An argument to support the view that "everything
about the play [King Lear] hangs on the first two scenes not
just the plot but the values as well."

"King Lear, as I see it, confronts the perplexity and mystery of human
action." (Shakespeare\'s Middle Tragedies, 169) As the previous quotation
from the scriptures of Maynard Mack implies, King Lear is a very complex
and intricate play which happens to be surrounded by a lot of debate. "The
folio of 1623, which was, as is well known, edited by two of Shakespeare\'s
fellow actors" (Notes and Essays on Shakespeare, 242), contains not only
historical errors, but errors which pertain to certain characters speaking other
characters lines. Amidst all the controversy one fact can be settled upon by
all; King Lear is one of Shakespeare\'s best tragedies. While being a great
play, the bulk of the plot in King Lear comes mainly from the first two scenes
where most of the key events happen. Along with the plot there is also
extensive amounts of setup that occur within the dialogue which key the
audience in on the morals and values of the characters. Marilyn French is
completely accurate when she states that "Everything about the play hangs on
the first two scenes not just the plot but the values as well" (Shakespeare\'s
Division of Experience, 226).
The opening scenes of King Lear do an immaculate job of setting up
the plot and forming the basis for all the events which occur in the later
scenes of the play. "The elements of that opening scene are worth pausing
over, because they seem to have been selected to bring before us precisely
such an impression of unpredictable effects lying coiled and waiting in an
apparently innocuous posture of affairs." (Shakespeare\'s Middle Tragedies,
170) Not only do the opening scenes impress upon us what events could
happen in the future, they seem to give us the whole plot in a neatly wrapped
package. After the first two scenes are over the audience is basically just
along for the ride, waiting to see how the events given to us in the opening
scenes unfold. "As we look back over the first scene, we may wonder
whether the gist of the whole matter has not been placed before us, in the
play\'s own emblematic terms, by Gloucester, Kent, and Edmund in that brief
conversation with which the tragedy begins." (Shakespeare\'s Middle
Tragedies, 171) In the first scene Lear, having realized that death is closing
in on him, decides to divide his land between his daughters. This is one of
the most pivotal points in the play as the effects of this action are enormous.
Lear ends up casting aside Cordelia, who is the only daughter he has who
truly loves him, and gives all his land to his other two, power hungry,
daughters. The other pivotal point in the first scene which has a huge affect
on the rest of the play is the inclusion of the talk about Edmund. Edmund
realizes that, due to his illegitimacy, he can never amount to anything. "The
first action alluded to is the old king\'s action in dividing his kingdom, the dire
effects of which we are almost instantly to see. The other action is
Gloucester\'s action in begetting a bastard son, and the dire effects of this will
also speedily be known." (Shakespeare\'s Middle Tragedies, 171) The
consequences of these two actions are what the whole play revolves around.
The division of Lear\'s kingdom causes Reagan and Goneril to realize that
"Lear had lived long, but he had not learned wisdom." (Notes and Essays on
Shakespeare, 262) As they begin to realize just how easy they can take
advantage of him, Lear begins to see this as well and is furious, at first, then
his madness starts to set in. Gloucester\'s bastard son, Edmund, plays a very
important role in the plot of the play as well. His struggle for power and
notoriety causes much havoc throughout the play. He deceives both his
brother and his father just so that he can advance his title. While the extreme
outcomes of the two actions noted are not known until after the first two
scenes of the play, they are the two most important