Motivations and Personalities of Characters in Act One of William Shakespeare's King Lear
The opening scenes to the play establish the main characters well for
the duration of the play. There are two main plots, which involve most
of the main characters. The main plot consists of King Lear dividing
his kingdom up between his three daughters, Gonerill Regan and
Cordelia. However one, Cordelia, does not receive any land. The plot
then entails the aftermath and the problems that follow such a mix up.
The sub plot, containing Gloucester, Edmund and Edgar mirrors the main
Lear plot. This story is about Edmund being the bastard son and the
way he deviously tries to con his father into giving him his wealth.
The first two scenes show us how similar the two plots are. We are
beginning to see that Lear's family harmony is in jeopardy, as is
Gloucester's after Edmund's cunning plan to split up the devoted
father and son. There is another similarity where Gloucester's swift
rejection of Edgar reflects the way that Lear rejects and banishes
Gloucester is an influential character and opens the play talking to
Kent and his bastard son, Edmund. He is very cruel and abrasive to his
bastard son, Edmund. He apparently "blushes to see him" because he is
so disgraced of the "whoreson". Although "there was good sport at his
making" Gloucester still sends him away to study. He seems extremely
rude to mock him openly in public, while he is present. This attitude
was not uncommon in the Elizabethan period. However it would have
shocked the lower classes that a man with such class and stature would
treat his son that way.
He shares many qualities with Lear and they put themselves in the same
situations. They are both complacent fathers, used to assuming
authority. They both react rashly when they suspect their offspring of
rebelling against them.
Gloucester's rashness is shown when Edmund shows him the false letter
as mentioned later on. He immediately goes ballistic and demands that
his son be "apprehended". Edmund persuades him against this and agrees
to let Edmund "frame the business" of discovering the truth about
He seems to be motivated by action. He is a character that likes to be
in the middle of things and be doing more than one thing at the same
time. For instance he seems to come alive when the situation arises
with the dividing of the kingdom, the letter incident and the plot to
Edmund is introduced to us at the start of the play as the bastard
son. When Kent talks to him, he answers him very politely and very
respectfully. He does not seem to mind the open mocking and taunting.
This silence is symbolic, as he has no voice or rights within society.
Shakespeare keeps Edmund's true feelings and character hidden from us