Having only seen this play in production and not read it, I am finding that I like it even more. It is difficult for me to pinpoint one topic to discuss, since it is so rich in plot and character. I find myself liking EVERY character, even the villainous ones, simply because they are so well written. The sub-plots are just as intriguing as the main plot. In addition, Shakespeare did not waste much time with exposition in this play, but instead dove straight into the heart of the action within the first two pages. OK, enough gushing.
To be a bit more specific about what intrigues me about this play: I find it fascinating that nearly all of the characters who are true, just, and honest are misrepresented as “bad guys” and thus treated poorly. On the other hand, the scheming, plotting, malicious characters are cunning enough to portray themselves as “good guys” and get away with causing trouble. For example, in Act I, Scene 1 we see Lear’s two daughters, Goneril and Regan, profess their undying love to their father. It is clear (especially when we learn more about their characters later on) that they are basically appeasing Lear in order to gain property from him. They are, in turn, commended for their “faithfulness” and rewarded with land. Cordelia, on the other hand, cannot bring herself to tell a lie, and by stating that she loves Lear “According to my bond; nor more nor less” (1.1.92), she is spurned by her father. Thus, the two liars get everything and the honest one gets none. In this same scene, the truthful Kent is banished by Lear for simply advising him to reconsider his decision.
Additionally, we see the character Edmund, the bastard child of Gloucester, formulate a plan to mar his brother Edgar’s image so that he may inherit the crown. Edmund craftily forges a letter in his brother’s hand that expresses his wish for the king to die, and shows it to Gloucester. Through this and other devices, Edmund manages to sway Gloucester into thinking that he is the saintly son, while Edgar is the foul devil who must be put to death. Edgar, meanwhile, because he is so pure and ethical, does not see the harm being done to him, and falls straight into Edmund’s plot. Yet again, the virtuous ones are screwed over at the hands of the deceitful. Perhaps Edmund sums up the events of the play thus far in this line: “Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” (1.2.22).
Finally, it is important to note that the Fool is the one character who can tell the truth and make Lear laugh instead of scream. How is this so? Is it because he is simply written off as “the fool,” and anything he says is unworthy of considering deeply? This must be the case, otherwise King Lear could easily have banished him along with Kent and Cordelia. The Fool may be the wisest character of them all, then, because he can be honest and come away unscathed.