The two plots of King Lear

King Lear is not simply about unique events which happen to one old king. The play is much more universal in its implications, and one of the ways in which Shakespeare accomplishes this is to interweave the story of Lear and his daughters with that of Gloucester and his sons. 

Plot parallels

There are many parallels between the two stories:
  • In both there are elderly fathers and grown-up children
  • Both fathers are deceived by the lies of their treacherous children and respond by expelling their good, honest children
  • Both fathers react with appalling haste to the lies they are told. Both should be able to see through the deception but their serious lack of judgement sets in motion a sequence of events which eventually leads to their deaths
  • Both fathers themselves are evicted from their homes, just as they have cast out their honest children. Both have to fend for themselves in a hostile world
  • Both fathers undergo extreme suffering. Lear goes mad and Gloucester has his eyes gouged out
  • The suffering of both fathers allows their eyes to be opened to the grave injustices they have committed against their honest children
  • This ability to ‘see’ more clearly the injustice of their earlier actions leads to a more general spiritual renewal for both Lear and Gloucester
  • Both Lear and Gloucester retain the love and loyalty of their wronged children. Cordelia comes to the aid of Lear, just as Edgar saves Gloucester
  • The deaths of both Lear and Gloucester are similar. Lear dies unable to bear the shock of Cordelia’s death followed by his mistaken belief that she is still alive. Gloucester dies when his heart bursts ‘smilingly’ when he realises that his wronged son Edgar is his saviour
  • The conflict in both plots concerns not only children and parents but also rivalry between sisters (in the case of Lear) and sons (in the case of Gloucester).
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.