Lear is King of England. Old and tired of the duties of kingship, he decides to retire, and to split his kingdom between his three daughters and their husbands.
He is irascible, hot-tempered, full of self-regard, and lacks self-awareness; though he allows his Fool to tell him the truth, he also threatens him with whipping for coming too close to the mark. He is fond of his daughters, especially his youngest, Cordelia, and expects the same in return from them. He sets great store by the fact that he has never broken his word, even when given in anger. Infuriated by Cordelia’s refusal to play his game of ‘Who Loves Daddy Best,’ he disowns her and splits the kingdom between only the two older daughters, Goneril and Regan. He is so angry that he banishes his oldest and best friend, Kent, when the latter speaks up in Cordelia’s favor. Unaware that the older daughters’ flattering replies were nothing but flattery, and that they do not in fact care for him, he does not realize that he has left himself without a safe home. Hoping to spend his last days in all the enjoyable parts of being a king without having to bother with the boring bits, he does not understand that by giving up all lands and all money from them, he has left himself completely dependent on his daughters, and he refuses to act in the subordinate manner that ought to come with no longer having any real power. His bad treatment at the hands of Goneril and Regan enrages him, and he feels himself slipping towards madness, a fate he fears. When he realizes the extent to which his daughters intend to have him subservient, he rushes out into a storm, where he begins to truly lose his mind. At the same time he begins to start realizing that other humans are also real people, and to feel for them. Sheltering in a hovel with his disguised godson Edgar, he finds himself one of three madmen on the stage, the pretend, the professional, and the real (himself). He loses touch with reality, reliving his wrongs and considering the wrongs of the earth while having little or no awareness of what is going on around him. He slowly comes back to himself when he meets Gloucester, and more so after a long sleep. Once his mind is restored, he is a changed man, humble, pitying, and remorseful. He no longer cares about anything but spending time with Cordelia, whom he realizes he has wronged. Even losing a battle has no effect on him, and he looks forward to simply talking with his favorite child for the rest of his days. When a captain comes to hang Cordelia, he has a burst of strength and is able to kill the man, but too late. His madness returns, and he dies desperately hoping that Cordelia is not in fact dead.