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Act 1 Scene 1E-1
The opening scene and its importance.
The scene opens in King Lear’s palace. A conversation between Kent, Gloucester, and Gloucester’s son Edmund introduces the play’s primary plot: The king is planning to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. The audience also learns that Gloucester has two sons. The older, Edgar, is his legitimate heir, and the younger, Edmund, is illegitimate; however, Gloucester loves both sons equally. This information provides the subplot.
King Lear enters to a fanfare of trumpets, followed by his two sons-in-law — Albany and Cornwall — and his three daughters — Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Lear announces that he has divided his kingdom into three shares to be given to his daughters as determined by their declarations of love for him. Goneril, as the eldest, speaks first. She tells her father that her love for him is boundless. Regan, as the middle child, speaks next. Her love, she says, is even greater than Goneril’s.
Finally, it is Cordelia’s turn to express the depth of her love for her royal father. But when queried by Lear, Cordelia replies that she loves him as a daughter should love a father, no more and no less. She reminds her father that she also will owe devotion to a husband when she marries, and therefore cannot honestly tender all her love toward her father. Lear sees Cordelia’s reply as rejection; in turn, he disowns Cordelia, saying that she will now be “a stranger to my heart and me” (I.1.114). King Lear then divides his kingdom between Goneril and Regan, giving each an equal share.
Kent interferes by asking Lear to reconsider his rash action. Lear is not swayed, and in anger, he banishes Kent for defending Cordelia and for confronting the king.
At Kent’s departure, the King of France and Duke of Burgundy enter, both of whom are suitors for Cordelia’s hand in marriage. They are told that Cordelia will not receive a dowry or inheritance from her father. The Duke withdraws his suit, because a wife without a dowry is of no use to him. In contrast, the King of France claims that Cordelia is a prize, even without her share of Lear’s kingdom, and announces his intent to marry Cordelia.
Cordelia bids her sisters farewell and leaves with the King of France. When Goneril and Regan are left alone, the two sisters reveal their plan to discredit the king.
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