Is King Lear crazy? Stupid? Suffering from dementia? Every production of King Lear must, to a certain extent, explain the guy – why does he act this way? Well, I have this crazy alternative theory for Lear’s motivation.
We know from others that he’s always been arbitrary, rash, and willful. We know that despite his age – he’s at least 80 (he says he’s “Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less” 4.7.70) – he’s still a physically powerful man: one of the last things he does is, apparently bare-handed, kill a fully armed soldier. And, we know that Cordelia is his favorite child. I get the sense that he’s a true warrior king in a time of relative stability and peace.
I propose that Lear, bored and nostalgic, divides his kingdom knowing full well that it’s going to end in Regan and Goneril revolting. His hope is that the best third (probably the geographical center) goes to Cordelia, who, with Burgundy’s forces and Lear and his 100 elite knights at her side, will fight back and reunite the land by force of arms. So, Lear gets to re-live his glory days and prove himself again a great warrior king, the two children he dislikes are punished and vanquished, and his favorite is placed on the throne indebted to him.
But it all goes wrong from the outset due to his own impetuousness, and Lear is forced to rely on the one thing he failed to build: bonds of love. Yet, the love he has built is very nearly enough.