Little is known about the writing of the play. It is thought to have been drafted some time in 1603 but the authorship of Shakespeare was finally attributed to it only in the 1623 First Folio. Early 17th century audiences disliked the gloomy aspects of the play and it was given a happy ending. However, in the 19th century, the original was brought back and with it, Shakespeare's unerring grasp of human nature, love and family values.
The almost fairytale quality of the opening scene can beguile the reader into a sense of familiarity. However, this is literally the lull before the storm! King Lear of Britain is aging and he wishes to divide his inheritance and the kingdom among his three daughters. However, he devises a strange test for each, based on which he will give the largest share to the winner. The daughters have to describe how much they love him. The elder two, Goneril and Regan heap praise on their father, layering their speech with fulsome compliments designed to please and flatter the old man. However the youngest, his favorite daughter, Cordelia remains silent, saying she has no words to express her love. Enraged and disappointed, the old king disinherits Cordelia and gives her share to her two sisters. Her lover, the Duke of Kent, objects, but he is banished. Lear then declares that he will spend the rest of his life with his two faithful elder daughters and here begins the kernel of the play.