4)
Lear sends Kent, still in disguise, with letters to the Duke of Gloucester, for him to give to Regan. After Kent has gone, Lear talks to the Fool, admitting for the first time that “I did her wrong”, referring to Cordelia. He also says for the first time that he’s scared of going mad.
(Act 1 Scene 5)
Edmund’s plot to discredit his legitimate brother Edgar comes to fruition. Gloucester believes Edmund’s every word and Edgar has to run for his life. Gloucester threatens to have him caught and killed.
Regan and her husband, Cornwall, come to visit. They hear about Edgar and are introduced to Edmund. Regan says she has had letters from both Lear and Goneril.
(Act 2 Scene 1)
Kent comes to Gloucester’s castle with Lear’s letter. He meets Oswald, who has come with Goneril’s. They argue; Kent offers to fight but Oswald won’t, whereupon Kent starts to beat him up. At this point, Regan, her husband and Edmund enter. They don’t recognise Kent either; they take Oswald’s side and put Kent in the stocks as punishment. They are aware that Kent is Lear’s servant and this does not stop them. Gloucester tries to stop it but can’t.
(Act 2 Scene 2)
In the next scene Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son, tells us of his plan to disguise himself as a mad beggar called “Poor Tom”.
(Act 2 Scene 3)
Lear arrives with the remainder of his knights at Gloucester’s castle to find Kent in the stocks. Kent tells him that it was Regan that put him in the stocks, knowing whose man he was. Lear finds this hard to believe. He is also told by Gloucester that Regan and her husband don’t want to see him: they are too tired!
They do come out eventually. Lear tells Regan how badly Goneril has treated him and how he is sure she, Regan, is not like her at all. Regan tells Lear to ask Goneril’s forgiveness. Lear then sees Oswald, Goneril’s servant.
Episode 2 ends with Lear asking again who put Kent in the stocks.
(Act 2 Scene 4)
EPISODE 3: “Isolation”
Episode 3 starts as Lear sees Goneril arriving! Regan and Goneril make it clear that they are on the same page: they ask Lear why he needs any followers at all. Their servants could look after him quite adequately. Lear threatens to “be a comrade with the wolf and owl”. They call his bluff.
Lear leaves telling the Fool, who has silently observed all this, that he will go mad.
After he has gone, Goneril and Regan agree that they will receive Lear himself, but no followers. They tell us there is a storm coming and that they will lock the doors and not let him in. Gloucester tries to persuade them otherwise.
(End of Act 2 Scene 4)
The next scene is on a heath in a thunderstorm at night. Kent meets an anonymous Gentleman. We hear that Lear is running around in weather that makes even wild animals seek shelter. Only the Fool is with him: everyone else has left. We also hear that Goneril and Regan, and their husbands, are about to have a serious falling out. Kent says that the French know what’s happening and are sending an army. Kent asks the Gentleman to go to Dover where he will find Cordelia.
(Act 3 Scene 1)
Lear and the Foole are alone on the heath in the storm, re-imagined in our version as a busy roundabout and the underpass beneath it. Kent comes to join them having found “a hovel” for them to shelter in. Lear knows he’s going mad.
(Act 3 Scene 2)
Back at the castle, Gloucester tells his son Edmund how upset he is at what is being done to the King. He also confirms that Regan and Goneril are less than friendly and that there are forces being raised on the King’s side. Gloucester says that he and Edmund must join the King’s side. Gloucester says that he’s going out to help Lear.
After he exits, Edmund tells us that he is going to betray his father’s confidences to Goneril and Regan.
(Act 3 Scene 3)
Lear, Kent and the Fool have reached their hovel. Lear does not at first want to go inside.
Episode 3 ends just as Lear is about to enter the hovel.
(Act 3 Scene 4)
EPISODE 4: “Desolation”
Lear enters the hovel and meets Poor Tom (Edgar in disguise as a mad beggar). Lear is mad; Edgar is pretending to be mad and the Fool is ‘formally” mad. Gloucester arrives to take them somewhere a bit warmer but doesn’t recognise his son.
(End of Act 3 Scene 4)
Edmund tells Cornwall, Regan’s husband, what his father is up to and that Gloucester is on the French side. Cornwall threatens revenge on Gloucester and promises Edmund that he’ll reward him well.
(Act 3 Scene 5)
Gloucester brings Lear and the others to a farmhouse. Lear eventually falls asleep. Gloucester says that there is a plot to kill Lear and tells Kent to take him to Dover, where he will be safe.
(Act 3 Scene 6)
Back at the castle, Regan and her husband have Gloucester prisoner. They question him and are told that Lear is on his way to Dover. He tells Regan what he thinks of her. Cornwall blinds Gloucester, although his servants try to help him, wounding Cornwall. Regan also tells Gloucester that Edmund has betrayed him. Gloucester realises that he was wrong about Edgar.
(Act 3 Scene 7)
Edgar, in disguise as Poor Tom still, meets his now blind father and ends up as his guide. Gloucester tells Poor Tom that he was wrong about Edgar and asks to be guided to the top of a cliff near Dover.
(Act 4 Scene 1)
Edmund arrives at Goneril’s castle. She calls him Duke of Gloucester (after his father’s ‘treachery’) and tries to seduce him. He has no objection! Albany, her husband comes in. Although he doesn’t catch them, he and his wife have a serious argument. A messenger arrives to say that Cornwall has died of wounds. Goneril worries that this will leave Regan free to pursue Edmund. Albany makes it clear that he sympathises with Lear and Gloucester.
(Act 4 Scene 2)
Next Kent meets a Gentleman (again!). We hear that Cordelia is in Dover with a French army; her husband has had to return to France but has left her in charge. She is very upset to hear of her father’s plight and angry with her sisters.
Lear is in the town, sometimes sane, sometimes not but he is too ashamed to meet Cordelia.
(Act 4 Scene 3)
Cordelia consults a French doctor about her father’s madness and hears news of the approaching British armies.
(Act 4 Scene 4)
In what was Gloucester’s castle, Regan, now widowed, is particularly incensed to hear that Goneril is after Edmund, whom she wants for herself.
(Act 4 Scene 5)
Blind Gloucester enters with Edgar, now disguised as a (sane!) peasant. Gloucester wants to be taken to a cliff top so he can commit suicide. Edgar deceives his father to stop him doing so.
Lear comes in to join them. They both recognise him, Gloucester by voice. Lear doesn’t appear at first to recognise Gloucester or realise that he is blind.
Soldiers enter. Lear believes that he is being taken prisoner, although they acknowledge him as King. Lear runs away.
(Act 4 Scene 6)
EPISODE 5: “Reconciliation”
After Lear’s exit, Edgar asks for news of the approaching battle. Then Oswald, Goneril’s servant, enters. He recognises Gloucester and declares he’ll kill him for the reward. Edgar kills Oswald. As he dies, Oswald asks Edgar to deliver Goneril’s letter to Edmund! He reads the letter which tells Edmund to kill her husband Albany so that she, Goneril, can marry him herself. Edgar takes Gloucester somewhere safe and he says he’ll warn Albany.
(End of Act 4 Scene 6)
In the French camp, Cordelia and Kent discuss the situation. Lear is brought in and recognises Cordelia. His madness is gone. He apologises to her. They reconcile.
After he has gone we hear that battle is imminent.
(Act 4 Scene 7)
Regan and Edmund are in the British camp preparing for battle. Regan asks him whether he has slept with Goneril. He denies it.
Goneril and Albany join them. Goneril appears more concerned about her sister and Edmund than about the upcoming battle. Everyone but Albany goes to a strategy conference whereupon Edgar, still in disguise, gives Albany that letter. Edgar says he’ll be back if summoned. Edmund re enters and soliloquises about which sister to choose.
(Act 5 Scene 1)
Edgar and Gloucester watch the battle and tell us the Lear and Cordelia have lost. He leaves his father telling him not to despair.
(Act 5 Scene 2)
Edmund enters with Lear and Cordelia as his prisoners.
After Lear and Cordelia exit, Edmund gives an officer a letter. He tells the officer to follow them to the prison and to do what the letter says if he wants to get on in the world. The officer agrees and goes.
Goneril, Regan and Albany enter, as victors. Edmund says he’s sent Lear and Cordelia to prison. The two sisters argue about Edmund. Regan is unwell and it transpires that Goneril has poisoned her. Meanwhile Albany challenges Edmund by producing the letter that proves he and Goneril have been sleeping together.
A trumpet summons the challenger: Edgar arrives, fights Edmund and kills him. Before Edmund dies, Edgar reveals his identity and Edmund tells everyone that he has ordered Lear and Cordelia killed.
Loose ends are tied up: Gloucester has died. Kent arrives. Goneril’s and Regan’s dead bodies are brought in. Goneril has committed suicide, we are told.
Then Lear enters for the final scene carrying Cordelia’s dead body. Lear dies and Edgar’s lines end the play
(Act 5 Scene 3)