Childlike, passionate, cruel, kind, unlikable, and sympathetic Lear is one of Shakespeare's most complex characters and portraying him remains a tremendous challenge to any actor. The noted Shakespearean scholar, William Hazlitt, eloquently elaborated on Lear's many dimensions:
The character of Lear itself is very finely conceived for the purpose. It is the only ground on which such a story could be built with the greatest truth and effect. It is his rash haste, his violent impetuosity, his blindness to every thing but the dictates of his passions or affections, that produces all his misfortunes, that aggravates his impatience of them, that enforces our pity for him...The greatness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual; the explosions of his passions are terrible as a volcano: they are storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that rich sea, his mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. (Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, 1817)
Please click here for a detailed examination of Lear's character and insanity.
As the honorable and beloved daughter of King Lear, Cordelia ranks among Shakespeare's finest heroines. Although Cordelia's role in the play is minor (appearing on stage only in the first and final act), she is ever-present in the minds of readers as the symbol of virtue and mercy, in stark contrast to her sisters, Goneril and Regan. Please click here for more on Cordelia.
Regan and Goneril
King Lear's two monstrous daughters, Goneril and Regan, are archetype villains from the onset of the play, and, although they serve well their purpose, they are not as developed as other Shakespearean scoundrels, such as Lady Macbeth. Please click here for an in-depth look at Regan and Goneril.
Kent, King Lear's loyal and selfless companion, is one of Shakespeare's most cherished creations. "Kent is, perhaps, the nearest to perfect goodness in all Shakespeare's characters, and yet the most individualized." (Complete Works of Samuel Coleridge, Vol. IV, edited by W.G.T. Shedd, Harper and Bros., New York: 1884, pp. 138).
Edgar, the banished son of Gloucester and brother to the villain Edmund, is the primary character in the sub-plot of King Lear. The dutiful Edgar is much like Cordelia and suffers throughout the play due to his father's transgressions. Unlike Cordelia, however, Edgar remains alive at the end of the drama, and becomes King of Britain.
Edmund is the illegitimate son of Gloucester. Bitter, bold and wicked, Edmund plots against Edgar and joins forces with the villainous sisters Goneril and Regan. Please click here for a detailed examination of Edgar's character and motivations.
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. King Lear Character Introduction. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/kinglear/kinglearcharacters.html >.