Act 1 scene 1 acts as Shakespeare’s basic brief for most of the main characters and sets the scene for the rest of the play. For instance to begin Shakespeare has made the first line of text one of the most important in the play in developing both the character of King Lear and his daughters and the Kings trusted friend Kent and Gloucester. The lines are
Kent: ‘I thought the King had more affected (favoured) the Duke of Albany than Cornwall’
Gloucester: ‘It did always seem so to us but now the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most, for qualities are so weighed that curiosity in neither can make choice of either’s moiety’
This informs us of the decision King Lear has made to divide his kingdom. From the lines we can see that King Lear has decided to share the kingdom out before he passes away however to both Gloucester and Kent’s surprise he has not passed the Kingdom on to the two dukes, which many though he favoured most and were most likely to be next in line for ruling the Kingdom. At this point in the play we do not know of his decision to split his kingdom between his daughters however we do know that he has made an odd decision not to split it between the dukes. The Kings’ motives already are being questioned here in the text by the audience. The characters obviously believe that this is a strange decision made by the King to not spilt his Kingdom up between the Dukes which consequently leads us also to believe the same thing and we begin to closer note of the Kings actions throughout the play. This scene in a way prepares us for the Kings characters in the rest of the play.
We are officially introduced to the character of the King in the next scene were he finally reveals his plans. Gloucester is also there as well as the Kings three daughters. This scene develops the character of Gloucester to a certain extent. Gloucester was also talking to Kent earlier about the Kings plans and now being in the Kings presence tells us that this must be one of the Kings better friends and even an advisor. Gloucester is also noticeably similar to the character of Kent shown later on in the scene.
The Kings next scene is the explanation that he will divide the land between his daughters. He has already sorted this out yet he decides to have his three daughters compete in a contest to see who loves him the most. The one who does love him the most will receive the biggest portion. This would have been unlikely seeing as the King had already equally divided his Kingdom up for the girls anyway, nevertheless this is a slightly odd decision by the king and makes him out to be a bit of a glory hunter and basically merely just wants the attention. Linked with his current decision to share the land between his daughters in the first place we can jump to the conclusion that the Kings judgement is lacking somewhat in his old age and his attitude towards the Kingdom has grown to be less important.
His first daughter Gonerail steps up and speaks. She confesses to him that she loves him more than anything in the world and offers him a place to stay al the time in the part of the Kingdom that is to become hers. Cleverly Shakespeare has written this first to make us think that nothing is up and all she is doing is confessing her love for her father. King Lear promptly hands the land over to his daughter, though this had obviously already been decided before hand.
Next Regan steps up though this time she says that she loves him as much as her sister but even more so. This use of language raises the audience suspicions of the girls however Shakespeare has not written anything in the play yet to make us doubt the daughter’s real intentions, so as of now we still can believe that this is a normal routine.
However when Cordelia comes to speak she says
‘Cordelia: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth: I love your majesty according to my bond, no more no less’
This meant that she could not love her father more than the person she may come to marry and that she could only love him as a father no more or no less. This reveals the previous sisters to us as frauds who obviously only said these things to increase there share of the land. It also reveals more about the King who is outraged at this answer as she was the daughter he had loved the most, and though he still loves her the most he is blinded by disappointment in Cordelia on refuses to give her any share of the land and effectively banishes her from the kingdom. The character of Cordelia here is portrayed as the smartest of the three and the kinder. These are displayed through the text by Cordelia first not coming up with made up lies about how she loves her father more than the world, instead she is honest and speaks her mind showing us that she is a trustworthy character and she loves her father very much. Enough to tell him the truth and to trust him in his decisions. It also shows she is a character that is unlikely to leave her fathers side throughout the play
The two daughters are shown as very similar in ethics and in thought. At first the are thought to be kind hearted sisters who love there father, however as Shakespeare evolves the text and carries on thought that part of the story there characters become more suspicious and we become aware that the words spoken to their father where lies meaning they are unlikely to keep there promises to there father about the kingdom.
Kent who obviously recognises this as a controversial decision tries to make the king reconsidered his punishment. The King refuses to admit he has been wrong and through the text between him and Kent we can see that Lear is in fact a misguided fool who refuses to accept he is wrong even from the words of his trusted advisor Kent. Due to his irrational behaviour he also banishes Kent from the Kingdom. By now Shakespeare has evolved the King into a quite frail unstable figure that enjoys attention but prefers to listen with force than with reasoning.
The Last part of the story in Act 1 Scene 1 follows King Lear and Cordelia with Cordelia being chosen a Husband. This paragraph develops the character of King Lear further as well as the plot line. From the quotation
‘Lear: When she was dear to us we did hold her so, but now her price has fallen’
Less of a plot development it’s more of Shakespeare confirming King Lear’s long standing grudge with his daughter. This reveals a stubborn side to King and shows us that this grudge may go on for longer as the story progresses. However during this scene we also notice that Cordelia still stays to what she thinks is true showing a strong side to her character, which gives us more reassurance of her part in the rest of the play which seems likely to be geared more towards aiding her father.
The last scene on the Act show us the characters of Gonerail and Regan the other two sisters. They have also noticed their father rashness and fear he will bring misery and trouble to them when he travels between the two sisters, so they set about thinking of away to control him. This last paragraph is written as a cliff-hanger to those characters. Shakespeare assures us that we have not scene the last of them and also makes us wonder what they could be up two. Because of this we learn to distrust these characters and be suspicious of there next movements. Cordelia also distrusts them which assures us they must be suspicious characters as we know by now that Cordelia is a trustworthy character.
Throughout the first scene of the play we begin to build an image of the character of the King that will prepare us for what is to come later on into the play. The King appears to be irrational and easily irritable. His un-rest at his old age appears to cloud both his Judgement and his conscience. Throughout the first scene we witness the Kings condition slowly deteriorate from the initial decision to split the kingdom to the banishing of Cordelia. The daughter’s characters are also developed. While we see Cordelia as the trustworthy daughter that has vowed to stay by and protect her father the other two sisters are shown and revealed as liars and frauds. A trait that will probably be shown throughout the play. The last of the characters are very similar. Both trusted friends of the King lead us to believe that they will be involved with the King in some way or the other throughout the play.