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Transcript of King Lear
Goneril: eldest daughter of Lear. Wife of the duke of Albany. Has an affair with Edmund and takes military power from her husband.
Regan: second eldest daughter of Lear. Wife of the duke of Cornwall. She competes with her sister for the affections of Edmund
Cordelia: youngest (and favorite) daughter of Lear. She is banished from her father's kingdom and marries the king of France despite her disinheritance. She remains loyal to her father throughout the play.
Gloucester: a nobleman loyal to king Lear. He has two sons, Edgar, who is legitimate, and Edmund, who is illegitimate. He is a foil for Lear; he likewise mis-judges his children's motivations and pays the price for it.
Edgar: The older, legitimate son of Gloucester. He is first tricked by his younger brother and then disguises himself as a mad beggar to avoid capture by his father's men. He remains disguised an so helps both Lear and his father. At the end of the play he dons armor and fights to avenge his brother's treason.
Edmund: The younger, illegitimate son of Gloucester. He schemes against his older brother to inherit the title and riches from his father. He is ruthless and clever.
Kent: A nobleman who is extremely loyal to Lear, albeit outspoken. His outspokenness gets him banished from the kingdom and he thus disguises himself as a peasant "Caius" to stay and help protect the king.
Albany: husband of Goneril. He is a good man who eventually denounces the evil schemes of those close to him.
Cornwall; husband of Regan. He schemes with Goneril and Regan for control over Lear's kingdom. He is domineering and violent.
Fool: King Lear's court jester. His speech is playful and full of double meanings. His playful songs and jokes are in reality wise advice for the King.
Oswald: Goneril's chief steward (servant) who aids his mistress in her schemes. Act I, scene i as the play begins Kent and Gloucester discuss Lear's planned equal division of the kingdom between his daughters.
their conversation quickly turns to the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of Gloucester's son Edmund, thus immediately highlighting some of the play's main themes of inheritance, legitimacy/illegitimacy, and hierarchical society. Act I, scene i in the throne room Lear conveys his desire to retire from ruling and spend his last days with his daughters.
he (almost jokingly?) demands that his three daughters to speak in order to prove who loves him most. Lear's eldest daughters Goneril and Regan speak first in flattering words that reek of falseness. His youngest daughter Cordelia, however, refuses to speak, indicating that she is unable to articulate her love appropriately. Act I, scene i Lear is furious with Cordelia for her inability to verbally express her love for him. He banishes and disowns her.
Kent is the only courtier who speaks up against Lear's actions and is also banished for speaking his mind. Act I, scene i The king of France and the duke of Burgundy await Lear's decision for Cordelia's hand in marriage. Lear informs them that he has disowned her and that she will have no dowry. Burgundy leaves but the king of France is inspired by Cordelia's goodness and straightforwardness and desires to marry her. Lear says he will offer no blessing for the wedding.
The act ends with Goneril and Regan scheming to gain complete control over their father's kingdom and to strip him of all power. Act I, scene ii The scene begins with Edmund's famous soliloquy about his anger towards the way the world treats bastards and the unfairness of his brother's legitimacy and his own illegitimacy.
He vows to do away with his half-brother Edgar in order to inherit his father's title and money in order to seize all the opportunities that he has thus far been disallowed. Edmund begins to plot as he forges a letter in which Edgar appears to plot the death of their father, Gloucester. Edmund makes a show of hiding this letter from his father and so, naturally, Gloucester demands to read it. Edmund answers his father with careful lies, so that Gloucester ends up thinking that his legitimate son, Edgar, has been scheming to kill him in order to hasten his inheritance of Gloucester’s wealth and lands. Act I, scene ii Gloucester's departing speech invokes nature in a similar way to how Edmund evoked it in his opening soliloquy. The play with opposites and the irregularity of nature reflects a common belief at the time that a divided or unhealthy kingdom was directly reflected by a violent and unnatural turn in nature. Sons plotting against fathers would be considered unnatural whereas "bastards" conspiring would be considered more "natural" of their characters as those "base born." Edgar then enters the scene and Edmund tells him that Gloucester is very angry with him and that Edgar should avoid him as much as possible and carry a sword with him at all times. Thus, Edmund carefully arranges circumstances so that Gloucester will be certain that Edgar is trying to murder him. Act I, scene iii This short scene takes place in Goneril's home and documents her increasing frustrations with her father and his men. She claims that they are rioutous and that "day and night he wrongs me; / every hour / He flashes into one gross crime or other, / That sets us all at odds."
Goneril advises her head servant Oswald that he can misuse Lear and that she does not wish to see him.
Given that Lear has just given her half of his kingdom her ungratefulness would have been considered unnatural. How, though, do we read her complaints? Is Lear overstepping his boundaries given that he has retired from ruling? Act I, scene iv Kent has not left the country as ordered and has disguised as a simple peasant "Caius" in Goneril’s castle. He puts himself in Lear’s way, and after an exchange of words in which Caius emphasizes his plain-spokenness and honesty, Lear accepts him into service.
Of importance here is the emphasis on plain and honest speech. Lear’s servants and knights notice that Goneril’s servants no longer obey their commands. When Lear asks Oswald where Goneril is, Oswald rudely leaves the room without replying. Oswald soon returns, but his disrespectful replies to Lear’s questions induce Lear to strike him. Kent steps in to aid Lear and trips Oswald. The Fool enters and insinuates through his convoluted speech that Lear that he has made a great mistake in handing over his power to Goneril and Regan. After a long delay, Goneril herself arrives to speak with Lear. She tells him that his servants and knights have been so disorderly that he will have to send some of them away whether he likes it or not. Lear is shocked at Goneril’s treasonous betrayal. Nonetheless, Goneril remains adamant in her demand that Lear send away half of his one hundred knights. An enraged Lear repents ever handing his power over to Goneril. He curses his daughter, calling on Nature to make her childless. Surprised by his own tears, he calls for his horses. He declares that he will stay with Regan, whom he believes will be a true daughter and give him the respect that he deserves. When Lear has gone, Goneril argues with her husband, Albany, who is upset with the harsh way she has treated Lear. She says that she has written a letter to her sister Regan, who is likewise determined not to house Lear’s hundred knights. Act I, scene v In this short scene Lear sends Kent/Caius to deliver a message to Gloucester. The Fool needles Lear further about his bad decisions, foreseeing that Regan will treat Lear no better than Goneril did.
Lear calls on heaven to keep him from going mad. Lear and his attendants leave for Regan’s castle. Act II, scene i the duke of Cornwall and his wife Regan are on their way to visit Gloucester. Edmund hears from the servant Curan that there are rumours of a feud between Cornwall and Albany.
Edmund, realizing the opportunity this affords his scheme, calls Edgar out of his hiding place and tells him that Cornwall is angry with him for being on Albany’s side of their disagreement. Edgar has no idea what Edmund is talking about. Edmund tells Edgar further that Gloucester has discovered his hiding place and that he ought to flee the house immediately under cover of night. When he hears Gloucester coming, Edmund draws his sword and pretends to fight with Edgar, while Edgar runs away. Edmund cuts his arm with his sword and lies to Gloucester, telling him that Edgar wanted him to join in a plot against Gloucester’s life and that Edgar tried to kill him for refusing.
The unhappy Gloucester praises Edmund and vows to pursue Edgar, sending men out to search for him.
Cornwall and Regan arrive at Gloucester’s house. They believe Edmund’s lies about Edgar, and Regan asks if Edgar is one of the disorderly knights that attend Lear. Edmund replies that he is, and Regan speculates further that these knights put Edgar up to the idea of killing Gloucester in order to acquire Gloucester’s wealth. Regan then asks Gloucester for his advice in answering letters from Lear and Goneril. Act II, scene ii Outside Gloucester’s castle, Kent, still in peasant disguise, meets Oswald, the chief steward of Goneril’s household. Oswald doesn’t recognize Kent from their scuffle in Act I, scene iv. Kent abuses Oswald, describing him as cowardly, vain, boastful, overdressed, servile, and groveling. Oswald still maintains that he doesn’t know Kent; Kent draws his sword and attacks him. Oswald’s cries for help bring Cornwall, Regan, and Gloucester. Kent replies rudely to their calls for explanation, and Cornwall orders him to be punished in the stocks.
Gloucester objects that this humiliating punishment of Lear’s messenger will be seen as disrespectful of Lear himself and that the former king will take offense. But Cornwall and Regan maintain that Kent deserves this treatment for assaulting Goneril’s servant, and they put him in the stocks. Question:
Kent /“Caius” once again pays a heavy price for his forthrightness and need to speak exactly what is on his mind. Is Shakespeare arguing for a middle ground between truth and lies? If so, how do we go back and read Cordelia’s (non-)speech in the first act? Act I, scene i main themes / issues / questions: Legitimacy versus illegitimacy.
What is King Lear's demand for love motivated by? Fear? A jest that went too far? An early sign of madness?
flattery and false speech (Goneril and Regan) versus true and honest speech (Cordelia and Kent).
Why does Lear react so violently to Cordelia? Why does Cordelia refuse to articulate her love?
The act's end indicates an immediate recognition of Goneril and Regan as antagonistic forces in the play. Their scheming indicates at the end of the play’s first act how Lear has misjudged those around him. Act I, scene ii main themes / issues / questions: a repeated emphasis on inheritance with the added complexity of legitimacy / illegitimacy
theme of forgery and falsehood is echoed from the first scene inheritance as tied to power Edmund easily manipulates both his father and half-brother Question: What does Edmund seem to mean by the word “nature” in his soliloquy? Act I, scene iii main themes / issues / questions: we start to see the first usurping of Lear’s power by Goneril. It is in many ways the beginning of his madness. Question: How far has Lear a just right to think himself ungratefully treated? Act I, scene iv main themes / issues / questions This scene begins by featuring Kent’s “plain-spokenness.” How are plain speech and honesty connected? How can we read this in light of the play’s drama so far? This is also the first evidence of disguise in the play. Kent’s need to disguise himself works ironically against his claims to honest speech. And yet he is still honest, noble, and a true friend to Lear.
Lear begins to see the effects of his power’s waning. The fact that it is a steward/servant/inferior who chides him adds to the insult. He reacts again at this point in anger.
Kent/Caius demonstrates his fidelity to Lear when he trips Oswald.
The fool is connected to language and language’s ability to both hide and reveal.
Goneril’s demands to send some of his servants and knights away further diminishes his power. With them gone, he will more easily be manipulated.
Lear’s response to Goneril's betrayal is both anger and emotion (tears) – we see the further complicating of his madness.
Again we have a repetition of the word “Nature” and a reference to inheritance. Lear curses barrenness on his daughter (meaning the inheritance would end with her). Compare this with Edmund’s use of the word “Nature” in reference to inheritance.
Lear sees the error of his ways with Goneril but still hopes for solace and a peaceful retirement with Regan.
Goneril uses the written word to spread her plan to Regan to work together in their limiting of Lear’s power. Act I, scene v main themes / issues / questions Lear is desperate enough to ask heaven for help against his madness.
The Fool speaks the truth to Lear. Will he listen? Act II, scene i main themes / issues / questions The tension between the husbands of Regan and Goneril demonstrates that a further family split or even split within the kingdom may be looming.
Regan has letters from both Lear and Goneril and asks Gloucester’s advice on how to best answer them: different versions of the truth, traveling by letter. Again, language is here shown to be duplicitous and capable of conflicting truths. Act II, scene ii main themes / issues / questions: this scene again features disguise and the inability to recognize truth from falsehood Even from exile Cordelia is seen as acting as a guardian of Britain. This further emphasizes her as an honourable figure. The punishment of Kent / Caius demonstrates a further lessening of Lear’s power in the form of a direct insult to him. Act II, scene iii In this short scene we encounter Edgar who has escaped from his father's guards into the woods.
The theme of disguised is here repeated with Edgar dirtying his face and imitating the country's "Bedlam beggars," i.e., mad beggars under the name "poor Tom."
Edgar's references to his "nakedness" reminds us of his defencelessness. The combination of this and his madness serve to foreshaddow Lear's impending madness. Act II, scene iv This scene proves Lear's undoing and the complete stripping of his power by Regan and Goneril.
Lear arrives at Gloucester's castle and finds Kent / "Caius" locked up in the stocks. He takes this to be a further insult as he originally sent Kent / "Caius" as his message-bearer. He is first disbelieving when he hears that Kent was put in the stocks by Regan and Cornwall. He demands to speak with them but they refuse.
At this refusal Lear finds himself moved to great emotion and is once again taken aback by his own emotions. He acknowledges to himself that sickness can make people behave strangely.
Lear finally meets with Regan and Cornwall and his insistence that Goneril treated him badly is met with similar rudeness. Regan suggests that he deserved this treatment. When he asks Regan to shelter him she refuses.
Goneril herself arrives and the two sisters align against their father. Using their control over him to demand he cut his entourage from one hundred to fifty to twenty-five and finally to none.
At this, Lear curses both of his daughters and charges out into the ever-worsening storm. Glouscester begs Goneril and Regan to let Lear back inside but they instead demand that the doors are shut and barred against the storm. Act II, scenes iii and iv main themes and questions Lear's disbelief at his mistreatment at the hands of Goneril and Regan lead him into a state of shock. He has been "blinded" by their falseness and now must negotiate the errors of judgement he has made. This blindness foreshaddows Glouscester's imminent (literal) blinding.
The trope of madness is evoked a number of times in these scenes. Edgar's reference to "Bedlam," for example, would have been familiar to Shakespeare's audiences as a reference to Bethlem Royal Hospital - Europe's oldest psychiatric hospital founded in 1247.
Lear's inability to believe what he sees leads him closer to madness.
When the Lear hears of Kent/"Caius"'s imprisonment he reacts thusly: Lear is here referencing the hysteria believed to be caused by the womb in pregnant women. The womb would "travel" around the woman's body and "infect" the other organs -- especially the brain and the heart. Act II, scenes iii and iv main themes and questions Lear is angry when Regan and Cornwall will not speak to him but he catches himself and wonders whether they are truly not well - admitting that Nature has the power to weaken the mind when the body is weakened. Goneril and Regan conspire together to insult their father, justifying their stripping of his power by calling him old and senile. Act II, scenes iii and iv main themes and questions Lear's final speech of Act II ties in a number of the themes raised therein: madness, betrayal, blindness, and the unnaturalness of a child turning on a parent.
Lear rages against Goneril and Regan, explaining that their attempts to take away his knights and servants strike at his heart. “O, reason not the need!” he cries, explaining that humans would be no different from the animals if they did not need more than the fundamental necessities of life to be happy.
Clearly, Lear needs knights and attendants not only because of the service that they provide him but because of what their presence represents: namely, his identity, both as a king and as a human being.
Despite his attempt to assert his authority, Lear finds himself powerless; all he can do is vent his rage. Act III, scene i Kent/Caius goes in search of Lear in the storm raging on the heath (the land surrounding Gloucester’s castle). He instead finds one of Lear’s knights and tells him of the unrest between Cornwall and Albany. He tells the knight to go southward to Dover (the closest point between England and France) where he will find friends of Lear. Before sending the knight off he gives him a ring and tells him to give it to Cordelia – thereby indicating that he (Kent) is still in the country and is working in Lear’s best interests. Act III, scene ii Lear curses the storm as he wanders through it aimlessly. He continues to rage against Goneril and Regan and ignores the Fool’s advice to humble himself to his daughters in order to seek shelter from the storm. Kent/Caius finds them and encourages them to find shelter in a nearby hovel. The scene ends with the Fool’s prophecy. Act III, scene iii Back in the castle Gloucester admits his worries to Edmund. When he spoke up in Lear’s behalf to Regan, Goneril, and Cornwall they ignored him and took control of his castle. Gloucester confesses to Edmund that a French army is invading and that part of it has already landed in England. Gloucester feels that he must take Lear’s side and now plans to go seek him out in the storm.
He tells Edmund that there is a letter with news of the French army locked in his room, and he asks his son to go and distract the duke of Cornwall while he, Gloucester, goes onto the heath to search for Lear. When Gloucester leaves Edmund admits how overjoyed this turn of events makes him and makes it clear to the audience that he intends to take advantage of his father’s “treason” in order to inherit his father’s title, land, and fortune. Act III, scene iv Now at the hovel, Lear will not enter despite Kent/Caius’s insistence that he do. Instead he stays outside, sending his Fool inside to take shelter, and kneels and prays. He notes that, as king, he took too little care of the wretched and homeless, who have scant protection from storms such as this one.
The Fool runs out of the hovel, claiming that there is a spirit inside. The spirit turns out to be Edgar in his disguise as Tom O’Bedlam. Edgar plays the part of the madman by complaining that he is being chased by a devil. Instead of commenting on the man’s madness Lear sympathizes with him, asking him whether bad daughters have been the ruin of him as well. In a further act of camaraderie, observing Edgar’s nakedness, Lear tears off his own clothes in sympathy.
Gloucester arrives at the hovel and attempts to get Lear to return to the castle with him. Kent and Gloucester finally convince Lear to go with Gloucester, but Lear insists on bringing the disguised Edgar, whom he has begun to like, with him. Act III, scene v Inside Gloucester’s castle, Cornwall vows revenge against Gloucester, whom Edmund has betrayed by showing Cornwall a letter that proves Gloucester’s secret support of a French invasion. Edmund pretends to be horrified at the discovery of his father’s “treason,” but he is actually delighted, since the powerful Cornwall, now his ally, confers upon him the title of earl of Gloucester. Act III, scene vi Gloucester, Kent, Lear, and the Fool take shelter in another small building. Gloucester leaves to find provisions for the naked king. Lear, whose grip on sanity is faltering even further, holds a mock trial of his wicked daughters, with Edgar, Kent, and the Fool presiding. Both Edgar and the Fool speak like madmen, and the trial is an exercise in hallucination and eccentricity.
Gloucester returns to tell Kent that he has overheard a plot to kill Lear. Gloucester begs Kent to quickly transport Lear toward Dover, in the south of England, where allies will be waiting for him. Gloucester, Kent, and the Fool leave. Edgar remains behind for a moment and speaks in his own, undisguised voice about how much less important his own suffering feels now that he has seen Lear’s far worse suffering. Act III, scene vii Back in Gloucester’s castle, Cornwall gives Goneril the tletter concerning the French army at Dover and tells her to take it and show it to her husband, Albany. He orders Edmund to go with Goneril to Albany’s palace so that Edmund will not have to witness the violent punishment of his father.
Oswald brings word that Gloucester has helped Lear escape to Dover. Gloucester is found and brought before Regan and Cornwall. They treat him cruelly, tying him up like a thief, insulting him, and pulling his white beard. Admitting that he helped Lear escape, Gloucester swears that he will see Lear’s wrongs avenged. Cornwall replies, “See ’t shalt thou never,” and proceeds to dig out one of Gloucester’s eyes, throw it on the floor, and step on it.
One of Gloucester’s servants suddenly steps in, saying that he cannot stand by and let this outrage happen. Cornwall draws his sword and the two fight. The servant wounds Cornwall, but Regan grabs a sword from another servant and kills the first servant before he can injure Cornwall further. Irate, the wounded Cornwall gouges out Gloucester’s remaining eye.
Gloucester calls out for his son Edmund to help him, but Regan triumphantly tells him that it was Edmund who betrayed him to Cornwall in the first place. Gloucester, realizing immediately that Edgar was the son who really loved him, laments his folly and prays to the gods to help Edgar. Regan and Cornwall order that Gloucester be thrown out of the house to “smell / His way to Dover.” Cornwall, realizing that his wound is bleeding heavily, exits with Regan’s aid.
Left alone with Gloucester, Cornwall’s and Regan’s servants express their shock and horror at what has just happened. They decide to treat Gloucester’s bleeding face and hand him over to the mad beggar to lead Gloucester where he will. Key themes, issues, and quotations in Act III The importance of the storm, and its symbolic connection to the state of mind of the people caught in it. This first shows itself in the first scene when Kent asks the knight, “Who’s there, besides foul weather?”; the knight answers, “One minded like the weather, most unquietly”(3.1.1–2). Here the knight’s state of mind is shown to be as turbulent as the winds and clouds surrounding him.
This is of course true of Lear as well. Lear is trying to face down the powers of nature, an attempt that seems to indicate both his despair and his increasingly confused sense of reality. In Act III, scene ii Lear’s famous scene raging against the storm powerfully demonstrates his slipping sanity. Key themes, issues, and quotations in Act III Lear’s attempt to speak to the storm suggests that he has lost touch with the natural world and his relation to it—or, at least, that he has lost touch with the ordinary human understanding of nature. In a sense, though, his rage against the weather embodies one of the central questions posed by King Lear: namely, whether the universe is fundamentally friendly or hostile to man. Lear asks whether nature and the gods are actually good, and, if so, how life can have treated him so badly.
In scene iv, Lear explains to Kent that although the storm may be very uncomfortable for Kent, Lear himself hardly notices it: Key themes, issues, and quotations in Act III Lear also continues to show a deepening sensitivity to other people, a trait missing from his character at the beginning of the play and an interesting side effect of his increasing madness and exposure to human cruelty. In act iv, after he sends his Fool into the hovel to take shelter, he kneels in prayer—the first time we have seen him do so in the play. He does not pray for himself. This self-criticism and newfound sympathy for the plight of others mark the continuing humanization of Lear. Key themes, issues, and quotations in Act III The destruction of Lear’s pride leads him to question the social order that clothes kings in rich garments and beggars in rags. He realizes that each person, underneath his or her clothing, is naked and therefore weak. He sees too that clothing offers no protection against the forces of the elements or of the gods. When he tries to remove his own clothing, his companions restrain him. But Lear’s attempt to bare himself is a sign that he has seen the similarities between himself and Edgar: only the flimsy surface of garments marks the difference between a king and a beggar. Each must face the cruelty of an uncaring world.
Before, Lear could be confident of his place in the universe; indeed, the universe seemed to revolve around him. Now, as his humility grows, he becomes conscious of his real relationship to nature. He is frightened to see himself as little more than a “bare, forked animal,” stripped of everything that made him secure and powerful (3.4.99–100). Key themes, issues, and quotations in Act III The shocking violence of Act III, scene vii, is one of the bloodiest onstage actions in all of Shakespeare. Typically, especially in Shakespeare’s later plays, murders and mutilations take place offstage. Here, however, the violence happens right before our eyes.
The horror of Gloucester’s blinding marks a turning point in the play: cruelty, betrayal, and even madness may be reversible, but blinding is not. It becomes evident at this point that the chaos and cruelty permeating the play have reached a point of no return. Key themes, issues, and quotations in Act III At the end of Act III Once again, the social order is inverted: the young are cruel to the old; loyalty to the old king is punished as treachery to the new rulers; Regan and Cornwall, guests within Gloucester’s house, thoroughly violate the age-old conventions of respect and politeness. Cornwall does not have the authority to kill or punish Gloucester without a trial, but he decides to ignore that rule because he can.
This violence is mitigated slightly by the unexpected display of humanity on the part of Cornwall’s servants. Just as Cornwall and Regan violate a range of social norms, so too do the servants, by challenging their masters. One servant gives his life trying to save Gloucester; others help the injured Gloucester and bring him to the disguised Edgar. Even amid the increasing chaos, some human compassion remains. Act IV, scene i As the scene opens Edgar is talking to himself – once again asserting that his situation is not as dire as others (such as Lear). At this moment he sees a tenant who has lived on Gloucester’s land for eighty years leading his blinded father. He hears his father say that if he could only touch his son Edgar, it would be worth more than the loss of his eyesight. At this point Edgar chooses to remain disguised as Poor Tom. Gloucester asks for clothes for Poor Tom (Edgar) and then asks Tom to lead him to the highest cliff in Dover (a locale famous for its giant white cliffs). Act IV, scene ii After leaving Gloucester’s castle at the end of Act III, Goneril and Edmund arrive outside of her palace to deliver the news of France’s threat to her husband Albany. She is surprised that her husband did not meet them on the road (as would be a polite custom) and Oswald tells her that not only is Albany unhappy with she and her sister’s actions against Lear, he is also glad to hear about France’s aggression and is sorry to hear that Goneril is returning home.
Hearing this Goneril calls her husband a coward and is determined to take control of his military forces. She instructs Edmund to go to Cornwall’s palace and similarly raise the troops for battle. They will communicate via Oswald with messages. She sends him off with a kiss – insinuating that in addition to being allies in battle, they would also make great allies in bed.
Albany enters, outraged at the news that Lear has been driven mad by Goneril and Regan’s abuse. She, in turn, calls him a coward and he retorts that she is a monster for what she has done to her father. A messenger arrives and tells them that Cornwall has indeed died from the injuries received when he put out Gloucester’s eyes. Hearing this for the first time Albany is horrified anew by the news of Gloucester’s blinding and deems Cornwall’s death divine retribution. Goneril has two reactions to Cornwall’s death: while it renders her sister less powerful, it frees her sister to pursue Edmund (who is, if we recall, powerful now).
Albany continues to enquire about the blinding and when he discovers that it was Edmund who betrayed his father, Albany resolves to take revenge upon Edmund and help Gloucester. Act IV, scene ii Act IV, scene iii As this scene begins Kent, who is still disguised as a servant, is in Dover and speaks with a servant at the camp. He hears that the King of France did indeed land there but had to return home to deal with a problem, leaving his wife, Cordelia, now the Queen of France, in charge of the camp. Kent asks about Cordelia’s reactions to the letters that have been sent to her and the man replies with a moving account of Cordelia’s sorrow upon reading about her father’s mistreatment.
Kent tells the man that Lear has arrived in Dover. Although he wavers between sanity and insanity, Lear refuses to speak to Cordelia out of shame for his treatment of her. The scene ends as the man informs Kent that both Cornwall and Albany’s armies are now marching against France. Act IV, scene iv Cordelia enters with her soldiers. She finds out that Lear has hidden from her in the cornfields, covering himself in weeds and flowers and singing madly to himself. Cordelia sends one hundred of her soldiers to find Lear and bring him back. She discusses Lear’s chances for recovering his sanity with a doctor who tells her that what Lear most needs is sleep. A messenger brings Cordelia the news that the British armies of Cornwall and Albany are marching toward them. Cordelia expected this news, and her army stands ready to fight. Act IV, scene v Back at Gloucester’s castle, Oswald tells Regan that Albany’s army has set out, although Albany has been slow to get them sent out quickly. Goneril is deemed a “better soldier” than Albany. Regan is curious about the letter that Oswald carries from Goneril to Edmund, but Oswald refuses to show it to her. Regan guesses that the letter concerns Goneril’s love affair with Edmund, and she tells Oswald that she wants Edmund for herself, revealing that she and Edmund have already discussed this possibility; it would be more appropriate for Edmund to get involved with her, now a widow, than with Goneril, with whom such involvement would constitute adultery. She gives Oswald a token to deliver to Edmund, whenever he may find him. Finally, she promises Oswald a reward if he can find and kill Gloucester. Act IV, scene vi Edgar continues to lead his blinded father towards Dover. He pretends to take Gloucester to the top of the highest cliff and leaves him there, feigning vertigo. Thinking he is alone, Gloucester prays to the gods to forgive him and tries to commit suicide, leaping from what he thinks is a cliff and fainting. When he awakes Edgar is beside him, now pretending to be a gentleman instead of Poor Tom. He claims to have watched Gloucester leap from a great height and proclaims that it is a miracle that he is not dead and therefore the gods must have plans for him. He also claims that the figure who was with him at the top of the cliff was a devil and not a man.
Lear then accidentally meets up with Edgar and Gloucester in his wanderings. He has crowned himself with flowers and babbles madly (yet perceptively) to the men, addressing Gloucester by noting that his sin was adultery. His babbling moves from adultery to women in general and he ends his speech by sputtering “Fie, fie, fie! pah! pah!” (126), abandoning the iambic pentameter he always speaks with.
Cordelia’s men arrive and Lear runs from them and they follow him. Oswald then comes across Edgar and Gloucester on the plain. He does not recognize Edgar (just as he did not recognize Kent in disguise), but he plans to kill Gloucester and collect the reward from Regan. Edgar adopts yet another persona, imitating the dialect of a peasant from the west of England. He defends Gloucester and kills Oswald with a cudgel. As he dies, Oswald entrusts Edgar with his letters.
Gloucester is saddened that he was not killed. Edgar reads the letter that Oswald was carrying to his half-brother Edmund. Therein, Goneril urges Edmund to kill Albany if he gets the opportunity, so that Edmund and Goneril can be together. Edgar is outraged; he decides to keep the letter and show it to Albany when the time is right. Meanwhile, he buries Oswald nearby and leads Gloucester off. Act IV, scene vi Act IV, scene vii Cordelia and Kent speak at the French camp. She recognizes him (seemingly the only character in the play who has been able to recognize anyone in disguise) but respects his wishes to remain in disguise. Lear, who in the meantime was found and brought to the camp, awakes from sleep. He half-recognizes Cordelia and says that he must truly be out of his mind because Cordelia could never have forgiven him for his actions against her. Cordelia, however, tells him that she forgives him. Meanwhile, the camp is abuzz with news that Cornwall has died and that Edmund is now leading his troops towards the camp for battle. Act V, scene i This act begins in the British camp, now near Dover, with a suspicious Regan questioning Edmund about his relationship with Goneril, expressing her jealousy. He denies that he loves her and denies that he has slept with her.
Goneril and Albany enter with news that the French army has been joined by Lear and others with legitimate grievances. Although he still disagrees with the actions of his wife and her sisters, he nevertheless vows to fight with them against the invading French. Meanwhile, Goneril and Regan continue to fight over Albany – neither sister letting the other one spend time alone with him.
Edgar enters, disguised differently (again!) as a peasant. He approaches Albany and gives him the letter he took from a dying Oswald wherein Goneril asks Edmund to kill Albany. Edgar instructs Albany to read the letter and indicates that if the British side wins the upcoming battle all he need to is sound a trumpet and a champion will come forth to defend the claims made in the letter.
Edgar exits the stage and Edmund returns to inform Albany that the battle is about to commence. Albany exits the stage and Edmund addresses the audience and indicates that he has declared his love to both Regan and Goneril. He muses about which sister he should choose, weighing his options, and decides to delay making a decision until the battle has finished. The scene ends with Edmund declaring that if the French lose to the British he will take no mercy on Lear and Cordelia. Act V, scene i Act V, scene ii Scene ii encompasses the entire action of the battle. As it begins Edgar leads Gloucester to shelter beneath a tree and then joins the French in their battle against the British. He returns soon after announcing that the French have lost and that both Lear and Cordelia have been captured. Gloucester tells Edgar that he wishes to stay where he is under the tree until he is captured or killed but Edgar convinces him to go with him instead, rationalizing that death comes when it is predestined to. Act V, scene iii The play’s last scene begins Lear and Cordelia as Edmund’s prisoners. Lear, succumbing to his madness, describes a fantasy where he and Cordelia live as birds, alone together in a cage able to hear from the outside world without being seen by the outside world. Edmund gives their guard a note with specific instructions (unknown to the audience) and sends them all away.
Albany, Goneril, and Regan enter and Albany praises Edmund’s bravery in battle and orders to see Lear and Cordelia. Albany claims to have sent them far away in order to avoid an uprising from sympathetic and mutinous British subjects. Albany criticizes Edmund for over-reaching his power and place but Regan interrupts him to declare that she and Edmund will soon be married. Goneril, incensed, tells Regan that Edmund will never marry her but Regan is suddenly struck ill.
Albany then arrests Edmund, charging him with treason and challenging him to defend himself in trial by combat. Regan, increasingly ill, is taken to Albany’s tent. Albany sounds the trumpet and Edgar appears, outfitted (and disguised) in full armour as Albany’s champion and accuses him of treason. They battle and Edmund is seriously injured. Albany brings out the letter to show Goneril that he knows about her conspiracy against him and Goneril rushes off the stage. Act V, scene iii Edgar removes his helmet and reveals (finally!) his true identity. He and Albany reconcile as he recounts his adventures since his banishment and reveals that before he came to battle his brother he showed himself to his father whose heart gave out in a moment of sadness and joy.
A man then enters the stage with a bloody knife, announcing that Goneril has committed suicide and fatally poisoned Regan. The bodies of the stow sisters are brought on stage. Kent enters – also as himself – and asks to see Lear. Albany demands from a dying Edmund where they are. Edmund, repentant of his sins, tells them that he ordered to have Cordelia hanged. He sends a messenger to intervene, however, shortly thereafter Lear enters, carrying Cordelia’s body. A messenger then enters to inform them that Edmund has died. Lear asks Edgar to loosen a button on Cordelia’s clothing and thinks, for a moment before he dies, that he can see her breathing.
The play ends with Albany restoring Edgar and Kent to their former titles and asks them to rule the kingdom with him. Kent is exhausted and feels near death and refuses but Edgar appears to accept the challenge. They exit the stage sadly as a funeral march plays them off. Act V, scene iii Act V, scene iii