Lear: The king of Britain; Lear is described as a "very foolish, fond old man, fourscore and upward." Because of his monumental folly in misjudging his daughters—Regan, Goneril, and, Cordelia—he endures a harrowing experience but emerges as a man "more sinned against than sinning" and as one who has attained true insight.
King of France: A suitor of Cordelia; the king of France later marries her and leads an army back to England to take the country from Cordelia's sisters, Goneril and Regan.
Duke of Burgundy: An unsuccessful suitor for Cordelia's hand.
Duke of Cornwall: The wicked husband of Regan, Cornwall's capacity for cruelty and injustice seems to be almost limitless.
Duke of Albany: Goneril's "mild husband," Albany provides ethical and religious commentary on events and ultimately emerges as a positive force for virtue, despite his wife's grasping and evil desires.
Earl of Kent: A "noble and true-hearted" courtier, Kent is loyal to Lear, even when the king banishes him. He doesn't leave England, but instead disguises himself and becomes a devoted servant of his Lear.
Earl of Gloucester: Like Lear, Gloucester is a credulous, rash old man. He is the father of the legitimate Edgar and illegitimate Edmund, but, also like Lear, he doesn't understand which is the better and truer son. Because of his mistakes, he too must suffer greatly before he gains any insight.
Edgar: Gloucester's elder and legitimate son, Edgar's "nature is so far from doing harms that he suspects none." Forced to flee and to disguise himself as a beggar, he lives to bring comfort and aid to his abused father and to execute justice on the villainous Edmund.
Edmund: Gloucester's bastard son, Edmund is described as "a most toad-spotted traitor. Motivated by envy and criminal ambition, he aligns himself with other evil characters in the play.
Curan: A courtier.
Old Man: Gloucester's tenant.
Fool: "A pretty knave," Lear's "bitter, all-licensed" Fool is devoted to both Lear and Cordelia. It is he that offers the most true, but devastating, commentary on Lear's actions and fate.
Oswald: Goneril's steward.
Captain: In Edmund's employ.
Goneril: One of Lear's elder self-seeking daughters, Goneril flatters her father and wins power and possessions. However, she maliciously seeks more and turns her father out of her home—showing her true lack of feelings and compassion.
Regan: The other of Lear's self-seeking daughters, Regan is much like Goneril and is described with her as "the shame of ladies," "tigers, not daughters."
Cordelia: Lear's youngest daughter, disinherited by Lear, Cordelia offers her father love and devotion, but cannot give him the vain flatteries of her sisters. Because of this, Lear disinherits her. At the end of the play, she again becomes a comfort to her father, but, to his grief, dies before they can truly reconcile.