The play has illustrated the characters as individuals whose actions are motivated by their desires. In the first act of the play King Lear asks his daughters to tell him how much they love him. He is aware that his youngest daughter Cordelia loves him most but despite this knowledge he asks them to say how they love him. His purpose for doing this is to determine how to share his kingdom among them. The two elder sisters tell him of their love in colorful words which pleases him. They know that in order to get what they want they have to please their father by telling him what he wants to hear. Their words though pleasing to the king are far from the truth.
When Cordelia is asked to tell the king of her love for him she is unable to do so. She tells the king that her love is in her heart not in her mouth; therefore, she cannot bring her heart into her mouth for the king to see how much she loves him. She tells him in order to prove her love for him she chooses not to marry so as to devote all her love for the king (Shakespear, 1972). The king is enraged by her words and disinherits her. King Lear knows in his heart that Cordelia loves him most but he wants to quantify love in terms of words and not in the actual feeling. Kent a close friend and confidant of King Lear try's to intervene on the king's decision to disinherit Cordelia but fails. His effort angers King Lear who banishes him from his kingdom.
King Lear on disinheriting his youngest daughter divides his kingdom between his two elder daughters. His other daughter Cordelia though disinherited she had two suitors, the king of France and burgundy. Burgundy on account that the king has disinherited her declines to take her hand in marriage. He states that without her inheritance she is of no use for him since his desire is her wealth. The king of France asks for her hand because his desire is for genuine love and not her share of the kingdom. She accepts and goes off with him (Shakespear, 1972).
When the king divides his kingdom he goes to live with his eldest daughter Gonerill. His presence in her palace is not welcome. Gonerill does not want her father in her house and she wishes to exercise total control on him. She sees King Lear as a threat to her share of the kingdom. His actions to her sister Cordelia and the knowledge that he loved Cordelia most are unsettling to her. She fears that if he is capable of disinheriting his most beloved daughter, then given the opportunity what he might do to her. She orders her servants not to attend to King Lear and reduces his servants and knights by half. Her actions are not received well by King Lear. He decides to leave for his second daughter's residence. He writes a letter and gives it to Kent. Kent on seeing his king's mistake perceived that he is headed for disastrous end. He comes to King Lear disguised as a served and seeks his employment (Shakespear, 1972). Kent's desire to serve his king truthfully and to protect him from his mistakes brings him to serve King Lear in disguise as a servant.
When the king declares his intention to visit Regan his second daughter, Donerill and her husband sends a servant with a letter to her sister explaining the situation and asking her to disallow King Lear's wishes. When the servant arrives he finds Kent there who in turn gets furious because he sees Regan and her husband prefers the contents of Donerill's letter to those of King Lear's. He takes the act of delivering Donerill's letter as an act of treason and challenges the servant to a duel. This action leads him to be locked up by Donerill's husband. King Lear on arriving at Regan's palace finds no one to receive him. To his surprise he finds Kentlocked up. He finds it hard to believe that his daughter and her husband could do that to his servant. As the king waits on Regan and Albany, Gonerill appears surprising the king. The king realizes that his daughters will not relent in granting him his wishes and liberties. He realizes that his two daughters have conspired to strip him of his power and rights. He walks away a defeated and frustrated man. At this point the king laments his decision of disinheriting Cordelia. He realizes that she was the only one among his daughters who loved him truly. He regrets his actions as he walks away.
Gloucester a loyal friend of King Lear, sympathizes with his predicament. He is position as a loyal friend and earl of Gloucestercompels him to intervene on the king's behalf. His son Edmund conspires against him and his brother. Edmund being a bastard does not entitle him to inherit his father's property. He decides to implement a plot in an effort to acquire Gloucester's lands (Shakespear, 1972). He realizes that as long as Edgar,Gloucester's legitimate son is in good graces with his father his desire will never be realized. He frames Edgar for planning to eliminate his father in order to take charge of his property. When Gloucester is informed of this plan, he disowns Edgar and has him outlawed. Edgar, on realizing that his brother betrayed him, disguises himself as a beggar. He does this because of his desire to live since he would be killed if recognized by people. (Shakespear, 1972)
Gloucester takes action by writing a letter to Cordelier in France. He explains King Lear's predicament and the actions of her sisters toward their father. He receives a letter from Cordelia confirming her position. He unwittingly tells Edmund of the letter and asks him not to mention it to King Lear's daughters or their husbands (Shakespear, 1972). Edmund found a way to further his desire to own his father's property goes ahead and betrays his father to Cornwall, Regan's husband. He is promised to be rewarded for betraying his father. Gloucesteron learning of the king's plight goes to find him and offers him shelter from the storm. Regan on learning of Gloucester's letter from France orders his arrest. She interrogates him with her husband torturing him. In the process a servant intervenes saving Gloucester from further torture. The servant confronts Cornwall and in the scuffle he is killed by Regan with a sword (Shakespear, 1972). They send Gloucester away even though his eyes cannot see. Cornwall eventually dies from the injury sustained from his confrontation with the servant.
Edgar meets his blind father. Gloucester does not realize that the beggar whose assistance he has is his son. He implores Edgar to take him to a cliff where he wants to commit suicide. He helps his father from committing suicide and decides to avenge his father. Cordelia meets the King Lear and in the ensuing battle between her forces and those of her sisters she loses the battle and is captured by her sister's forces. Edmund sends Cordelia to be killed and the king jailed. Edmund is unsure of what to do about Regan and Gonerill since he confessed to love them both in an effort to be rich and in a position of power. Albany confronts him credibility of his patriotism. He is told of a challenge to this end and demands to confront his accuser. Edgar presents himself and declares Edmund as a traitor. A duel ensues. Edmond before he dies discloses of Cordelia's impending death. They arrive at the jailhouse too late to find her dead, King Lear holding her is overcome by grief and he dies (Shakespear, 1972). Gonerill poisons her sister Regan because of their rivalry in the affections of Edmund. After poisoning her sister she turns the knife on herself and kills herself. The characters in King Lear are driven by their desires and ambitions. Their actions are mostly as a result of their desires despite the consequences that may befall them.