Notes for King Lear   (Mr. Bauld’s English)


Plot & Subplot:

  1. Lear’s “sin”: arrogance, pride, and lack of compassion

Glouscester’s sin – “pleasant vices” –lacks respect for moral values of society

  1. Both L and G reject the children who save them
  2. Both favour them who ruin them
  3. Both are physically ruined but spiritually saved by the suffering produced from their mistakes
  4. Edgar’s false madness mirrors Lear’s genuine delirium with the fool’s professional madness weaving in-between
  5. Both are saved from their false pretensions by a cruel but just Nature


Progression of the play (one model):


Arrogance (I)            Self-Pity (II)           New Humanity and Self-Awareness (III)                             Forgiveness & Wholeness  (IV&V)


The Fool leaves in Act III when Lear becomes his own fool. The fool shows us the folly of our ways.





Lear and Gloucester undergo a direct change to nature in their purgatorial process

Humanity contrasts with nature in ethical action.

Human nature is moral. Inhumanity is bestial.

false civilization and rough naturalism are poles of the Lear universe”

Madness is the breaking of that which differentiates man from beast

Man is stripped bare, purged by Nature, to be filled with human virtue


Animals in the play: wolf, owl, cat, sheep, swine, dogs, rats fox toads, etc.


Character divisions in the 12 major characters:


      Good (human)

       Bad (bestial)

Lear / Gloucester                                                          Goneril

Cordelia                                                                       Regan

France                                                                          Cornwall

Albany (moral fool)                                                       Edmund  mine not to debate”

Edgar (moral man)                                                        Burgundy

Kent  (“unmannerly”)                                                    Oswald  (knave)


But, the gentleman, servant of Cornwall, old man, other servants of Gloucester all good.



Civilized life is naturally compassionate, selfless, caring.

Lear is arrogant, self-centered without real understanding of others. He is stripped bare in the process of gaining wisdom, becoming mad, a kind of fool, in order to see his folly, gain compassion, and reconnect to the “sap.” Goneril and Regan must then wither.


Is the play pessimistic of optimistic?

Nihilism is expressed, but is it overcome at least somewhat by human compassion and justice?

Our pity for the tragic figures is a gift-we are human when we feel.


Northrop Frye on Nature  (from pp 105-109 in Frye on Shakespeare


(Above Nature)      God / Heaven


Nature                 EDEN –pure world, ideal, a garden (symbolic world of sky, “heavens”

                               FALLEN WORLD – this world, alienation, survival (Adam’s Curse)


(Below Nature)     Demonic World (Obbidicut, Flibberdigibut, Mahu, “the fiend” etc



The lower  level-plants and animals are already adjusted to it but man is not.

He either a) falls into sin or b) tries to rise above to the ideal


Natural nature means something different to man (2nd level) that animal (1st level)

-Edmunds commits himself to lower Nature-eat or be eaten

-Lear appeals to Nature on the second level, to that which is natural to man (obedience, order, etc. – see Ulysses’ speech in Troilus and Cressida)


Lear is stripped of the falseness in him in the primal level of Nature’s storm.

He had authority without vision or understanding.

This stripping away opens Lear to compassion.

His royal nature is awakened as his royal office is removed.

The second level of Nature, the human world of love, obedience, authority and loyalty, is now open to Lear, since he, like Gloucester, can now “see it feelingly.”