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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes
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Major Themes

The main theme of the play is filial ingratitude, shown primarily by the attitudes of Goneril and Regan. The play revolves around the helplessness of King Lear after he gives his kingdom to these two elder daughters. They are ungrateful to their father and treat him cruelly, stripping him of all his power and dignity. Their ingratitude is contrasted with the compassion and love shown by Cordelia, his youngest daughter; ironically, King Lear had disinherited her for telling the truth.

Within this theme of filial ingratitude, the theme of good vs. evil is clearly depicted. The two older daughters are the personification of evil. They destroy their father, cause the death of Cordelia and even perish themselves because of their greedy and evil ways. In contrast, Cordelia is the personification of goodness. Even though she is rejected by her father, she continues to love him and tries to help him. Because of her goodness, Lear sees the error of his judgement, but it comes too late to save himself or his daughters.

Minor Themes

One of the minor Themes; the tragic disrespect of authority and age, is closely related to the major theme of filial ingratitude. Goneril and Regan clearly show and voice their disrespect to their father, the King of the country. Edmund also disrespects his father and treats him poorly. The rude behavior of these characters is seen throughout the play

Another minor theme is the pain of misjudgment. Both Lear and Gloucester misjudge their offspring, giving favors to the wrong children. Cordelia and Edgar, the children whom they reject as worthless, are really representatives of all that is good and loyal in the world. Before they realize their errors, both fathers undergo great personal suffering. In spite of the treatment they receive, both Cordelia and Edgar stand by their fathers and forgive them for the injustices they have suffered.


The mood of the play is tragic and bleak. Although the drama opens in celebration, King Lear manages to quickly destroy the festivities because of his foolishness and rage. The dark atmosphere that he creates through his behavior in the beginning scene worsens as the plot develops. By the middle of the play Lear has lost touch with reality; appropriately, a raging storm outside reflects the storm in Lear's own mind. Through the bleakness of the mood in the early acts of the play, Shakespeare prepares the audience (and the reader) for the horrendous scenes of tragedy that occur at the end of the play.

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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Synopsis


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