Importance of Sub-plot in King Lear of William Shakespeare

Sub-plot and it's importance in King Lear

Subplot in King Lear
Credit: Wikimedia commons

📄Table of Contents :-

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare: The Tempest Summary & Characters

Born (Baptised) 26 April 1564, UK
Died 23 April 1616, UK
Active years c. 1585- 1613
Era Elizabethan, Jacobean
Literary Period Renaissance
Profession Playwright, Poet, actor
Notable works Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth etc
Genre Renaissance drama

📃 Introduction: King Lear:-

King Lear by William Shakespeare is one of the most famous Tragedies ever written. Its plot deals with the story of King Lear, whose foolish and blind judgement leads to his downfall and a series of tragic events. Its plot is very well constructed and also nourished by subplots. The importance of Subplot in King Lear can easily be realised as one goes through the events of both main plot and Subplot.
King Lear
Play name King Lear
Character created by William Shakespeare
Daughters Cordelia, Goneril, Reagan
Status King of England
👉Let's first discuss what a Sub-plot is and what is it's relevance and importance in a play?


A sub-plot is the story that runs parallel to the story of the main plot. It is introduced to aid the main plot and bring some dramatic effects. It intensifies the actions in the main plot.

The play King Lear by William Shakespeare has a  matured sub-plot. The sub-plot in this tragedy is closely interrelated with the main story that is of King Lear. The story of sub-plot influences and gets influenced by its main plot.

📍Relevance of Sub-plot:-

The use of sub plot is the debated topic among critics. They have divided opinions upon the use sub-plot alongside the main plot. Some considers the importance of Sub-plot but others see it as a limitation and interruption. Some critics, like A. C. Bradley, considers sub-plot as a defect. He is of the opinion that the sub-plot diverts the attention of audience from the main story. At the same time it also has some structural weakness that arise out of two parallel stories. However, the sub-plot does not distorts the structural unity of the play rather it complements the main plot.

Click here 👉 Important Questions List and Links.

✒️Main Plot and Subplot in King Lear:-

The main plot of King Lear deals with the story of Lear, the king of England. Because of his foolish and blind judgement he divides his entire kingdom between his two daughters, who are very dishonest, and his third daughter, Cordelia, gets nothing though she is honest and truthful. 

American literature:- Summary of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience.

Likewise, the sub-plot of this play also deals with the misjudgment and subsequent misfortune of the Earl of Gloucester. He also makes the same mistake of the misjudgment of his sons. Like King Lear, Gloucester also is not able to see the lie and dishonesty of his illegitimate son, Edmund, and turns his back to his legitimate son, Edgar. Hence he also suffers like King Lear. He is betrayed by the son whom he trusted. And at the end he is helped by his legitimate son whom he disowned. Thus these two stories are parallel to each other and get blended together to make a single whole.

✒️Significance/ Importance of Subplot in King Lear :-

Thus both plots deals with the same theme i.e. good and evil and their disequilibrium. In both stories wrong treatment is inflicted upon the good and honest characters. And dishonest and wicked characters are trusted, for they are able to manipulate with their honey- tongued phrases and flattering responses. 

King Lear commits mistake as a father of daughter and Gloucester commits mistake as a father of son. Both father's are being unfair with their children and make serious error of judgement. Both suffer the consequences of these grave error of judgement. King Lear gradually descends to insanity and wanders on the heath. While, Gloucester is turned blinded and left to wander. Then both are helped by their sincere daughter/ son whom they disowned.

Thus by introducing the sub-plot Shakespeare has ably heightened and strengthened the main plot of King Lear. The two plots show the misjudgment of two fathers, one in a father-daughter relation and the other in the father-son bond. The subsequent developments in both plots are the results of the limitations in the acknowledgement and understandings of the fathers with regards to their childs.

American literature:- Summary of Emerson's essay 'Self Reliance'.

There is an apparent parallelism of the characters. Cordelia and Edgar both have true affection and love with their fathers and both fulfills their duties accordingly. Thus the importance of sub-plot in King Lear can not be denied. Its sub-plot is not a contrast rather it is complementary to the main plot. Both stories would individually have the same relevance; their significance has hightened as woven together.

💡Read More:-

  1. Plot & Summary  of the Tragedy of King Lear.
  2. Shakespeare : The Tempest (Summary & Characters).
  3. Character Sketch of Ariel : The Tempest.
  4. Character Sketch of Caliban: The Tempest.
  5. Ref: literaturemini.
  6. Character Sketch of Cordelia in King Lear.

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