Lear, the elderly king of Britain, decides to divide his kingdom
between his three daughters, and announces that the greatest share
will go to whoever 'doth love us the most'. Goneril and Regan make
lavish proclamations of their love, but Cordelia, Lear's youngest and
dearest, refuses to play the game. She is disinherited for her pains.
The Earl of Gloucester, meanwhile, is learning of a plot by his son
Edgar to kill him. Although the non-existent plot is in fact the
fabrication of his bastard son Edmund, the rightful heir is forced to
flee for his life.
Lear, expecting to enjoy the hospitality of the new queens, instead
quarrels with both and ends up raging at their treachery upon a
storm-swept heath. Taking shelter, he and his tiny band of followers
encounter Edgar, now disguised as Tom, a mad beggar.
Goneril and Regan, perceiving their increasingly unbalanced father as
a threat, plot against his life. When Gloucester tips off his former
sovereign, he is betrayed by Edmund, and is punished by having his
eyes put out.
Cordelia returns from exile with a French invasion force, and is
reunited and reconciled with her father. Although she loses the
ensuing battle and is subsequently hanged, there is strife in the
victorious British ranks: Goneril poisons Regan for the love of
Edmund, and takes her own life when Edmund is killed by the avenging
Lear at last finds peace, cradling the body of his beloved Cordelia as he dies.