King Lear: Character Introduction
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 >.
King Lear Overview
King Lear: Analysis by Act and Scene
Aesthetic and Textual Examination Questions on King Lear
Blank Verse in King Lear
King Lear Lecture Notes and Study Topics
The First Publication of King Lear
The Fool in King Lear and his Function in the Play
The Shakespeare Sisterhood: Cordelia
The Condition of Lear's Mind
Goneril: Physically, Intellectually, and Morally
Difficult Passages in King Lear
Scene-by-Scene Questions on King Lear with Answers
King Lear Summary
King Lear Essay Topics
Sources for King Lear
Representations of Nature in Shakespeare's King Lear
King Lear: FAQ
Famous Quotations from King Lear
Pronouncing Shakespearean Names
Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
Shakespeare's Reputation in Elizabethan England
Shakespeare's Impact on Other Writers
Why Study Shakespeare?
What is Tragic Irony?
Characteristics of Elizabethan Drama
Shakespeare Quotations (by Theme and Play)