The Tragedy of King Lear. For this updated critical edition of King. Lear, Professor Halio has added a new introductory section on recent stage. Free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook. King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after disposing of his estate between. CliffsNotes™ Shakespeare's King Lear Published by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc. An International Data Group Company E. Hillsdale Blvd. Suite Foster.
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King Lear. Shakespeare homepage | King Lear | Entire play KING LEAR. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, KING LEAR. Meantime we shall express. origin. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is the single greatest versions of Hamlet, two of King Lear, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, and others. King Lear PDF Summary is not your usual Shakespeare's tragedy summary. There are no betrayals, no sex, and power games, no bunch of.
I should show What party I do follow. Edmund, I think, is gone, In pity of his misery, to dispatch His nighted life: Shakespeare probably began school at the age of 4 or 5, as most boys did, in a school affiliated with the grammar school. Come, let's away to prison: Although he has no kingdom and is no longer the image of a king, the gods made Lear a king and only the gods can revoke his anointed state.
I grow; I prosper: Now, gods, stand up for bastards! I'll not endure it: His knights grow riotous, and himself upbraids us On every trifle. When he returns from hunting, I will not speak with him; say I am sick: If you come slack of former services, You shall do well; the fault of it I'll answer.
Horns within. Now, banish'd Kent, If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemn'd, So may it come, thy master, whom thou lovest, Shall find thee full of labours. Acquaint my daughter no further with any thing you know than comes from her demand out of the letter. If your diligence be not speedy, I shall be there afore you. I have been with your father, and given him notice that the Duke of Cornwall and Regan his duchess will be here with him this night.
You have heard of the news abroad; I mean the whispered ones, for they are yet but ear-kissing arguments? Fare you well, sir. KENT Ay. KENT I' the mire. KENT I love thee not. I know thee not. KENT A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: KENT What a brazen-faced varlet art thou, to deny thou knowest me!
Is it two days ago since I tripped up thy heels, and beat thee before the king? Draw, you rogue: Drawing his sword. No port is free; no place, That guard, and most unusual vigilance, Does not attend my taking.
Whiles I may 'scape, I will preserve myself: The country gives me proof and precedent Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices, Strike in their numb'd and mortified bare arms Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary; And with this horrible object, from low farms, Poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes, and mills, Sometime with lunatic bans, sometime with prayers, Enforce their charity.
Poor Turlygod! That's something yet: Edgar I nothing am. Gentleman As I learn'd, The night before there was no purpose in them Of this remove. KENT Hail to thee, noble master! Makest thou this shame thy pastime?
KENT No, my lord. Fool Ha, ha! Horses are tied by the heads, dogs and bears by the neck, monkeys by the loins, and men by the legs: KENT Yes. KENT I say, yea. KENT Yes, they have. Resolve me, with all modest haste, which way Thou mightst deserve, or they impose, this usage, Coming from us. KENT My lord, when at their home I did commend your highness' letters to them, Ere I was risen from the place that show'd My duty kneeling, came there a reeking post, Stew'd in his haste, half breathless, panting forth From Goneril his mistress salutations; Deliver'd letters, spite of intermission, Which presently they read: And meeting here the other messenger, Whose welcome, I perceived, had poison'd mine,-- Being the very fellow that of late Display'd so saucily against your highness,-- Having more man than wit about me, drew: He raised the house with loud and coward cries.
Your son and daughter found this trespass worth The shame which here it suffers. Fool Winter's not gone yet, if the wild-geese fly that way.
Fathers that wear rags Do make their children blind; But fathers that bear bags Shall see their children kind. Fortune, that arrant whore, Ne'er turns the key to the poor. But, for all this, thou shalt have as many dolours for thy daughters as thou canst tell in a year. Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow, Thy element's below! Where is this daughter?
KENT With the earl, sir, here within. A heath. Storm still. Gentleman One minded like the weather, most unquietly. KENT I know you. Where's the king? Gentleman Contending with the fretful element: Bids the winds blow the earth into the sea, Or swell the curled water 'bove the main, That things might change or cease; tears his white hair, Which the impetuous blasts, with eyeless rage, Catch in their fury, and make nothing of; Strives in his little world of man to out-scorn The to-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain.
This night, wherein the cub-drawn bear would couch, The lion and the belly-pinched wolf Keep their fur dry, unbonneted he runs, And bids what will take all. KENT But who is with him? Gentleman None but the fool; who labours to out-jest His heart-struck injuries. There is division, Although as yet the face of it be cover'd With mutual cunning, 'twixt Albany and Cornwall; Who have--as who have not, that their great stars Throned and set high?
Now to you: If on my credit you dare build so far To make your speed to Dover, you shall find Some that will thank you, making just report Of how unnatural and bemadding sorrow The king hath cause to plain. I am a gentleman of blood and breeding; And, from some knowledge and assurance, offer This office to you. Gentleman I will talk further with you. KENT No, do not. For confirmation that I am much more Than my out-wall, open this purse, and take What it contains.
If you shall see Cordelia,-- As fear not but you shall,--show her this ring; And she will tell you who your fellow is That yet you do not know. Fie on this storm! I will go seek the king. Gentleman Give me your hand: KENT Few words, but, to effect, more than all yet; That, when we have found the king,--in which your pain That way, I'll this,--he that first lights on him Holla the other.
Exeunt severally. You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks! You sulphurous and thought-executing fires, Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts, Singe my white head!
And thou, all-shaking thunder, Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world! Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once, That make ingrateful man! Fool O nuncle, court holy-water in a dry house is better than this rain-water out o' door. Good nuncle, in, and ask thy daughters' blessing: Spit, fire!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters: I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness; I never gave you kingdom, call'd you children, You owe me no subscription: But yet I call you servile ministers, That have with two pernicious daughters join'd Your high engender'd battles 'gainst a head So old and white as this.
Fool He that has a house to put's head in has a good head-piece. The cod-piece that will house Before the head has any, The head and he shall louse; So beggars marry many.
The man that makes his toe What he his heart should make Shall of a corn cry woe, And turn his sleep to wake. For there was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass. Enter KENT. When I desire their leave that I might pity him, they took from me the use of mine own house; charged me, on pain of their perpetual displeasure, neither to speak of him, entreat for him, nor any way sustain him. There's a division betwixt the dukes; and a worse matter than that: I have received a letter this night; 'tis dangerous to be spoken; I have locked the letter in my closet: I will seek him, and privily relieve him: I am ill, and gone to bed.
Though I die for it, as no less is threatened me, the king my old master must be relieved. There is some strange thing toward, Edmund; pray you, be careful. The tyranny of the open night's too rough For nature to endure. CORNWALL I now perceive, it was not altogether your brother's evil disposition made him seek his death; but a provoking merit, set a-work by a reprovable badness in himself.
By destroying the molds that nature uses to create men, the genetic code of life will be lost. In this instance, Lear is without hope; his despondency is so great that it approaches nihilism, a belief in nothing.
Lear willingly submits to the strength of the storm rather than seek shelter or fight for his sanity. He has fallen so far from the strong monarch who began the play that he has strength only to wish for utter destruction. Art cold? Glossary cataracts floodgate of heaven. Gloucester tells his son that when he asked Regan and Cornwall to leave, so that he might offer aid to Lear, they seized his house. Now Gloucester is little more than a prisoner in his own home, forbidden to even speak to the king.
Gloucester exits. Commentary At the beginning of the play, Gloucester appears weak and foolish, easily fooled by Edmund. Gloucester proves that he is willing to sacrifice his own life for the king by disobeying Regan and Cornwall.
This genuinely heroic behavior sets Gloucester apart from Edmund. Betraying his father will provide Edmund with the position and wealth he craves. Acting without hesitation, Edmund sets out on a course that belies his breeding; a triumph of conscience is not a likely prospect in his unfolding treachery. Glossary footed secured. The Fool runs from the hovel, exclaiming that a spirit has taken possession of the shelter.
The spirit, who soon emerges, is Edgar disguised as Poor Tom, pitiful pauper. The king tears off his own clothing, making himself look more like the unclad Poor Tom. Gloucester enters the scene, carrying a torch. He has found both warm shelter and food for the king, but Lear declines, claiming that he needs to talk more with the Bedlam beggar. The disguised Edgar complains of the cold and everyone moves into the shelter.
Once again, Lear deals with his personal tragedy in a variety of ways. Lear recognizes the parallels between their lives and his current situation. In a real sense, his pity for the poor is also a reflection of the pity he feels for his own situation.
He finally feels compassion for the poor, only because he has become one of them. Lear realizes that he has done nothing to aid the poor people in his kingdom.
Instead, he has contributed their demise. He chastises himself saying: Take physic, Pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just. He recognizes that he bears responsibility for both his own problems and for those of others, who suffer equally. Once again, Lear is revealed as a complex and sympathetic figure, one who defies easy definition.
With his new knowledge, Lear would be a more effective king. But because he has given up his royal position, he can take responsibility only for his present situation.
His inability to right the wrongs he has inflicted upon his people contributes to his fall into madness. When Poor Tom emerges from the hovel, Lear sees a mirror image of himself. Lear identifies with Poor Tom because both men have lost everything. Lear imagines that Tom is also the victim of deceitful and cruel daughters. This scene reminds the audience that very little separates man from beast.
The fragility of man is inescapable, because only a fine line divides civilized and uncivilized states. Gloucester retains his sanity. Gloucester is aware of how easily he might lose his mind, and he fears it may happen yet III. Gloucester is not aware that his own situation will turn disastrous soon. Glossary taking contagious; infectious. Commentary In this scene, both Edmund and Cornwall pretend to be virtuous, as each attempts to justify his disloyalty.
Clearly, Gloucester and Lear are both victims of two self-serving men—Edmund and Cornwall. Edmund, feigning regret for having betrayed his father, laments that his nature, which is to honor his father, must now be subordinate to the loyalty he feels for his country.
Thus, Edmund makes excuses for betraying his own father. Glossary apprehension capture or arrest. Gloucester enters and reveals that he has learned of a plot to kill the king. The group prepares to take Lear to Dover, where friends can come to his aid.
Once they all come in out of the storm, Lear abandons his plans for seeking physical revenge, and instead, decides to place Goneril and Regan on trial. Lear, like so many victims, needs to know why this tragedy has happened. Did he deserve such abuse from his daughters? Did his actions contribute in some way to their evil attitudes?
To Lear, gaining a grasp of the truth may lead the way to restoring his sanity. Lear appoints the disguised Edgar and the Fool as judges, and begins the trial of Goneril, whom Lear accuses of kicking him.
But the blow Goneril gave to her father was not physical; her injury was to his heart and soul. Edgar cannot continue to participate, and even the Fool falls silent. Finally, Lear is so exhausted by the strain of the mock trial that he decides to pause for a much-needed rest. In his final line, he predicts his death: Both Cordelia and the Fool are caretakers for Lear, and when one is present, the other need not be.
After Gloucester also exits, Edgar is left alone on stage. The king has cruel children, while Edgar has a cruel father, but Edgar realizes his situation is insignificant compared with that of the king, who has lost both his rule and his mind. Glossary yokefellow a companion, partner, or associate. Cornwall is dispatching Goneril with a letter to Albany, telling him of the invasion by the King of France. Cornwall orders that Gloucester be found and brought to him. Before Edmund and Goneril can leave, Oswald enters with news that Gloucester has warned the king and aided his escape to Dover.
As soon as Gloucester appears on the scene, Cornwall orders him bound to a chair. When a servant tries to stop the torment, Regan draws a sword and murders the steward. When the old man calls out to Edmund for help, Regan reveals that it was Edmund who betrayed his father.
At this, Gloucester finally understands that he has misjudged Edgar. After throwing Gloucester out to find his own way to Dover, Regan helps Cornwall, who was wounded in the fray, and both leave for Dover. Commentary The full impact of this scene cannot be felt in a reading of the play text.
Act III, Scene 7 61 about to endure. And yet, Edmund willingly and easily leaves on his errand. He has become the beast that is lurking just beneath the veneer of civilization. Cornwall appears to recognize that he lacks the authority to put Gloucester to death: When Gloucester is brought to him, Cornwall makes no attempt to control himself.
Although Gloucester reminds Cornwall that they are guests in his home, neither Cornwall nor Regan has any interest in maintaining the rules of hospitality.
Gloucester has faith in divine justice, just as Lear has implored the gods for justice. Gloucester has made many errors in judgment, but in this case, as with Lear, the punishment is surely in excess of his mistakes.
And so, the audience is not totally unprepared for these events.
Interestingly, Regan shows some real humanity, though briefly, when Cornwall is wounded. How look you? Glossary festinate hurried. A blinded Gloucester is led by an elderly man, one of his tenants.
The ailing earl laments that he treated Edgar badly and wishes for the opportunity to once again touch his son, since he can no longer see him. In an act of humanity, Gloucester sends his tenant for some clothing so that the Bedlam beggar might be covered. Gloucester is concerned that the Old Man might suffer for having given assistance, so he dismisses him and asks Tom to be his guide to Dover, where he seeks the highest cliff.
Tom agrees to take Gloucester to the cliff. Gloucester is being led by a tenant, who refuses to leave although his own life is at risk. Their conversation supplies a paradox: You cannot see your way.
When he had his vision, he could not see the deceit fabricated by his younger son, and thus, vision has not helped him see his way in the past. Now that he has lost his vision but finally seen the truth, Gloucester can envision no way in which he can regain the elder son, who is lost to him. And like Lear, Gloucester finds his humanity in the midst of his tragedy. The blinded old man who asks that clothing be brought, so that Poor Tom might be covered, is a very different man from the Gloucester of Act I.
This compassion for his fellow man indicates that Gloucester regrets the behavior of his past, as he seeks to make amends by sharing with those he never noticed before. This action parallels the self-awareness that moved Lear to suddenly consider the poor and disadvantaged in Act III, Scene 4. Like Lear, Gloucester questions divine justice, feels despair, evokes nihilism the belief that life is without reason or purpose , and discovers his own humanity.
This scene demonstrates dramatically the parallelism between the primary plot and the subplot. Glossary daub it further disguise it further. Oswald enters with news that Albany is a changed man.
The steward relates that Albany was pleased to learn of the proposed invasion by France and displeased when he learned that Gloucester had been replaced by his younger son Edmund, who had betrayed his father.
With this announcement, Goneril takes command of her forces and orders Edmund to return to Cornwall while she deals with Albany. As they part, Goneril gives Edmund a favor of her affection and a farewell kiss. After Edmund leaves, Goneril remarks on the favorable impression he makes compared with her weakling husband.
Albany enters and angrily accuses Goneril of being an unnatural daughter. He also accuses Goneril and Regan of being like tigers, who have attacked their aged father. A messenger enters with the announcement that Cornwall has died of the wounds he suffered after blinding Gloucester. Albany vows revenge against Edmund for leaving Gloucester at the mercy of Cornwall.
Commentary Goneril is attracted to the young, handsome, and obedient Edmund. Such qualities make him more attractive to her than her own husband.
Goneril expects obedience from a man, but she also wants strength and a willingness to take what he desires—characteristics that match her own. The fact that Goneril is married does not appear to be a concern.
The hierarchy of father to child, king to subject, God to king, is essential to eliminating chaos of the world. Goneril has reversed that natural order in her treatment of Lear, and the resulting chaos and anarchy has turned man against himself. Goneril on the other hand, does have a husband, one whom she expects to control. Goneril is heir to one-half the kingdom, and she expects Albany to remember that this was her dowry; but he is stronger than Cornwall.
And although Albany hesitated earlier to confront Goneril when he thought she was wrong, he is not the willing participant in evil that Cornwall has shown himself to be. With this new resistance to his wife, Albany joins the ranks of characters who have undergone dramatic change during the course of the play, growing and evolving into a stronger and more compassionate individual.
As the highest-ranking nobleman remaining, Albany will have no choice but to defend England against the French invasion. But Critical Commentaries: The chain of authority was from God to king, king to subject always male and male to women and children. Goneril, however, sees herself as the ultimate authority, and this contradicts the reality of this historical period. Glossary cowish timid; cowardly. Kent hears that the king of France has been forced to return to his own country.
Kent asks a Gentleman if, upon reading his letters, Cordelia revealed any emotion, and learns that she did manage to keep her feelings under control.
Kent, who is still disguised, states that he will bring the Gentleman to Lear in Dover, and at the proper time, he will reveal his own identity. Commentary The King of France must return to his own country because a French invasion of England would be far too offensive for an audience still sensitive about a Spanish intrusion in recent years.
The critical point is that Cordelia could not have her husband present to cloud the reunion with her father or to intrude on the final scene of the play.
While the Marshal of France has been left to command the forces, the point is understood that Cordelia, who is English, will lead the defense of her father. Her tears and pensive retreat prove her compassion and establish that she is, indeed, the opposite of her sisters. Kent takes the difference one step further by pointing to the stars, which he says have made sisters so different from one another.
This conversation is important in understanding the role of divine justice in the events that occur later. Albany believes in divine justice, but both Lear and Gloucester have questioned whether such justice exists. Of course, it is important to remember that Shakespeare sets his events in the preChristian era, while both Shakespeare and his audience exist in a JudeoChristian world.
This creates a paradox and adds to the tension of the text. Glossary imports to mean; signify. Cordelia is now responsible for leading the French army in its defense of her father. In Act I, Lear assumed the mantel of royalty with accustomed ease, and now he appears covered in weeds. Instead of appearing like a carefully designed English garden, Lear and his kingdom show signs of neglect, and both are now infested with a wild outbreak of weeds.
Lear, covered in weeds, metaphorically represents the reality of his realm. She is present, not as the head of a French invasion, but as a rescuer and defender of her father. Act IV, Scene 4 Glossary rank growing vigorously and coarsely; overly luxuriant. Regan is more interested in the letter that Oswald carries from Goneril to Edmund.
Regan tells Oswald that Edmund is to be reserved for her, since she is now a widow. Regan also directs Oswald to kill Gloucester if he finds him.
Oswald, however, is not accustomed to thinking about the morality of issues. Ironically, Regan expresses concern that Gloucester be relieved of his misery, especially since she is directly responsible for that misery. But, Regan does not devote much attention to this consideration; after all, she has already dispatched Edmund to kill his father.
Instead, she is concerned with the letter that Oswald is carrying from Goneril to Edmund. Obviously, Regan suspects Goneril of having feelings for Edmund, and the attempts to force Oswald into surrendering the letter lack any subtly. Regan implies that she and Edmund have an understanding, and she hints that their relationship is more than casual. By the end of this scene, the audience knows that Goneril and Regan are no longer working partners; instead, they have become rivals, engaging in hidden truths and plots.
Two Critical Commentaries: At the conclusion of their meeting, Regan, who has already sent Edmund to kill Gloucester, now tells Oswald to kill the old man. She clearly does not want to take a chance that Gloucester might survive to reveal what happened to him.
Glossary nighted made dark; black. Edgar is leading his father to an area, which Edgar assures the suffering earl, is near the cliffs. After Edgar describes the harrowing view of the beach below the cliffs, Gloucester thanks his guide and gives him a jewel as reward for having fulfilled his service.
Delivering a final prayer, Gloucester falls forward and loses consciousness. When Gloucester awakens, Edgar easily convinces his father that he has somehow survived the fall from the cliffs and that the poor beggar who was guiding him was really some kind of fiend. According to Edgar, instead of allowing his death, the gods have saved Gloucester. Accepting this explanation, Gloucester vows to be more accepting of the afflictions that he endures.
Lear enters. A Gentleman and attendants arrive, having been sent by Cordelia to find Lear. But the king is frightened and runs from his rescuers. Before he leaves to follow Lear, the Gentleman tells Edgar that the battle is imminent, as both forces are nearby. As Edgar prepares to lead Gloucester to safety, Oswald enters. When he sees Gloucester, Oswald exclaims that Gloucester is the prize he sought and that he will kill the old man.
Edgar interferes; the confrontation ends in a fight and Oswald is slain. The dying steward asks Edgar to take his letters to Edmund. Commentary Edgar is still disguised as Poor Tom, but he is now better dressed— as a peasant rather than a pitiful soul covered only in a blanket. Edgar has forgiven Gloucester, and his voice reflects the sentiment. Act IV, Scene 6 75 Shakespeare signifies the change by having Edgar speak in verse, so the audience is also aware that Edgar is not the same man he was earlier in the play.
Just before he intends to jump, Gloucester acknowledges the strength of the gods, whose justice he earlier questioned, and he prays that Edgar will be blessed. This scene is heart-rendering because Edgar does not reveal his identity. Instead, he permits the deception to continue so that Gloucester can be healed. When Gloucester awakens, he immediately questions if he actually fell, but then quickly resigns himself to his survival.
Gloucester then accepts his afflictions and promises to endure until such time as the gods determine that he has suffered long enough. Gloucester must continue to learn about himself; his movement toward self-truth would be halted if he resolves his conflict with Edgar at this point. Although he has no kingdom and is no longer the image of a king, the gods made Lear a king and only the gods can revoke his anointed state.
Lear finally understands that flattery is a hazard to someone in a high position, and thus, he makes sense even in his madness. His understanding of his complicity in the events that followed is a major step in accepting responsibility and in acknowledging that he is not infallible.
But more likely, Lear is addressing Goneril and not greeting someone whom he thinks to be Goneril. Next, Lear moves to a digression on adultery and sexuality, which fits the notion that both Regan and Goneril have fallen victim to excessive desires—something that is closely aligned with excessive sexuality. As he continues, Lear moves to another subject: The king has learned that those who profess honesty are often not honest, and even judges can be corrupted and bribed, and so, he advocates a turn to anarchy and a change of the rules of justice.
Lear fears that justice cannot or does not exist amid so much dishonesty IV. Finally, consumed with fear, Lear runs away from the Gentleman and attendants who have appeared and are searching for him. The Gentleman reminds Gloucester and Edgar that Lear has one daughter who is in harmony with nature and who will redeem him from the misery created by Goneril and Regan. His speech also reminds the audience that the battle is drawing near.
Although he is warned, he refuses to abandon his orders to murder Gloucester. Oswald is a servant for whom obedience and position are everything. Act IV, Scene 6 77 Glossary cock a small boat propelled by oars, esp. Cordelia is expressing her gratitude to Kent for the services he has tendered.
Within moments, a sleeping Lear is brought into the tent, where Cordelia welcomes him with characteristic gentleness. As his senses return, the confused king asks if he is in France, and Kent assures Lear that he is in his own kingdom. Lear, Cordelia, and the doctor exit, leaving Kent and a Gentleman to discuss the most recent military developments. Commentary Cordelia speaks with insight and appreciation when she tells Kent that his goodness is immeasurable.
Since his rescue, Lear has been sleeping, and he continues to sleep even as he is brought to Cordelia. When he awakens he thinks he is in hell, having been rescued by an angel: Envisioning hell is not surprising for Lear, since Cordelia has only recently rescued him from a hellish existence on earth. Act IV, Scene 7 79 In the previous scene, Lear related many of the things he has learned during this painful period, but in this brief scene, he clearly shows that he has learned other equally important lessons.
In his speech to Cordelia IV. Lear no longer sees himself as infallible, and he fully expects Cordelia to hate him. The contrast between Cordelia and her sisters is especially dramatic in this scene. Cordelia has no desire for revenge, nor any need to make her father suffer for having misjudged her.
Regan quizzes Edmund about his feelings for Goneril. Edmund promises Regan that he will not be intimate with her sister. Goneril and Albany enter. Albany states that he intends to defend the kingdom against the French invaders. Goneril asserts that the fight is not a domestic quarrel, but a defense against an outside enemy.
Edgar leaves, and Edmund enters with news that the opposing forces are near. Commentary The opening of this scene reveals that Regan remains very concerned about the relationship between Goneril and Edmund. Regan wants to know the truth or says she does, but she wants to know the truth only if it is what she wants to hear.
And so, Edmund obliges with his version of the truth. Edmund adopts the language of nobility, just as he has since he first hatched his ambitious plot to rule the kingdom.
Certainly, adultery is a sin, but that fact would not stop Edmund, who has demonstrated a propensity for far greater sins. When Goneril enters, her aside indicates how infatuated she, too, is with Edmund. Up to this point, having power has been most important to Goneril; now, quite suddenly, she is willing to lose the battle, and thus the kingdom, rather than lose Edmund.
How far her infatuation will extend becomes clear in Scene 3. Act V, Scene 1 81 As soon as Goneril and Albany enter, he seeks to establish his position regarding the coming battle.
The king and his supporters are not enemies of the kingdom, but the French invasion is of sufficient purpose to lead his men into battle.
The others agree with Albany to appease him and ensure his cooperation. The rift between Goneril and Regan becomes more evident, and their competition for Edmund more obvious in this scene. Regan does not trust Goneril and will not allow her to be alone with Edmund, even for a moment. But with the inclusion of Edmund into their circle in Act III, they are now completely divided, each mistrusting the other. In turn, Edmund is busy with some plotting of his own. With Lear and Cordelia dead, Edmund will be left to rule as king.
He has come a long way from the bastard son of Act I. Glossary alteration change of mind. Cordelia, Lear, and their forces move toward the battle. Edgar enters, looking for a safe place for Gloucester to wait out the conflict. After placing Gloucester in a sheltered spot, Edgar leaves, and the sounds of battle are heard. Patient suffering was a key part of seventeenth-century life, a fundamental belief of Christian doctrine.
In short, a belief in patience through suffering created the way to greater happiness and glory with God. Even when Job can bear his suffering no longer, he refuses to curse God. Instead, he curses the day of his birth. The reflective man, willing to suffer, reminded by patience of the reward from God, finds Critical Commentaries: Although the setting for King Lear is pre-Christianity, its influences are clearly seen in the way Edgar reminds his father that they must endure.
Glossary good host shelterer, entertainer. Lear and Cordelia are led in as prisoners, with Edmund as their jailer. Albany, Goneril, and Regan join Edmund. Albany demands that the two prisoners be turned over to him. Albany orders Edmund and Goneril arrested for treason. Albany requests any man who is willing to support the charges against Edmund to appear. Edgar enters, and although he will not identify himself, he assures Albany that he is as noble as Edmund.
With this statement, the brothers begin to fight, and Edmund falls. When Goneril announces that Edmund has been betrayed, Albany reveals the letter, which she does not deny. Instead, Goneril flees. Edmund admits that the charges against him are truthful. Edmund also reports that Kent has been in disguise, having been close enough to help his king during the recent period. A gentleman enters with news that Goneril has killed herself, but not before poisoning Regan, who is also dead.
Lear enters with a dead Cordelia in his arms. Albany recognizes that Lear is king and will be served by his loyal subjects, but within moments, the king dies, his body covering that of his youngest daughter. Albany informs Kent and Edgar that they must now rule the kingdom together, but Kent replies that he will soon leave Critical Commentaries: Act V, Scene 3 85 the world to join his master. Commentary This final scene brings resolution to both the plot and subplot.
The scene opens with Lear and Cordelia held prisoner by Edmund. While bravely facing these events, Cordelia recognizes they are also at risk. Unlike Cordelia, Lear fails to recognize the danger in which the two captives now find themselves.
Lear is merely happy to be with Cordelia, unconcerned that the war is lost and they are prisoners. He is seemingly unaware that they are in danger from Edmund. Lear has only visions of their happiness V. Lear asks for nothing more than to be with Cordelia. He will close out the rest of the world and even exclude his oldest daughters. His vision of the future excludes all others, except for Cordelia. But Edmund has other plans, as he makes clear after Lear and Cordelia are led to prison.
Albany has undergone significant change from his initial, docile appearance early in the play. The duel that ensues is quite different from the duel that ends Hamlet, which is staged as sport. In the end, Edmund is defeated by being noble, by not being as ruthless as he should be—or was. The system of honor disarms him, and he agrees to a duel, although he recognizes that he does not need to agree to a fight with an unidentified stranger V.
The audience learns early in this scene that Goneril has poisoned Regan V. Although Gloucester had earlier attempted suicide, ironically only Goneril, who initially appeared so strong, succeeds at ending her own life. The deaths of Cornwall, Edmund, Regan, and Goneril have lulled the audience into a belief that the gods would restore order to this chaotic world.
Eighteenth-century audiences were disturbed enough by this ending that productions of King Lear included a new conclusion, one in which Cordelia lives. The deaths of Gloucester and Lear are acceptable. Both have made serious errors in judgment, and although both came to recognize their complicity in the destruction that they caused, the natural resolution of this change was an acceptance of their future, whatever it held.
But Cordelia is young and blameless. She, like Edgar, is completely good and pure. Her death plunges Lear back into madness, as he can find no other way but insanity to deal with such a tragedy.
Lear lies surrounded with the bodies of his three daughters, just as he was surrounded by them in Act I. Albany, whose rank places him above the rest, has appointed Kent and Edgar to restore order. Audiences must decide for themselves if divine justice has prevailed.
Glossary take upon be interested in. Hubris is a Greek term referring to excessive and destructive pride. In the ancient Greek world, hubris often resulted in the death of the tragic, heroic figure. This is clearly the case with Lear, who allows his excessive pride to destroy his family. Throughout the play, the audience is permitted to see how Lear deals with problems.
He is shocked when people do not obey as they have in the past, since Lear is king and he expects to be obeyed. However, instead of dealing with issues, Lear looks to the Fool to distract him with entertainment, to help him forget his problems. He has been insulted and demeaned as king, but he is not prepared to face those who are responsible.
Instead, Lear often responds to problems with anger and outbursts of cursing, even a physical attack when provoked. When confronted with insults, Lear is helpless, at the mercy of his daughter and her servants, and he often succumbs to despair and self-pity.
The once-omnipotent king struggles to find an effective means of dealing with his loss of power. Thus, Lear chooses to go out into the storm because he must retain some element of control. Lear is stubborn, like a willful child, and this is just one additional way in which he tries to deal with the events controlling his life. Lear flees into the storm, as a child flees a reality too harsh to accept. Lear focuses on the parallels he sees to his own life, and so in a real sense, his pity for the poor is also a reflection of the pity he feels for his own situation.
After professing her deep love for her father and receiving half of his kingdom, she betrays him and plots his murder. Throughout most of the play, having power has been most important to Goneril, but by its conclusion, she is willing to lose the battle, and thus the kingdom, rather than lose a man.
Regan is as villainous as Goneril. In the beginning, both Regan and Cornwall appear to be conscientious and reasonable people.
Thus, Regan initially appears as the more sympathetic and gentler sister. She greets her father with politeness, but her deportment is deceptive. Regan has no real reverence for her father and king, as her subsequent actions reveal, but Regan is more competent than Goneril at deception, more easily assuming the mantle of deference and politeness that a gracious daughter is expected to exhibit. Character Analyses 91 Like Goneril, Regan also proves herself to be unyielding and cruel.
In contrast to her basic inhumanity, Regan shows some real humanity, though briefly, when Cornwall is wounded. Cordelia Cordelia genuinely loves her father, but her refusal to flatter him leads to the tragedy that unfolds. Gloucester blames events on the stars, and thus, he absolves himself of any responsibility for his actions. Later, Gloucester is willing to sacrifice his own life for the king.
This heroic behavior sets Gloucester apart from his youngest son, Edmund, who is merely an opportunist. Like Lear, Gloucester feels despair and questions a god, and like Lear, Gloucester finds his humanity in the midst of his tragedy. Instead of a thoughtless braggart, Gloucester is filled with compassion for Poor Tom. This compassion for his fellow man indicates that Gloucester regrets the behavior of his past, as he seeks to make amends by sharing with those he never noticed before the recent events.
Kent is honest—he will not lie to his king—and he is truly selfless, devoted to Lear. When his attempts to protect Lear from his own impetuous nature fail, Kent assumes the guise of an ordinary man and resolves to protect his king. Thus, he is no one special, and yet, he stands apart from many other men. Kent is a man defined by integrity, whose goodness is immeasurable, as is his love for his king. Clearly, Kent feels that his job on earth is to serve his king, and with that job now ended, he anticipates his own death.
Edmund rejects the laws of state and society in favor of the laws he sees as eminently more practical and useful—the laws of superior cunning and strength. But Edmund has some solid economic impetus for his actions, and he acts from a complexity of reasons, many of which are similar to those of Goneril and Regan.
To rid himself of his father, Edmund feigns regret and laments that his nature, which is to honor his father, must be subordinate to the loyalty he feels for his country. Later, Edmund shows no hesitation, nor any concern about killing the king or Cordelia. Early in the play, Albany lacks the strength to stand up to his wife, and thus, he cannot control her.
Albany leads his army in defense of the kingdom, although with great reluctance. This action indicates that Cornwall, who himself uses artifice as a substitute for honesty in his own speech, cannot recognize truth when he hears it.
These events paint Oswald as weak and dishonest. Although he is warned, he refuses to abandon his orders to murder Gloucester, since obedience and position are everything to this servant. France points out that she is a prize as great as any dowry. Duke of Burgundy Burgundy rejects Cordelia when he discovers that she will bring him no dowry or inheritance. Burgundy, who cannot love Cordelia without her wealth, is guilty of selfish motivations. This concept was particularly important during the Elizabethan era, because religion played such a significant role in everyday life.
Religious leaders directed people to expect that they would have to answer to a higher authority, expressing some hope that good would triumph and be rewarded over evil. But throughout King Lear, good does not triumph without honorable characters suffering terrible loss. In addition, the audience hears that Kent will soon die, and the Fool has earlier disappeared, presumably to die. Of course, the evil characters are also dead, but their punishment is to be expected according to the laws of divine justice.
But how then does the audience account for the punishment and, finally, the death of the good characters in King Lear? Both Lear and Gloucester endure terrible physical and mental suffering as punishment for their misjudgment, but before dying, both men are reunited with the child each earlier rejected.
This resolution of the child-parent conflict, which earlier tore apart both families, may be seen as an element of divine justice, although it offers little gratification for the audience.
But when Edgar and Edmund meet in Act V, the duel between these two brothers is very different from the traditional match for sport. Christian tradition recalls several biblical battles between good and evil, as divine justice is an important component of trial by combat. Instead, the audience is expected to struggle with the question of why such tragedies occur.
She is completely good and pure. Cornwall has been destroyed by his own honest servant; Edmund is killed by the brother he sought to usurp; both Goneril and Regan are dead, one murdered and the other a suicide; the obedient steward, Oswald, is dead, a victim of his own compulsion to obey.
Parent-Child Relationships in King Lear: Natural law is synonymous with the moral authority usually associated with divine justice. Those who adhere to the tenets of natural law are those characters in the text who act instinctively for the common good—Kent, Albany, Edgar, and Cordelia. Eventually, Gloucester and Lear learn the importance of natural law when they recognize that they have violated these basic tenets, with both Critical Essays 99 finally turning to nature to find answers for why their children have betrayed them.
All four conspirators are without conscience and lack recognition of higher moral authority, since they never consider divine justice as they plot their evil. Their law is man-made, and it focuses on the individual, not the good of the community.
Tragedy unfolds as two carefully interwoven and parallel stories explore the abandonment of natural order and the unnatural betrayal of parent and child. In the primary plot, Lear betrays his youngest daughter and is betrayed by his two oldest daughters. In almost identical fashion, the subplot reveals another father, Gloucester, who betrays his older legitimate son and who is betrayed by his younger illegitimate son.
In both cases, the natural filial relationship between father and children is destroyed through a lack of awareness, a renunciation of basic fairness and natural order, and hasty judgment based on emotions. In the opening act, Lear creates a love test to justify giving Cordelia a larger share of his kingdom.
Although his kingdom should be divided equally, Lear clearly loves Cordelia more and wants to give her the largest, choice section of his wealth. In return, Lear expects excessive flattery and gushing confessions of love. They may have genuinely loved their father at one time, but they now seem tired of having been passed over in favor of their younger sister. At the same time, Lear fails to see the strength and justice in natural law, and disinherits his youngest child, thus setting in motion the disaster that follows.
Lear puts in place a competition between sisters that will carry them to their graves. In a similar father-child relationship, the opening scene of King Lear positions Gloucester as a thoughtless parent.
In one of the initial pieces of information offered about Edmund, Gloucester tells Kent that Edmund has been away seeking his fortune, but he has now returned. Under English law, Edmund has no fortune at home, nor any entitlement. Again, the natural order of family is ignored. With this move, the earl demonstrates that he can be swayed by eloquence, a man-made construct for easy persuasion, which causes him to reject natural law and the bond between father and child.
Edmund both ignores and embraces natural law. His ability to survive and win is not based on competitive strategies or healthy family relationships; instead, Edmund will take what he desires by deceiving those who trust and love him. But, nature only serves Edmund as a convenient excuse for his actions. His actions against his brother and father are more a facet of greed than any reliance on natural law. In many ways, Gloucester is responsible for what Edmund becomes. Both men are easily fooled and consequently, they both reject natural law and their children.
Both act without deliberation, with hasty responses that ultimately betray their descendants. The audience learns early in the final scene that Goneril has poisoned Regan and killed herself. Their deaths are a result of unnatural competition, both for power and for love.
But Lear is the one who set in motion the need to establish strength through competition, when he pitted sister against sister in the love test. For the audience, the generational conflict between parent and child is an expected part of life. We grow impatient with our parents and they with us. We attempt to control our children, and they rebel. Kingship and Lear Integrity, compassion, and justice are important facets of an effective king.
The king ismore than the physical evidence of a strong and united government. If a king lacks the essential components of kingly behavior, and the authority that these traits embody, his subjects will, as Goneril and Regan demonstrate, turn increasingly to deception, treachery, and violence as a method of government. This decision places his two strong sons-in-law, Albany and Cornwall, in charge of protecting the outlying areas of the kingdom.
But the single benefit derived from this division creates many problems. Lear is abdicating his purpose and his responsibilities, and he is also creating chaos. To achieve his goal, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia are forced into a love test to determine their inheritance.
The division of any kingdom is not without risk, but even before his action has the opportunity to create adversity, Lear establishes a competition, which complicates an already dangerous decision.
Competitions, by their very nature, result in winners and losers. He cannot be king without a kingdom, and the country, which is to be divided into smaller principalities, will not have the unity and strength to long survive as separate units.
The love test forces Regan and Goneril into competing against the favored younger sister. Ultimately, deadly conflict arises between Lear and his older daughters, and the long-standing competition between sisters creates conflict between ruling factions, further dividing the kingdom. Already, though, Cornwall and Albany show signs of uneasiness, a discord with the clear potential to evolve into conflict, and perhaps, civil war.
Goneril and Regan soon unite against a common foe—their own father; but it is reasonable to assume that Goneril and Regan, having disposed of Cordelia, would have next turned their troops and anger against one another.
Certainly, Edmund was counting on this event, since he indicates he will marry whichever one survives the struggle for absolute control V. In the opening of the play, Lear is the absolute ruler, as any king was expected to be in a patriarchal society such as Renaissance England.
Lear enters in Act I as the Critical Essays king, evoking grandeur and authority, representing God and the reigning patriarchy of kingship. The audience quickly forgets this initial impression because the love test, in all it absurdity, forces the audience into seeing Lear as a foolish, egotistical old man.
By the time Shakespeare was writing King Lear, the English had survived centuries of civil war and political upheaval. The English understood that a strong country needed an effective leader to protect it from civil war and potential foreign invasion. The strong leadership of Elizabeth I had saved England when the Spanish attempted an invasion in , and much of the credit for her success was attributed to her earlier efforts to unite England and to end the religious dissention that was destroying the country.
The division of a country would have weakened it, leading to squabbles between petty lords and the absence of an effective central government and a capable means of defense. The audience would also have questioned the choice of the French king as a suitor, especially as Lear intended to give Cordelia the choice center section of his kingdom. All of these events create a picture of King Lear as a poor model of kingship, one who reacts emotionally and without reason.
Lear is very much loved by every good character in the play, with only those characters who are unworthy of kingship hating him and plotting against him. Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund offer a contrasting image of kingship in their animosity and evil, behavior that is brutal and uncaring, rather than loving and paternal. One other important element of kingship is its connection to natural law and the image of kings as anointed by God.
Kingship is directly connected to natural law, which is a central force in this play. A successful king works in concert with nature, as Lear does until the moment he disinherits his youngest daughter. In King Lear, the King of France stands as a successful model of how a good and proper king should behave.
In his acceptance of Cordelia— even without benefit of a dowry—France is conducting himself with reason and conscience. He is also acting within the confines of natural law, with generosity of spirit and a willingness to share his life and country. But instead of seeing this kind father and patriarchal authority, the audience witnesses an absolute ruler, one who refuses questioning, or even the wisdom of his lords.
Goneril and Regan equate their share of the land with absolute power of a monarch. They reject any allegiance to God or to any divine justice. Goneril and Regan can be as absolute in their decisions as Lear chooses to be; their behavior echoes his.
In their choices, Cornwall and Regan remind the audience of Macbeth and his wife. Cornwall and Regan present a ruling couple,— perhaps even more ruthless, but just as ambitious as the Macbeths— willing to murder their way to absolute power. Their action is reasonable if they expect to seize rule and authority. But by this time, Lear has waited too late to reclaim the kingship that he has denied. But Kent intends to follow his master in death and that leaves Edgar to inherit the kingdom.
In spite of the recent events, Albany thinks that Kent and Edgar can rule jointly, but Kent is correct in choosing another future for himself. Edgar is clearly uncertain and reluctant to assume the crown. Kingship was never his goal, Critical Essays nor his intent.
But circumstances have forced him to consider a position for which he is unprepared. Shakespeare has not offered the audience much to appreciate about Edgar.
For much of the play, Edgar was disguised as Poor Tom, and the audience saw only a poor creature from Bedlam. Edgar really steps forward when he challenges Edmund, revealing that he has the goodness and strength to defeat evil. This act signals his ability to assume the role of king. In Edgar, kingship is exemplified by integrity, compassion, and justice—all the elements that Lear once possessed but which were subordinated to his injured ego.
The conversation between Kent and Gloucester that opens the play serves what purpose? To give the reader or audience a chance to know Kent before he returns in disguise. Why is Lear so angry with Cordelia when she refuses to flatter him during the love test? He wants a reason to give her the best share of his kingdom and excessive protestations of love would justify such a move. He is an old man who wants to be reassured that all of his children love him unconditionally and boundlessly.
He does not want Cordelia to marry and leave him. Why does Goneril give Oswald a letter for Edmund? She wants a secret meeting with Edmund. She wants Edmund to kill her husband. She asks Edmund to marry Regan. Why does Edmund agree to a duel with the disguised Edgar? He needs to win to escape from Albany. He is supremely confident of his ability to beat anyone.
He does not know that rules of conduct prohibit his dueling with a commoner. He expects to join Lear in death. He has no desire to take on the problems of ruling a country. He thinks that two men cannot rule effectively. Identify the Quote 1. You have begot me, bred me, loved me: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Lear rages against the actions of his daughters as the Fool listens. Essay Questions 1. Examine the specific ways that Lear contributes to his fall.
A tragic hero moves the reader to pity, since his misfortune is greater than he deserves, and he also creates fear, since his tragedy might easily befall one of us. To what extent does Lear fit the definition of a tragic hero? The play raises important questions about divine justice. All those who are evil are dead, but so are several of the characters who represent good.
Does God see to it that good people are rewarded and evildoers are punished? Write an essay that responds to the question of whether or not divine justice is served in this play. Focus on the repetition of several words, such as nothing, bond, nature, and natural. Choose two of these words and discuss the ideas that their use suggests. CliffsNotes Review Practice Projects 1. Design a character genealogy chart that demonstrates why Edgar will be king when Lear dies. Construct a chart that compares the characteristics of a king.
On one side, list the requirements that Machiavelli gives in The Prince. Thus, the plays are more easily understood if studied in performance. Selecting a seemingly difficult scene to present to an audience will add depth to your understanding of the text and make complex characters easier to grasp. CliffsNotes Resource Center shows you the best of the best— links to great information in print and online about William Shakespeare and King Lear.
Look for all the terrific resources at your favorite bookstore or local library and on the Internet. There are separate chapters on each of the plays. New York: Riverhead Books, Shakespeare the Movie: The essays contained in this collection examine the intersection of culture, literary criticism, and the literary canon.
Routledge, The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et al. Each work is preceded by a careful discussion of the text, including sources and textual history.
Norton, King Lear: Kiernan explores several of the important debates evolving from recent criticism of the play. Roberts includes many texts that are not generally available to readers, and thus, she provides a glimpse into the way early women writers were able to appropriate Shakespeare to meet their own needs. Shakespeare in the Theatre: Many of the early reviews are not generally available, but their accounts of the plays reveal how the staging of the plays responded to the period and location of the production.
Oxford University Press, Information is easy to find and useful.
Arden Net, www. This very useful resource includes a review of Internet sites, a listing of professional organizations, essays on teaching, and lists of performances. Registration is free. Each play also includes a concordance, quotes, and a search engine. It includes a virtual tour and photographs.
There is also information about performances and tickets and what to do when visiting. It includes criticism, a biography, sources, and general historical information. Also included are links to other sites. Films Check out these film adaptations of King Lear: Peter Brook, director. King Lear. Royal Shakespeare Company, This production of King Lear is an updated version of the play, with powerful performances to recommend it.