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Act 1, Scene 1 Notes from King Lear

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King Lear Act 1, Scene 1

The play begins with a simple conversation between the Kent and Gloucester. Together, they mention that the king has been treating his two sons, Cornwall and Albany, unfairly.

Strangely, little else is said about that topic as a third character comes on stage--Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester's illegitimate son. Gloucester treats his son as a bastard and shows little regard for his unrespectable birth:

"[T]here was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund?" Act 1, Scene 1, lines 21-24

This mini-introduction ends with Edmund, the bastard, and Kent, the "noble gentleman", becoming friendly. Then, the royal party approaches.

Topic Tracking: The Natural Order 1

The king enters the scene majestically, changing the tone of the play. His court follows behind in rank. Lear, the king, comes equipped with an announcement: that he intends to retire and will divide his kingdom equally among his three daughters--Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Before he gives each daughter her territory, he asks them all to profess their love to him:

"And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters--
Since now we will divest us, both of rule
Interest of territory, cares of state--
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?"
Act 1, Scene 1, lines 48-51

With the best show of love, he will decide who gets a largest share of the kingdom.

Goneril and Regan immediately declare their love and devotion for their father in showy speeches that sound anything but sincere.

Topic Tracking: Age 1

Then, Cordelia, Lear's favorite, begins to speak. She feels that she cannot say anything which her sisters have not already said. So her reply to her father is indeed a concise one:

"Lear: Speak.
Cordelia: Nothing, my lord.
Lear: Nothing?
Cordelia: Nothing.
Lear: Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again."
Act 1, Scene 1, lines 87-91

Topic Tracking: Vision 1

Cordelia says she is incapable of speaking about her great love for her father, but he continues to prod her for a speech. She tells him:

"Good my lord, You have begot me, bred me, loved me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters' husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all."
Act 1, Scene 1, lines 95-104

Cordelia says she will never marry because it will divide her love for her father. Lear is almost blinded by desire for a loving speech, though, and he exercises his power, coming forward with all the rage of a tyrannical king and dad. He calls on the gods to witness the removal of Cordelia's share of the kingdom and then takes a final step and disowns her, pushing her out of his life:

"By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever."
Act 1, Scene 1, lines 111-116

Shocked by this sudden shift, the loyal Kent then steps forward and begs the king to take back his words. Lear refuses.

Next, Lear announces that he will keep a crew of 100 knights to accompany him on visits to his two daughters, Goneril and Regan. He throws off his coronet and does away with the rest. Just minutes prior he seemed like the perfect king. Now, moments later, he has given away his kingdom.

Kent, meanwhile, goes further with his plea. He tells Lear that he has gone mad in making such hasty decisions. He wonders if the king can even see where he's gone wrong. But Lear is stubborn and banishes Kent. Before he parts, Kent asks the gods to provide a safe haven for Cordelia, whom he believes to be just and true.

Gloucester, from the introductory scene, now escorts Cordelia's suitors onto the stage. The two are the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France. But Cordelia has no dowry, so Burgundy instantly rejects her. But the King of France is not as quick to judge. He wonders why it is that Lear has suddenly changed his feelings for his daughter so quickly, so as not to offer a dowry. Cordelia manages to remind the group that her disfavor does not originate in any sort of criminal act. The King of France decides that he loves Cordelia for who she is, not for her dowry. Despite her banishment from her family and the kingdom, he takes her in. Unlike the quick-to-judge Lear, France has analyzed the situation, thought it out clearly, and made his decision. Lear notices this, and resents it, turning away from the crowd and leaving the stage without saying a word.

Cordelia bids farewell to her sisters. Cordelia reminds them that she is aware of their faults, but asks them to take good care of their father. The girls tell Cordelia to mind her own business and tend to the silly King of France who has accepted her despite her meager worth.

After Cordelia leaves with the King of France, the two sisters speak and, although thankful, propose some concern over why their father acted so rashly. They decide he made hasty decisions because of his old age, and that they need to unite to be there for him when certain situations should arise.

Topic Tracking: Age 2

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