The New Student's Reference Work/King Lear
King Lear, a tragedy, was written by Shakespeare probably between 1603 and 1606. It is based on an ancient legend which had come down, probably, from the ancient Britons, and was told by Geoffrey of Monmouth about 1150 and oy Layamon about 1200. Edmund Spenser, also, had touched on the story, and it had even been dramatized. But it is greatly transformed by Shakespeare’s hand. The story is that of an old king, who, as he gets feeble, turns to his children for affection. But, because he has all his life been used to rule and to get things more by fear than for love, he demands this affection from his daughters and lets them know that whoever expresses her love most strongly will secure the best reward. He accepts as true the violent expressions of love that his two elder daughters offer; while he is enraged beyond measure by the constrained silence of his youngest child, Cordelia. He therefore divides his kingdom between the former, and proposes to live with them in turn; while Cordelia he turns away penniless. But the king of France, who was present, sees Cordelia’s goodness and weds her. Then the elder daughters tire of the king who has no more to give, and, as his protests become troublesome, turn him out of doors into the storm. The French king then comes with Cordelia and an army to right King Lear. They find him broken in mind and body; but under the love of Cordelia he regains something of his reason. But the English defeat the French king, and capture Lear and Cordelia. The order is given that both be slain. But at this point one sister poisons the other, because both have fallen in love with the same man. This crime is discovered, and at the same time the intention of killing Lear and Cordelia is revealed. The order for their death is countermanded, but Cordelia has been slain; and the old king dies brokenhearted, his dead child in his arms.
See the full text of The Tragedy of King Lear.