The Earl of Gloucester is an old, white-bearded courtier of Lear’s.
Loyal but somewhat spineless, he is credulous, superstitious, loving, and not overly intelligent. He also has a fair claim to being the most embarrassing father in the history of creation, telling stag tales about what a great time he had engendering his illegitimate son Edmund while said son is standing right next to him. Though he has kept Edmund away from court for nine years and intends to send him away again, he cares for the boy, though not so much as for his legitimate heir Edgar (who is Lear’s godson). He is however easily convinced that Edgar is plotting against his life, and never considers the possibility that the bastard might be making trouble. Instead he organizes a manhunt for Edgar while promising to help Edmund get ahead in life. He is troubled and confused at all that is going on, and at first no longer knows where his proper allegiance lies—to the King, or to Regan and the Duke of Cornwall, in whose share of the kingdom his lands lie. He is scared of the Duke, and when he tries to speak on Lear’s behalf in his presence he finds himself stripped of his responsibilities. In contact with the French invading forces, he attempts to help Lear in secret, sneaking out of his house to bring him some comfort. Returning to his home to find himself bound to a chair and interrogated, he attempts to say nothing, but in the end bursts out his true opinion of Regan, with the result of having his eyes pulled out, just as he learns of Edmund’s treachery. Blinded just as his has his eyes opened to Edgar’s innocence, he can think of nothing else to do but commit suicide, and asks the madman into whose care he is put to bring him to a cliff from which he can jump. Convinced that he has made his attempt and survived, he still has no great desire to live but decides that it is not up to him to end his life. When Lear loses his final battle, and the man guiding him reveals himself to be Edgar, he cannot take it anymore, and dies.