King Lear

Background and Introduction

BACKGROUND In Shakespeare’s day there was neither television nor radio, neither dictionaries nor history books as we know them, not even newspapers or magazines.  Formal schooling took place in Latin and covered classical texts from ancient Greece and Rome.  University schooling generally prepared students for a career in the church or the court.  Less than […]

Sidney’s Arcadia

Sir Philip Sidney Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was a courtier, soldier, and poet, who, with the likes of Sir Walter Raleigh and Thomas Wyatt, were the English examples of the Renaissance man.  Also like Raleigh and Wyatt, he ran afoul of the reigning monarch, and was dispatched to the Netherlands to fight rather than sail […]

Edmund Spenser

Edmund Spenser Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) can be rightfully considered England’s finest poet of the sixteenth century. (Shakespeare and Donne, his rivals for such a credit, lived and wrote into the seventeenth century and in a sense belong more properly to the later age, although Shakespeare wrote most if not all of his standalone poetry […]

Holinshed Chronicles

Raphael Holinshed (died c. 1580) is one of the mysterious souls from the English Renaissance who left a lasting mark but almost no other trace of himself.  He published in 1577 the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a massive compilation of history and myth that served among other purposes to furnish Shakespeare with whatever […]

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100—c. 1155), an English bishop and scholar, wrote what he called a translation of an ancient history of English kings which told largely legendary stories of English kings from the original Brutus, held to be a descendant of the Greek founder of Rome, Aeneas, through the seventh century […]


Shakespeare borrowed plots and ideas from other material for the bulk of his writing.  His two long poems tell old tales, and only four of the commonly recognized 38 plays have no known single-organizing precedent (Love’s Labor Lost, Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Winter’s Tale, Tempest).  Such a practice was commonplace in the English Renaissance, whose […]

Full Text Scene Link Directory

This full text version of King Lear is divided into 40 short scenes or scene segments. Each segment includes the corresponding clip from the Ian McKellen film. Any scene or segment may be linked from the table below. Segment Description Notation How this edition of King Lear represents annotations, stage directions, etc. Roles List of […]

Act IV Scene 3

Kent encounters the knight or gentleman to whom he entrusted messages in Act III, who discloses that the King of France has returned to France to cure some imperfection in the state, leaving his army in the hands of the Marshal of France (about whom we never hear again). He also confirms that Cordelia had […]

Organization and Notation

Organization This web edition of King Lear uses primarily the Folio (F) text of 1623 as a basis, but it adds several longer passages and one entire scene from the Quarto (Q) text of 1608. It also adds or substitutes several individual words or phrases from the Q text. It is thus a conflated text. […]

Persons of the Play

King Lear Goneril His eldest daughter Regan His middle daughter Cordelia His youngest daughter Albany, Duke of Goneril’s husband Cornwall, Duke of Regan’s husband Gloucester, Duke of (pronounced “Gloster”) Edgar His legitimate son Edmund His bastard son (later called “Gloucester” himself after he usurps his father’s title) Kent King Lear’s loyal earl Duke of Burgundy […]