Audiences in England knew an ancient legend about an ancient king named Lear who, in his old age, decided to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. In preparation, he posed a question to each one, asking how much she loved him.
The two eldest daughters wanted to be sure to give the answers their father wanted. They proceeded to curry his favor by giving glowing, lavish words expressing their love and devotion to him. The youngest daughter, although she loved her father deeply, simply replied that she loved her father as a child should love its parent.
Her answer infuriated the king so much that he went into a rage and sent her into exile. He then divided his kingdom between his other daughters. It didn't take long for these two ungrateful daughters to begin treating him cruelly. He escaped to France, where his youngest daughter was now married to the King of France. She gathered an army, returned to England and defeated the sisters' forces. She promptly returned the throne to her father.
Shakespeare's audiences knew this story, so when he put on a dramatic production based on the old story, they attended to see how he would change it and let the story unfold.
In typical Shakespearean form, he borrowed much of the plot from the old legends, but his spin resulted in what most critics see as the most poetic of his tragedies. His King Lear was driven to madness by the evil deeds of his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. The drama becomes a study in man's inhumanity to man in the form of family dynamics and ingratitude of children. He also includes, as in all of his tragedies, an element that provides comic relief. In this case, it's the Fool who makes tart, focused jabs pointing out the King's foolish actions.
The result is an enormously rich, rewarding study of the struggle between Good and Evil.
William Shakespeare, English poet and playwright, was born in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon in England. He married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior. They had three children, Susanna and twins Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet died as a young child.
Most of Shakespeare's life was spent in London, where he went to work early in the theatrical profession. He acted as well as wrote plays.
The best way to experience his many plays is, of course, is to see an actual production on stage. A second-best way is to listen to it in audiobook format. Listening enables one to follow the plot and to focus upon Shakespeare's use of language and its sounds to create a lasting effect upon the listener.
Among his many works are "Hamlet," "All's Well That Ends Well," "Much Ado about Nothing," "Macbeth," "Romeo and Juliet" and "Julius Caesar."