Lear, the king of England, decides to split his kingdom among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Coredila. The dicision on how much of it each daughter will get is based on how much each of them loves him. But in measuring that love, Lear trusts only his daughters' words, without trying to understand them deeper.

Goneril and Regan, the evil daughters, lie about their love. Cordelia, who is loved by the king the most, speaks the truth: "I love you majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less" (Norton, 893). For this, Cordelia gets banished from the court. Earl of Kent, loyal to the king, tries to show him that he is making a mistake and Lear banishes him along with Cordelia, while Goneril and Regan get to share the kingdom.

Kent disguises himself as someone else and comes back to the king, who, not recognizing him, accepts his services. Lear and his escort of a hundred knights are staying at Goneril's house. Little by little, Lear sees the signs that his power is gone. Goneril's servant doesn't respect him, and shortly afterward Goneril herself says she doesn't want him. But Lear doesn't want to accept the loss, and he tries to move to Regan's house. Regan, however, doesn't want him or his knights either. Alone with Kent and the Fool, he is thrown out of Regan's house in a storm.

At the same time, another subplot unfolds. Earl of Gloucester is having problems with his children, Edgar and Edmund. Edmund is a bastard who wants to inherit his father's estate and power as soon as possible. However, by law, Edgar is the one who will receive the inheritance. To get around this problem, Edmund devises a plot. He writes a fake letter from Edgar to himself and lets his father read it. Like Lear, Gloucester believes only what he sees, and immediately orders Edgar arrested.

Edgar is forced to leave the court. He doesn't know why Gloucester pursues him, doesn't know about Edmund's betreyal, and doesn't know where to go. Desperate to win time, he strips away his identity: "Edgar I nothing am!" (Norton, 918) .

Edgar disguises himself as Poor Tom the madman, and decides to sleep in a cave while the storm passes by....