Act I, scenes i–ii
Act I, Scene i
Act I, Scene ii
Summary: Act I, scene i
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth.
Important Quotations Explained
The play begins with two noblemen,
, discussing the fact that
is about to divide his kingdom. Their conversation quickly changes, however, when
Kent asks Gloucester to introduce his son. Gloucester introduces
, explaining that
Edmund is a bastard being raised away from home, but that he nevertheless loves his son
Lear, the ruler of Britain, enters his throne room and announces his plan to divide the
kingdom among his three daughters. He intends to give up the responsibilities of
government and spend his old age visiting his children. He commands his daughters to
say which of them loves him the most, promising to give the greatest share to that
Lear’s scheming older daughters,
, respond to his test with flattery,
telling him in wildly overblown terms that they love him more than anything else. But
, Lear’s youngest (and favorite) daughter, refuses to speak. When pressed, she
says that she cannot “heave her heart into her mouth,” that she loves him exactly as much
as a daughter should love her father, and that her sisters wouldn’t have husbands if they
loved their father as much as they say (I.i.90–91). In response, Lear flies into a rage,
disowns Cordelia, and divides her share of the kingdom between her two sisters.
The earl of Kent, a nobleman who has served Lear faithfully for many years, is the only
courtier who disagrees with the king’s actions. Kent tells Lear he is insane to reward the
flattery of his older daughters and disown Cordelia, who loves him more than her sisters
do. Lear turns his anger on Kent, banishing him from the kingdom and telling him that he
must be gone within six days.
The king of France and duke of Burgundy are at Lear’s court, awaiting his decision as to
which of them will marry Cordelia. Lear calls them in and tells them that Cordelia no
longer has any title or land. Burgundy withdraws his offer of marriage, but France is
impressed by Cordelia’s honesty and decides to make her his queen. Lear sends her away
without his blessing.
Goneril and Regan scheme together in secrecy. Although they recognize that they now
have complete power over the kingdom, they agree that they must act to reduce their
father’s remaining authority.
Summary: Act I, scene ii