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King Lear Notes on Characters

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King Lear Major Characters

King Lear: All-powerful King of Britain who simultaneously tries to manage being the leader of a major country and the head of a major family. Lear slows goes mad throughout the play, and at first gives the power to rule to his daughters, who take advantage of that power as his faculties decline and he becomes more and more angry against them. He spends the majority of the play wondering if he has sinned or been sinned against, only finding solace in the nakedness of truth. At the end of the play, he is reunited with Cordelia, his favorite daughter, and begs her forgiveness for his actions.

Cordelia: Her father's favorite daughter, Cordelia is the smartest, bravest and most honest of the three daughters. She compromises her share of the kingdom when her honor is at stake. As a princess, she has clearly had a very privileged life, but she refuses to put her lifestyle above her principles. Despite her noble character, her life is cut short by an evil plot. Still, she is clearly Shakespeare's heroine.

Goneril: The first-born daughter of King Lear, Goneril is very intelligent and uses her skills to manipulate those around her. At times, her force and rage rivals that of her father. She goes so far as to poison her own sister in an effort to get what she wants.

Regan: As the second sister, Regan often appears in the shadow of her older sister. But it becomes apparent that she is very well spoken and strong-willed, and uses her words to sway people. She seems sweet at first, but shows her true colors when she is all too willing to throw her father out into the storm.

Gloucester: Gloucester is a calmer version of Lear. He is elderly like Lear, but not nearly as weak as Lear. He is betrayed by his son, Edmund, just as Lear is betrayed by his two oldest daughters. But even when Gloucester's eyes are gouged out and he is thrown into the storm, he survives it with far more sanity than Lear is able to muster. He is blinded by his son's (Edmund) plot to become Gloucester's heir, then later physically blinded. He trusts the gods and Fortune's wheel and leaves things in their hands. Gloucester's story serves as a parallel to Lear's.

Edmund: The illegitimate son of Gloucester who proves to be as clever as he is cunning. Edmund devises a troubling plot that steers the play--all in an effort to take his brother's inheritance. His actions become increasingly like those of a villain.

Edgar: At the beginning, Edgar seems as though he will be a mindless character when he is duped into believing his brother's silly scheme. But Edgar rises to the challenge with his imagination and caring character. While running around as a madman, he manages to take his father by the arm and provide the earl with comfort at a difficult time.

Kent: Kent is the most faithful character of all, and this is apparent from the start. He is devoted to the king, and speaks on Cordelia's behalf when the king banishes her at the beginning. He says only what he believes. We know he has moments of hot-headedness, and he hardly treats Oswald nicely, but he manages to preserve his congeniality. At the end of the play he rejects an offer to rule England, because he knows that he is nearing his own death.

The Fool: The Fool is an interesting character, bearing the freedom to say whatever he chooses. Shakespeare chooses to develop him as a commentator on social action. He manages to remind the king of all his mistakes, while occassionally offering solutions.

Oswald: Oswald is Goneril's steward. He has enough bravery to resist characters like Regan who try to pry information from him. No matter what the scenario, he is true to his cause, always making sure his messages are delivered. With all of his loyalty to Goneril, Oswald is willing to conspire against Lear alongside her, which enrages Kent at one point.

Albany: The husband of Goneril, Albany is a military man willing to fight for what he believes. Goneril calls him a coward, yet he is anything but. He is prepared to battle Edmund one-on-one and to make decisions when they need to be made. At the end of the play, he calls for Kent and Edgar, Lear's two most loyal subjects, to rule England. --the two most loyal of Lear's subjects.

Cornwall: A perfect match for the evil Regan, Cornwall is one of the darkest characters. He commissions a harsh sentence against Gloucester, to have his eyes plucked out, and enacts the punishment with ease.

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