King Lear, a legendary ruler of ancient Britain, is a tragic figure who loses his authority through his own foolishness. The aging king decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters and asks each of them to declare their love for him. King Lear's two oldest daughters, Regan and Goneril, flatter him with grand, but insincere, expressions of devotion. By contrast, Lear's youngest daughter, Cordelia, conveys only her natural, true love for her father.
Angered by what he perceives as Cordelia's insufficient love, Lear splits the kingdom between Regan and Goneril. Their treachery, however, soon becomes clear as they strip their father of all his authority and possessions. Lear then realizes the sincerity of Cordelia's love. Fearing that she will reject him because of the way that he treated her earlier, he goes to her and finds that she welcomes him with generosity and compassion.
medieval relating to the Middle Ages in Europe, a period from about A . D . 500 to 1500
One of the primary sources of King Lear's legend is the History of the Kings of Britain by the medieval English writer Geoffrey of Monmouth. In this version, Lear regains authority over his lands after joining Cordelia and her husband, although he dies a few years later. The legendary king is best known through William Shakespeare's play King Lear. In this version, Lear goes mad after he is humiliated by his two older daughters. When Cordelia learns of her father's condition, she raises an army to fight her sisters' forces. Cordelia's army is defeated, and she is imprisoned and hanged. King Lear dies soon thereafter of a broken heart over the death of his daughter.
See also Celtic Mythology .