King Lear

Plot Summary

Lear, King of Britain, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. When his beloved youngest, Cordelia, refuses to make a public declaration of love for her father she is disinherited and married to the King of France without a dowry. The Earl of Kent is banished by Lear for daring to defend her. The two elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, and their husbands inherit the kingdom. Gloucester, deceived by his bastard son Edmund, disinherits his legitimate son, Edgar, who is forced to go on the run to save his life. Lear, now stripped of his power, quarrels with Goneril and Regan about the conditions of his lodging in their households. In a rage he goes out into the stormy night, accompanied by his Fool and by Kent, now disguised as a servant. They encounter Edgar, disguised as a mad beggar called 'Poor Tom'. Gloucester is betrayed by Edmund and captured by Regan and Cornwall, who put out his eyes. King Lear is taken secretly to Dover, where Cordelia has landed with a French army. The blind Gloucester meets but does not recognize Edgar, who leads him to Dover. Lear and Cordelia are reconciled, but in the ensuing battle are captured by the sisters' forces. Goneril and Regan are both in love with Edmund, who encourages them both. Discovering this, Goneril's husband Albany forces Edmund to defend himself against the charge of treachery. A knight appears to challenge Edmund and, after fatally wounding him, reveals himself to be Edgar. News comes that Goneril has poisoned Regan and then committed suicide. Before dying, Edmund reveals that he has ordered the deaths of Lear and Cordelia.

Relationship to De Vere

De Vere's three daughters inherited their alienated father's family estate in his lifetime, like King Lear.

In 1563, shortly after the death of de Vere's father, his elder half sister Katherine and her husband threatened a lawsuit against de Vere and his sister Mary, claiming he was a bastard and illegitimate claimant to his father's estates. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at the time (but later resurrected?). Queen Elizabeth reportedly once called de Vere a bastard - an event which angered the proud de Vere. In Lear, the bastard Edmund spends most of the play trying to disinherit half-brother Edgar from the earldom of Gloucester.

EDMUND: Why bastard? What base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true
As honest madam's issue?...
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed
And my intentions thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow, I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

Edmund tricks his gullible father into doubting the truth of Gloucester's own legitimate son by means of a letter. Edmund convinces his trusting brother to flee on the false pretence that Edgar has somehow offended their father. Edgar disguise himself as a madman to escape detection. Edgar meets up with Lear, who although disheveled and distracted, believes Edgar is a philosophy. Edgar ends up leading a blinded Gloucester, who gains his vision for the truth after his physical sight is lost. Edgar challenges Edmund to combat. Prior the combat, Edgar is asked to reveal his identity. Edgar reveals how the proud de Vere must have felt in connection with his half sister's lawsuit.

EDGAR: Know, my name is lost,
By treason's tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit,
Yet am I noble as the adversary
I come to cope.

In the combat, Edgar wins, and Edmund falls. After Edgar wins, he reveals his true identity.

In 1580, de Vere bought Fisher's Folly - a palatial home. Across the street was Bedlam, a notorious insane asylum. In the play, Edgar feigned madness for the purpose of disguise, and gave himself the name Tom o'Bedlam.

Dr. John Caius was a doctor of medicine who had studied anatomy at the University of Padua in the Republic of Venice. He taught at Cambridge in the 1550s, where de Vere attended as an eight year old. He was later appointed physician to Queen Elizabeth. Dr. Caius is the alias used by the Earl of Kent during his period of exile in the play.

Susan was the youngest daughter of Anne Cecil and de Vere. By this time, de Vere was out of money, and therefore no hope of a dowry. She was the model for Cordelia in the play:

LEAR: What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
CORDELIA: Nothing.
LEAR: Nothing?
CORDELIA: Nothing.
LEAR: Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.
CORDELIA: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love Your Majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less ...
LEAR: But goes they heart with this?
CORDELIA: Ay, my good lord.
LEAR: So young and so untender?
CORDELIA: So young, my lord, and true.
LEAR: Let it be so. The truth then be thy dow'r!

The de Vere family motto was: "Nothing truer than true."