Internet Shakespeare Editions


History: division and happy endings

One very odd thing about Shakespeare's Lear is that all his sources tell the story with a happy ending: Lear is restored to his throne. It is only by a rather arbitrary twist of the plot, as Edmund sends orders to kill Lear and Cordelia, that the tragic ending* is assured.

Despite the optimism of the sources, Shakespeare's audience would have anticipated a tragic outcome from the opening scene where the kingdom is divided: though Lear specifically wishes "that future strife / May be prevented now" (1.1.46-47), any division of the kingdom would have been seen as a recipe for civil war*.


  1. O happy defeat

    Though Lear's initial response to the loss of the battle is optimistic: he delights in the freedom from Court politics that the prison will offer.

  2. Carving up the kingdom

    Compare the scene in Henry IV, Part One, where the rebels, headed by Hotspur, similarly plan to divide the kingdom, and immediately begin to argue.