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King Lear

by: William Shakespeare

Act 1, scenes 3–5

Summary: Act 1, scene 3

Lear is spending the first portion of his retirement at Goneril’s castle. Goneril complains to her steward, Oswald, that Lear’s knights are becoming “riotous” and that Lear himself is an obnoxious guest (1.3.6). Seeking to provoke a confrontation, she orders her servants to behave rudely toward Lear and his attendants.

Read a translation of Act 1, scene 3 →

Summary: Act 1, scene 4

Disguised as a simple peasant, Kent appears in Goneril’s castle, calling himself Caius. He puts himself in Lear’s way, and after an exchange of words in which Caius emphasizes his plainspokenness and honesty, Lear accepts him into service.

Lear’s servants and knights notice that Goneril’s servants no longer obey their commands. When Lear asks Oswald where Goneril is, Oswald rudely leaves the room without replying. Oswald soon returns, but his disrespectful replies to Lear’s questions induce Lear to strike him. Kent steps in to aid Lear and trips Oswald.

The Fool arrives and, in a series of puns and double entendres, tells Lear that he has made a great mistake in handing over his power to Goneril and Regan. After a long delay, Goneril herself arrives to speak with Lear. She tells him that his servants and knights have been so disorderly that he will have to send some of them away whether he likes it or not.

Lear is shocked at Goneril’s treasonous betrayal. Nonetheless, Goneril remains adamant in her demand that Lear send away half of his one hundred knights. An enraged Lear repents ever handing his power over to Goneril. He curses his daughter, calling on Nature to make her childless. Surprised by his own tears, he calls for his horses. He declares that he will stay with Regan, whom he believes will be a true daughter and give him the respect that he deserves. When Lear has gone, Goneril argues with her husband, Albany, who is upset with the harsh way she has treated Lear. She says that she has written a letter to her sister Regan, who is likewise determined not to house Lear’s hundred knights.

Read a translation of Act 1, scene 4 →

Summary: Act 1, scene 5

Lear sends Kent to deliver a message to Gloucester. The Fool needles Lear further about his bad decisions, foreseeing that Regan will treat Lear no better than Goneril did. Lear calls on heaven to keep him from going mad. Lear and his attendants leave for Regan’s castle.