King lear chapter wise analysis. Act 1, scene 1-5 , Act 2 , scene 1-4, Act 3, scene 1-7 , Act 4, scene 1-7, Act-5 , scene 1-3 critical analysis .
Table of Contents
King lear chapter-wise Critical Analysis
Act-1 Critical Analysis
Act-1 Scene 1
Gloucester’s words to Kent indicate that considering the fact that a “natural” (i.e. biological) rather than a social or legal order binds them, he loves his relationship with his illegitimate son. This debate looks forward to Lear’s dismemberment of the British empire.
Scene 1 creates a storyline and subplot that will concentrate on a community of parents and their interactions with their offspring. The audience would be privy to the father-child rivalry and to fathers who are easily manipulated by their daughters. By refusing a decent child and believing a deceptive child, each father shows bad judgments.
The acts that follow show exactly how right the words of Regan will prove to be. How little Lear knows and understands his daughters, as Goneril and Regan move to limit both the size of his retinue and his strength, will soon be apparent.
Act-1 Scene 2
Musings by Edmund provide insight into his unhappiness. Edmund feels that every child loved equally, should share the bounty of his father equally. But under the present legislation, there is no equity, and the dream of Edmund is not true. Edmund wonders why, like his brother, he is not as respected:
When my proportions are compact as well,
As gracious as my soul, and as real as my type,
A truthful Mother’s Question? Why are they marking us?
For a foundation? About baseness? Huh? Bastardy?
Core, Base? Base?
In this play, the double plot is a significant literary device. Shakespeare is able to explain the disastrous implications of two plots, seamlessly entangled and yet providing parallel lessons, where the rule of man is given priority over natural law.
Eventually, as they realize that they have broken these fundamental tenets, Gloucester and Lear discover the meaning of natural justice, with each eventually looking to nature to find solutions to why their offspring have deceived them. Edmund, Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall are their equivalents, representing the evil that acts in defiance of natural law.
A vital feature fits the double-story, stressing common law as an integral facet of both plots. The two plots are then used by Shakespeare to point out how important recognition of natural law is in moral culture. The loss of natural law is devastating in both plots, and, finally, even those who are decent will not act to rescue Cordelia or the other good characters from the ravages of evil and tyranny.
Act 1 Scene 3
At the close of Scene 1, Goneril vows that if her father proves to be an annoyance, she will deal with him accordingly. Goneril does exactly that in Scene 3 by refusing to respond to the king and his entourage’s needs. Right now she’s calling the shots, and Lear is never going to regain control again.
He may see himself asking, but he is seen by Goneril as a dodging old fool, one she calls an “Idle Old Man” (I.3.17). In order to take possession of half his kingdom, Goneril treats her father with special cruelty and callousness, not with the affection and adoration she professed.
Goneril reveals her real character in this scene, as later in Scene 4. She defies the hierarchy of nature, which calls on daughters to love and obey their husbands, and for the rest of her father’s life, she lays the groundwork for the suffering she sets in motion. Lear is a bad guest in Goneril’s defense. Goneril is protesting that his knights are riotous and that Lear is always moaning.
She punishes her unruly visitors by instructing her steward, Oswald, to make herself less welcoming. Both father and daughter share some blame at this juncture, but Goneril led her father to conclude that her affection for him stretches beyond all proof of bad behavior, and so she is essentially liable for Lear’s conduct, having supported them earlier.
The fact that Lear has been shooting, as the sounds of the hunting horns in the distance say, is also notable. As Goneril says, the king may be an elderly man, but he is not infirm; neither is he lazy, as she accuses him of being. Even if not as intellectually aware as he may have been in his younger years, Lear is clearly in decent physical condition.
Act 1 scene 4
The spectator sees in this scene how erratically Lear deals with issues. When Oswald dismisses the king, Lear is shocked: “He will not!” The king is Lear, and he expects to be obeyed. “Nevertheless, when he hears of the bad treatment his knights gave and remembers how Goneril’s staff has ignored him, Lear says, “I will look more into it. Yet Lear asks in the next paragraph, “But where’s my fool?” To distract him with laughter, Lear looks at the fool, to make him forget his issues.
While it is disrespectful and demeaning to neglect consideration and service, the king is not prepared to challenge Goneril and her steward. Lear responds to concerns with outbursts of swearing at other occasions, including a violent assault when provoked. The audience saw an unhappy Lear in Scene 1 disowning his youngest daughter. “Lear is almost out of balance in this scene as he addresses Oswald’s sarcastic address: “Father of my Lady! Knave of my lord, you whoreson bull, you slave, you recover!
At the hands of his daughter and her servants, Lear is powerless. Nevertheless, with rage, the once-omnipotent king has no successful way of coping with these events. Kings are used not to implementing them, but to making laws. Therefore, by cursing and striking him, Lear reacts to Oswald’s insults. In self-pity, another solution to his dilemma is articulated. Lear hits his own head and curses his misfortune when he eventually realizes the precariousness of his new role.
To sorrow, Lear succumbs. The king will lapse into other bouts of self-pity and anger as the play continues, and he will find various ways of dealing with the truth of the mistakes he has made. Lear will respond with denial, with helplessness, with remorse and apathy, and with growing sympathy for those around him as the depth of his tragedy deepens.
Kent, disguised in this scene, reappears. He is completely selfless, loyal to the king who exiled him earlier. Kent answers that he is a guy’ when asked by Lear about his identity (I.4.10). He is no particular one, however, and yet he stands apart from all persons. The answer of Kent separates him from animals because, as animals do to live, interests, needs, and an ability to literally seize whatever he wants do not determine him.
This trait separates him from other heroes, such as Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund, all of whom are able to act like animals, take what they want. Instead, Kent is a man characterized by his king’s integrity and devotion.
While he was present in Scene 1, there is no particular role for Albany in disbursing the property of the king. The conversation between Kent and Gloucester in Scene 1 however reveals that the king prefers Albany to his other son-in-law, Cornwall. Albany seeks to console the king in this scene, but Lear is beyond patience and refuses to listen to Albany, while in the past he respected him. Obviously, Albany is worried for the welfare of the king, but he lacks the courage to stand up to his wife, Goneril, and so he is powerless to handle her. As opposed to the harsh and self-serving demeanor of his mom, Albany is Goneril’s opposite, gentle and kind.
Act 1 scene 5
The king is obviously terrified and apprehensive about his prospects in Scene 5, but he continues to believe that Regan can be counted on to provide him with sanctuary. “Lear also shows concern for his health: “Oh let me not be crazy, not mad, sweet heaven! I would not be mad. I would not be mad.
This appeal foreshadows incidents that will happen in the play later on. An appeal to a god is also included in this short plea. Even though King Lear’s setting predates Christianity, Lear still depends on a deity to lead and defend him. In this scene, The Fool does not give Lear any respite, as he proceeds to remind the king of the errors he has made and the precarious situation he has been in. Once again, The Fool appears cruel, but Lear finally begins to understand that this current state of affairs has led to his foolishness.
Yet again, the king’s emotions shift to guilt for his behavior against Cordelia: “I did her wrong.” It reveals that Lear has found a flash of insight into his own conduct, acts that he has come to regret because this statement is given without meaning. This brief mention of Cordelia also tells the viewer that, while she will not, she appears to have an important part in the play.
Act-2 Critical Analysis
Act 2 scene 1
The account of Curran’s dispute between Albany and Cornwall helps demonstrate that Lear’s division of his realm is an error. The Elizabethan audience of Shakespeare may have anticipated such a conflict because the English know, all too well, that to retain power, rebellion, and conflict between petty lords demands a powerful centralized government.
By calling Edgar out of hiding and establishing a mock war, Edmund, an opportunist, takes advantage of Curran’s study and accelerates his plans. Edmund makes Edgar look like a villain by self-inflicting a slight wound. Gloucester is easily misled by the sounds and blood of fighting being staged. With physical proof before his eyes, Gloucester trusts in the tale of Edmund.
Here, Edmund talks like a hero, the so-called ‘good guy’ who, at the cost of his own life, stands up to evil. The evidence of a legitimate son would weigh more heavily in Shakespeare’s time than that of an illegitimate son; but in this case, Edgar is not available for his place to be addressed. Gloucester readily accepts the words of the illegitimate son, while denying Edd’s proof for a lifetime.
Years of commitment and affection, according to the natural order, can contribute to faith, but with the events of Act I, fathers no longer trust the affection of their children. Fathers are quickly tricked into rejecting the kids who love them the most, instead. Lear has rejected the daughter he sincerely loves, and now Gloucester has rejected the son he truly loves.
The approval of Edmund’s tale by Cornwall and his acceptance of Edmund into his clique foreshadow the evil that will come from Cornwall and provide the viewer with a hint that Cornwall is not the good guy he claims to be. As for Edmund, the invitation from Cornwall gives him the opportunity to ally himself with Cornwall.
The audience expects Cornwall to appear as a villain after Albany tried to intercede on the king’s side in Act I, and his relationship with Edmund emphasizes that both men are evil figures. Gloucester has no particular reason to mistrust either Edmund or Cornwall, playing the part of a gullible old man, nor has it proved untrustworthy in the past.
Act 2 scene 2
Oswald seems to be on the wrong side originally, while Kent is a rude thug, only trying to start a fight. The intention of Kent’s presence in Act I, where the audience is able to view the real Kent, genuine and faithful, is demonstrated by this misunderstanding. In the opening scene of both the play and later, Kent describes himself with dignity in his defense of Cordelia.
In fact, Kent is a faithful lord to his king, but it is vital that he remain in disguise in this instance. Kent realizes, though, that Oswald is bringing letters that will be used against the king, and Kent will not lie, whether in disguise or not. Kent’s assault on Oswald is therefore a response to the dishonesty of the steward and to his intent in following the instructions of Goneril.
On the other hand, Oswald is Goneril’s toad, and he is happily rude to the king. The spectator then realizes that the steward is a henchman without honor, though looking friendly enough. As he struggles to protect himself against Kent’s attack, Oswald adds to this negative view.
As Cornwall is drawn by his pleas for aid, Oswald then lies that he has saved the life of his killer because Kent is an old man. Oswald is depicted as poor and unethical by all of these events. As Kent indicates, Oswald is a parasite that thrives on the dark machinations of Goneril and who makes it easier to continue her deception.
The conflict between Cornwall and Kent offers the viewer a better picture of the real character of Cornwall. Cornwall’s skepticism of Kent’s truthful expression suggests that Kent must be misleading when telling what he says. This reaction to Kent’s clear and accurate comments suggests that when he hears it, Cornwall, who uses artifice in his own speech as a replacement for sincerity, does not understand the facts.
Cornwall believes that all other men would do the same since he is able to cheat and sometimes does so.
It is a grave affront to the king to put Kent in the stocks, equivalent to applying the same penalty to the king himself. This brazen act of treason shows well how the hegemony of Lear over his subjects is collapsing. Traditionally, the emissary of the king is the king in loco, and any reverence and recognition offered to the king, if he is present, is granted.
Thus, Kent must be regarded as the king, for his emissary represents him while the king is not present and deserves the same respect that Lear would get. It is the same to put Kent in the stocks as to place Lear in the stocks. A severe insult to the king is this conduct.
The scene concludes with Kent reading a letter from Cordelia, but it is not clear how Cordelia heard of the challenge of Lear in this short period of time. It is assumed that the viewer will simply acknowledge the incongruity of the life of the message.
Act 2 scene 3
Edgar hides in the hollow of a rock, with Gloucester and the men of Cornwall chasing him. Believing that no one is going to look closely at a deranged beggar, Edgar covers himself like his modest clothing with mud, signs of injuries, and a scarf. Lunatics were believed to be corrupted by evil spirits during Shakespeare’s time and unable to sense pain, hence the self-mutilation as part of the mask of Edgar.
Edgar is granted the ultimate mask by the option to assume a mantle of madness, but the decision also parallels the lack of sanity that eventually envelops Lear. The contrast would be that of preference and invention: Lear is not going to pretend. He becomes Bad Tom and ceases to be Edgar, while Edgar wraps himself in insanity.
Edgar has a chance to survive, like poor Tom. He is doomed, just like Edgar. With “That’s always something: Edgar I am zero,” Edgar concludes his soliloquy (II.3.21). Edgar would cease to live to survive in his current circumstances. In being Bad Tom, he very simply becomes “nothing.” His former existence ceases to exist, to be nothing, because he is nothing, like Tom, because there are many who are insane in a world where nothing exists.
Act 2 scene 4
The audience is allowed to witness Lear’s extreme, unstable responses to adversity, as in Act I, Scene 4. At first, he is bewildered by the absence of Regan and Cornwall, after Lear sent advance notice of his arrival. This deviation from agreed hospitality rules actually upsets the king. Next, Lear is astonished to discover the duty of Cornwall to put Kent in the stocks.
Lear is so furious at some points that he can scarcely speak and he can hardly formulate a logical statement. The idea that he returns to the palace of Goneril infuriates Lear. When he urges divine vengeance against Goneril, he is most impassioned. While Lear had previously made some small attempt to recover control, in the presence of Goneril, he could not retain composure.
Lear is in denial in many ways, including when he finds an explanation for the actions of Cornwall: “maybe he is not well.” And Lear pleads first with her for sympathy when Goneril appears, and then indulges in self-pity: “Art not ashamed of looking at this beard?” In his later speech to both daughters, still more begging and self-pity is evident: You see here, sad old man, you Gods, / As full of sorrow as age; wretched in all!”
While he remains king only in name, Lear seeks to maintain the rights and attitude of a king. He expects them to do so as soon as he orders Regan and Cornwall to appear. But Gloucester’s reaction to “I told them so” reveals a new order. Regan offers to talk, but explicitly on her terms, to the king.
Though the decisions he makes are weak or fraught with risk, Lear needs to stay in control of his destiny.
In Lear’s life, the approaching storm signifies disarray. He is a depressed guy, powerless to slow down the pace of the events that he put in motion. In an attempt to recover a purpose in his life before it slips away, Lear sets off into the rain. The bewilderment of Lear by his situation, the lack of affection for his daughter, and the loss of his kingship all serve to make Lear a sympathetic character.
Instead of ignoring his knights, who reflect the kingliness and dominance of his former life, his efforts to maintain integrity contribute to this sense of sympathy. He heads out into the rain, and instead of waiting for his daughters to condemn him once again, he rejects them. Lear wants to seize a little influence on his life by fleeing. The storm is Lear’s perfect venue.
Nature, which created the king and father’s natural order, has also made man a person dependent on love for life. The daughters of the king, who are inhuman in their lack of fidelity to their father and have refused the ties of blood or social order, have robbed Lear of the affection and respect he thinks he needs and wants. Lear looks to nature for escape in his time of desperation.
Act-3 Critical Analysis
Act 3 scene 1
The previous scene opened with the lines “Apart from the foul weather, who is there?”, and now in this scene, we are presented with a sight of Lear on the heath, his despair and indignation simply equaling the rage of the storm. Reflecting the chaos of a family tragedy, the presence of the king is as devastated as the natural scenery under the storm’s attack.
Lear is not alone, though, and so we also discover that the Fool shares the plight of his lord, to be cast out into the storm. He functioned much like a Greek chorus in the earlier appearances of the Fool, reporting on the action and pointing out to Lear where he erred. But there is a new explanation for the fool’s presence in this scene.
Scene 2: How can Cordelia learn so easily about the loss of her father? This scene addresses the unanswered concern from Act II. Kent informs the gentlemen that spies were sent from France to monitor the king’s treatment. The tale of Kent is somewhat unclear and indicates an unusual timeline because news of the events of the past few days should not have spread that easily to France.
Shakespeare, though, also manipulates time in his dramas to deliberately speed the play forward. In this scenario, the expectation of an invasion and the possibility of the arrival of Cordelia give optimism that Lear’s condition will change soon.
In the alliance between Albany and Cornwall, Kent also references a potential crack, but they have sought to keep the details secret. The audience heard suggestions that Albany may not be as cruel as Cornwall, but we have no reason to think that Lear would be spared by Albany at this stage. If the two dukes are attempting to cover a potential split, they might be working together closely.
Act 3 scene 2
The crowd observes, once again, how Lear copes with the swell of concerns besieging him. In the midst of wind, fog, and personal desperation, the scene opens at Lear. He also cries out for the death of an ungrateful man as he calls on the hurricane to unleash its wrath on the world: “Crack the molds of nature, all germs splash at once / Which render an ungrateful man!”
The genetic code of life will be destroyed by removing the molds that nature uses to build men. Lear is without hope in this example; his despondency is so great that it approaches nihilism, a belief in nothing.
In self-pity, Lear proceeds to wallow as he describes himself as “a sad, sick, frail, and hated old man” (III.2.20). Rather than finding refuge or struggling for his sanity, Lear gladly submits to the power of the wind. He fell so far from the powerful king who initiated the play that he only had the power to desire absolute devastation.
“And yet, Lear remains a compassionate character, one who worries “My wits begin to turn” for his own mental balance (III.2.68) and one who may still show concern for the comfort of his partner “How does my boy do? Art cold?
Lear is exposed as a complex man in spite of his pitiful condition, one whose punishment greatly exceeds his stupid mistakes, and so Lear merits the sympathy of the public. The final speech of The Fool compares the reality of the world he and Lear are living with a perfect world where evil is replaced by harmony and goodness.
Act 3 scene 3
Gloucester seems poor and naive at the beginning of the play, readily tricked by Edmund. His promises of simple conquests in Act I trick the audience into ignoring Gloucester as a dumb old man; yet in this scene, the earl seems deserving of the devotion of the king. Through disobeying Regan and Cornwall, Gloucester proves that he is able to risk his own life for the king.
Gloucester is set apart from Edmund by this truly admirable behavior. Edmund, an opportunist, takes advantage of the confidence of his father, seizing the opportunity to gain Cornwall’s favor. Betraying his father would give the place and riches he craves to Edmund. Edmund, behaving without delay, sets out on a path that belies his breeding; a victory of conscience in his unfolding crimes is not a possibility.
Act 3 scene 4
Most of this scene centers on the emotional disintegration of Lear. Once more, Lear struggles in a number of directions about his emotional tragedy. Lear turns his mind on the lives of those for the first time, those who are as miserable as the king himself:
Dirty nude scoundrels, whoever you are, The pelting of this pitiless storm that bids, How the houseless heads and unfed sides are going to be, Your raggedness with looked and windowed, protect yourself From seasons like these ones?
There are words of sorrow, guilt, empathy, and sympathy for the needy, a group that Lear had not heard before. Lear understands the comparisons between their lives and his present condition. His sympathy for the poor is, in a real way, just a reflection of the pity he feels for his own condition. Finally, since he has been one of them, he feels sympathy for the poor.
Lear believes that between man and heaven comes justice. Lear is the anointed king, the agent of Heaven, and thereby bears the obligation of delivering justice on earth. He knows that he is responsible for both his own difficulties and those of others who are similarly hurting. Lear has revealed once again as a difficult and sympathetic character, one who defies simple description.
Lear will be a more powerful king with his new wisdom. Yet he can only take responsibility for his current condition because he has given up his royal status. His failure to fix the wrongs he has done to his people leads to his plunge into insanity. The chaos in the mind of Lear makes him unaware of the weather storm which surrounds him.
Lear sees a mirror image of himself as poor Tom emerges from the hovel. As both men have lost something, Lear associates with Poor Tom. Lear imagines that Tom is also the target of daughters that are deceitful and malicious. As he sheds his clothes to follow Tom in near-nakedness, Lear’s identity with Tom is absolute.
This failure to separate himself from Tom is an indication of Lear’s psychosis. This scene reminds the crowd that so little distinguishes the beast from the man. Man’s fragility is inescapable since only a fine line separates civilized and uncivilized states.
While comparisons can be drawn between the condition of Gloucester and the situations of Lear (as their children are abusing both men), one significant distinction remains: Gloucester maintains his sanity. Gloucester knows how quickly he can lose his mind, and he’s terrified that might always happen, but he has an emotional power that Lear does not have, helping him to survive.
Gloucester struggles, paradoxically, to remember his own son, Edgar, dressed as Poor Tom. This scene expands upon Scene 3 by illustrating the resolve of Gloucester to support the old king, but it still shows a father in as much agony as the king. Gloucester is not aware of the fact that his own condition will quickly become tragic.
Act 3 scene 5
Both Edmund and Cornwall claim to be noble in this scene, as each seeks to defend his disloyalty. Gloucester and Lear are evidently both casualties of Edmund and Cornwall, two self-serving men. Feigning remorse for betraying his father, Edmund laments that his nature, which is to respect his father, must now be subordinate to his country’s allegiance to him.
The involvement of Cornwall helps to enhance the option of Edmund, as he suggests that perhaps Edgar is justified in pursuing the murder of his father. Cornwall sees the acts of Gloucester as treasonous and describes him as possessing a “reproveable evil” (III.5.6). This Cornwall pronouncement endorses the treachery of Edmund against his father, and offers a kind of self-righteous justice to Edmund as well.
Act 3 scene 6
The gibberish of Edmund concerning foul fiends definitely suits both the circumstances of Edgar and Lear, as both have been victims of deception and wickedness. Lear abandons his intentions to attempt physical vengeance after they all come out of the hurricane, and eventually decides to put Goneril and Regan on trial.
The jury as more proof of Lear’s insanity could use a mock trial; but a trial is generally a quest for the facts and, sometimes, a search for the intent or justification for an action. Like so many victims, Lear wants to know why this disaster took place. Did he deserve violence from his daughters like this? Did his actions lead to their bad attitudes in every way?
Lear appoints as judges the masked Edgar and the Idiot and starts Goneril’s trial, which Lear accuses of kicking him. Goneril’s blow to her father, though, was not physical; her wound was to his heart and soul. Lear advises the judges “to anatomize Regan, to see what her heart breeds.”
The words from Lear are pointed and painful. Edgar is unable to continue participating, and even the fool is deaf. Finally, the pressure of the mock trial leaves Lear so tired that he agrees to stop for a much-needed break.
This is The Fool’s last appearance. “He expects his death in his final line: “I’ll go to bed at noon. The play never shows whether the Fool eventually dies, because the lines “And my poor fool is hanged” in Act V Scene 3 refer to the death of Cordelia. The Fool has fulfilled his task, stepping in after her banishment to take Cordelia’s place and disappearing as she reappears.
Lear and his supporters heed Gloucester’s threat that the king must escape to Dover. With the king and his forces gone, Gloucester is left alone to face Cornwall’s wrath. After Gloucester also leaves, Edgar is left on stage alone. His soliloquy connects the two different plots together and points out the parallels between his case and that of the king: “He fathered as I fathered!”
Although Edgar has a cruel father, the king has cruel children, but Edgar knows that his plight is negligible compared to the king’s, who has lost both his rule and his mind.
Act 3 scene 7
In a reading of the play text, the full effect of this scene can not be sensed. For the viewer to truly understand the evil being manifested by Cornwall and Regan, the cruelty of the blindness of Gloucester must be seen and heard on stage. When they call for Gloucester’s punishment, both Goneril and Regan are exceptionally barbaric and bloodthirsty: “Hang him immediately. [Regan] / Pluck out his eyes [Goneril]”.
Edmund must have known how cruel a sentence Gloucester is going to suffer, having heard these two vultures cry out for his father’s blood. And still, on his errand, Edmund happily and quickly leaves. This scene shows the wickedness of Edmund; he has to understand the true measure of the evil of Cornwall and the weakness of his father in the face of the wrath of Cornwall.
In this scene, Cornwall’s villainy is not surprising. His rage builds to the verge of losing power earlier in Act III; in this scene, the viewer sees Regan’s husband resisting all efforts at civility. He has become the beast that lurks just underneath civilization’s veneer. Cornwall seems to admit he lacks the ability to bring Gloucester to death:
Though we do not carry on his life well, without a sort of justice, without our power, Shall our vengeance do the courtesy that men do to our wrath? Perhaps fault, but not power.
Still, Cornwall insists that his wrath is provoked and must be gratified. Cornwall makes no effort at regulating himself as Gloucester is introduced to him. While Cornwall is reminded by Gloucester that they are visitors at his house, neither Cornwall nor Regan have any interest in upholding the hospitality laws.
In divine justice, Gloucester has trust, much as Lear implored the gods for justice. Nevertheless, at many points in King Lear, justice seems to be absent, and the plucking of the eyes of Gloucester is definitely one case. Gloucester made numerous errors in judgment, but the penalty is certainly in excess of his mistakes in this instance, as with Lear.
Gloucester is swift to realize his stupidity as Regan discloses Edmund’s treason, even sooner than Lear. Plucking out the eyes of Gloucester is so cruel that not even the servants of Cornwall will stand by without intervening. The brutal essence of Regan, Goneril, and Cornwall has been apparent all along, with each act of wickedness building upon the previous one.
Interestingly, when Cornwall is injured, Regan displays true humanity, albeit barely. Her solicited query, “Why is not my Lord. How do you look?” (III.7.92) reveals that she is not entirely self-serving or devoid of empathy and kindness, practically the only instance in which Regan appears to be human.
Act-4 Critical Analysis
Act 4 scene 1
The opening soliloquy of Edgar reveals his assumption that nothing worse can happen after surviving the worst that fortune can throw at him; but in fact, as the blinded Gloucester is followed in, Edgar’s embrace of fortune is checked.
Edgar is forced to admit when he sees the state of his father that his situation has disintegrated even further. A tenant who, although his own life is at stake, refuses to leave leads Gloucester. A paradox is given by their conversation:
Your way cannot be seen. [Ancient Man]
I do not have away, so I do not want eyes;
When I saw it, I staggered.
These lines show the failure of Gloucester. He could not see the deception fabricated by his younger son when he had his vision, and therefore, in the past, the vision did not make him see his path. Now that he has lost his vision, but he has actually seen the reality, Gloucester cannot see a way to restore the elder son he has lost too.
The reaction of Gloucester to his tragedy resembles Lears in several respects. Gloucester, like Lear, feels desperation and asks gods who will “kill us for their sport” (IV.1.37). In addition, like Lear, in the wake of his tragedy, Gloucester seeks his dignity. The blind old man who demands to carry clothes to be protected by Bad Tom is a very different man from the Gloucester of Act I.
In the opening scene of the play, the earl boasted of the fine sport to be had in the illicit conception of Edmund. Gloucester is packed with sympathy for poor Tom, instead of a thoughtless braggart.
This concern towards his fellow man reveals that Gloucester regrets his past actions, as he tries to make amends by engaging with others he has never noticed before. In Act III, Scene 4, this action parallels the self-awareness that moved Lear to immediately view the weak and vulnerable.
Gloucester, like Lear, doubts divine justice, experiences desperation, evokes nihilism, and finds his own humanity (the conviction that life is without meaning or purpose). This scene vividly shows the parallelism between the main plot and the subplot.
Act 4 scene 2
The young, handsome, and obedient Edmund is attracted to Goneril. These traits make him more desirable to her than her own husband. Goneril expects obedience from a man, but she also wants strength and willingness, characteristics that fit her own, to take what he wants. It seems that the fact that Goneril is married is not a problem. The steward’s news that the political and personal relationships of Albany have changed just makes Goneril more enticing to Edmund.
The initial remarks by Albany to Goneril reveal how much he’s changed since the beginning of the play. Albany’s previous unwillingness to challenge his wife is now replaced by her wickedness’s direct address: “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind/blows in your face.” His assault on the dignity of Goneril reveals that Albany is a highly moral and humane person, his wife’s antithesis, and an individual that the audience has not seen in the play before. Albany’s interpretation of nature in his assault on Goneril is the opposite of his wife’s. Where Goneril has created anarchy, within an organic context, Albany endorses the design of nature and a view of the work of nature:
That life, which rejects its roots, Cannot be ordered in itself certain; She who will sliver and disbranch herself Perforce has to wither from its content sap, And come to mortal use. (IV.2.32-36)
Albany agrees that for survival, the pattern of nature is important. To eradicate the chaos of the universe, the hierarchy of father to child, king to the subject, God to the king, is necessary. In her treatment of Lear, Goneril has overturned the natural order, and the ensuing confusion and disorder have turned man against himself.
Albany points out that the news that Cornwall is dead is proof of divine justice, and Goneril should be warned about this case, but she ignores Albany’s words to concentrate on the greater issue that Regan is now available to marry Edmund as a widow. On the other hand, Goneril has a husband, one she expects to be in charge of. The heir of half the kingdom is Goneril, and she wants Albany to recall that it was her dowry, but he is stronger than Cornwall. And while Albany refused to challenge Goneril earlier when he thought she was wrong, he is not the eager evil participant that Cornwall has shown himself to be. When Albany hears of the blinding of Gloucester, he is completely surprised, while Cornwall quickly succumbed to this perversion.
Albany enters the ranks of characters who have experienced drastic changes over the course of the play with this new resistance to his wife, evolving and transforming into a stronger and more caring person. Albany would have no choice but to protect England against the French invasion as the highest-ranking nobleman who remains. But this scene signals that the loyalties of Albany will be with those who defend Lear, not his wife.
The position of Goneril, here, contrasts with that of most Elizabethan women. In this period, women were totally subordinate to the wishes of their husbands. From God to king, king to subject (always male) and male to women and children was the chain of authority. Elizabeth I declined to marry rather than be subject to the authority of some individual. However, Goneril sees herself as the supreme authority, and this contradicts this historical period’s truth.
Act 4 scene 3
The King of France must return to his own country because, in recent years, a French invasion of England will be much too provocative for an audience that is still responsive to Spanish interference. The explanation for the return of the king is unimportant, and hence the vagueness in the opening lines of this scene. Cordelia, the key point, is that Her husband should not have been there to cloud her father’s reunion or to invade the final scene of the play. Although the Marshal of France has been left to direct the troops, the argument is understood to be that Cordelia, who is English, will lead her father’s defense.
The Gentleman reveals Cordelia’s reaction to news of her father’s treatment, at Kent’s request. Her tears and her reflective retreat reflect her humanity and reveal that, yes, she is the opposite of her sisters. By pointing to the stars, which he says have made sisters so different from each other, Kent takes the disparity a step further. Effectively deferring to the stars absolves Regan and Goneril of all responsibility for their actions and credits fate with deciding the virtue of one sister and the sin of the other. In the events that take place later, this dialogue is crucial in understanding the role of divine justice. Albany believes in divine justice, but whether such justice exists has been challenged by both Lear and Gloucester. The role of fate in understanding the justice of God produces some complex problems to consider because if the words of Kent are to be taken literally, the death of Cordelia lies with fate and not with divine justice. Divine justice, indeed any notion of the action of Heaven, can not co-exist with a dependency on destiny to explain events. Of course, it is important to note that in the pre-Christian period, Shakespeare set his events, while in a Judeo-Christian setting, both Shakespeare and his audience remain. This causes a paradox and adds to the text’s suspense.
Act 4 scene 4
This scene’s opening lines, which characterize Lear’s presence, demonstrate how far the king has descended from his royal state. In Act I, with customary ease, Lear assumed the mantel of royalty, and now he appears covered in weeds. Instead of the equally available flowers in the fields, the option of weeds for raiment by Lear is important. The temperament of the king is as wild and unchecked as the weeds that grow so freely and reflect the unpredictable state of nature that is unplanned.
Royalty should be cautious, cautiously preparing for the risk of obtaining a foothold in the terrain of insurgent “weeds” or their human equivalents. The physical self of Lear reflects the effects of the unwise abdication of authority by the king and his incompetence intending to his country. Lear and his kingdom display signs of neglect instead of appearing like a beautifully planned English garden, and both are now infested by a wild epidemic of weeds. The truth of his realm is metaphorically portrayed by Lear, covered in weeds. Cordelia’s position of savior is underlined with the messenger’s entrance. She is present, not as the leader of a French invasion, but as her father’s rescuer and protector.
Act 4 scene 5
As he reluctantly leads his army in defense of the empire, Albany’s reluctance to support the cause of his wife is evident. Oswald reacts to the reluctance of Albany by asserting that Goneril is the better soldier, subordinating the masculinity of Albany to the strong will of his wife. However, Oswald is not used to speaking about the morality of problems. As a servant to Goneril, he accepts her orders without a doubt.
Ironically, Regan expresses concern that Gloucester, particularly because she is directly responsible for that misery, should be relieved of his misery. Her “pity of his misery” (IV.5.12) shows that she is mindful of public opinion and interested in the approval of her actions by her subjects. Regan, however, does not pay much attention to this consideration; after all, Edmund has already been sent to kill his father. Instead, the letter that Oswald is bringing from Goneril to Edmund concerns her. Regan clearly suspects Goneril of having feelings for Edmund, and there is a subtle lack of attempts to compel Oswald to surrender the letter. She and Edmund have an understanding, Regan indicates, and she says that their relationship is more than casual.
The audience learns by the end of this scene that Goneril and Regan are no longer working partners; instead, they have become competitors, engaged in hidden truths and conspiracies. The rivalry of the sisters for Edmund suggests that he is no longer simply Gloucester’s illegitimate son. Two royal princesses are vying for the attention of Edmund, thereby legitimizing his new position. Regan, who had already sent Edmund to kill Gloucester, now informs Oswald to kill the old man at the end of their meeting. Obviously, she doesn’t want to take the opportunity for Gloucester to live to reveal what happened to him.
Act 4 scene 6
Edgar is still disguised as Poor Tom, but as a farmer rather than a pitiful soul wrapped only in a cloak, he is now better dressed. More significantly, humility, empathy, and an appreciation of the shortcomings of his father are indicated by the way he approaches his father. Gloucester is forgiven by Edgar, and his voice represents the sentiment. By making Edgar speak in verse, Shakespeare signifies the transition, so the audience is also aware that Edgar is not the same man he was earlier in the play.
Just before he intends to leap, Gloucester understands the influence of the Gods, whose righteousness he has doubted before, and he prays that Edgar will be blessed. This scene is heart-rendering since his identity is not disclosed by Edgar. Instead, he allows the lie to proceed in order to be able to cure Gloucester. When Gloucester wakes up, he immediately wonders whether he has really fallen, but then resigns himself easily to his survival. Gloucester then embraces his troubles and vows to live until the gods decide that he has suffered long enough.
Edgar claims before the “fall” of Gloucester that he will not reveal his true identity so that his father can still be healed, yet after Gloucester awakens, there is sufficient time to expose the secret, and yet Edgar fails to confess the truth to Gloucester. For his continuing self-discovery, Gloucester’s ignorance may be appropriate. If Edgar shows himself in Act IV, Gloucester’s growth opportunities will be cut short, and the way in which each character grows in response to the situations that challenge his/her ideals, principles, and abilities is a major element of the play. Gloucester must continue to learn about himself; if he solves his dispute with Edgar at this stage, his movement towards self-truth will be halted.
Once again, Lear enters with the exclamation “I am the / king himself” (IV.6.83-84). Even though he has no kingdom and is no longer the picture of a king, the gods have made Lear a king, and his anointed status can only be revoked by the gods. When he hears the voice of Gloucester, Lear starts a long monologue which reveals everything that he has learned since he was deceived by his daughters. Finally, Lear realizes that flattery is a threat to someone in a high place, and therefore, even in his madness, he makes sense. Lear believed what he understood to be lies because he tolerated the flattery of his older daughters: “They flattered / me like a dog and told me I had the white hairs in my / beard ere the black ones were there” (IV.6.96-98).
A big step in acknowledging accountability and realizing that he is not infallible is his recognition of his complicity in the events that followed. “The words of Lear, “Goneril, with a white beard!” (IV.6.96), could be interpreted as meaning that Gloucester for Goneril is mistaken by Lear. But it’s more likely that Lear addresses Goneril and doesn’t greet anyone he feels is Goneril. By portraying her with a white beard, Lear asserts that by taking her father’s authority, his eldest daughter has inverted existence, and hence, the white beard, which signifies intelligence, becomes the guise of the law of his eldest daughter.
Next, Lear shifts to an adultery and sexuality digression that matches the idea that both Regan and Goneril have been exposed to excessive desires, something that is closely associated with excessive sexuality. Therefore, the analogy to Centaurs, which symbolizes the ambiguity of the intellectual capacity of man combined with animals’ simple impulses, aptly represents the susceptibility of man to his more animal instincts.
Lear switches to another subject as he continues: justice. The King has discovered that those who preach integrity are often not honest, and even judges can be manipulated and bribed, and therefore supports a move towards anarchy and a change in the rules of justice. In the face of too much dishonesty, Lear fears that justice can not or does not exist (IV.6.154-165).
Lear’s realization that all men must accept their frailty and their humanity echoes the earlier discoveries of Gloucester himself. Lear has also discovered because of his own pain that even he is not above the justice of God. At the end of his voice, Lear transitions to a wish for the death of his sons-in-law, and a clearer image emerges of his insanity. “A “natural fool of Fortune” (IV.6.189), Lear sees himself as a victim of Fortune. Eventually, overcome with terror, Lear runs away from the Gentleman and the attendants who have appeared and are looking for him.
Act 4 scene 7
In telling Kent that his goodness is immeasurable, Cordelia speaks with wisdom and admiration. Although the plans of Kent are inexplicit and the explanation is unclear as to why it would interfere with those plans to reveal his identity, his devotion to Lear has been evident all along. Kent says at the end of this scene, “My point and period will be thoroughly wrought / Or well or ill, as this day’s battle’s fought” (IV.7.96-97).
The fate of Kent is irrevocably bound to that of the king, with the full sense of these terms manifested in the play’s final scene.
Lear has been sleeping since his rescue and he continues to sleep even when he is brought to Cordelia. He believes he is in hell when he awakens, having been saved by an angel:
To take me other graves, you’re wrong;
In bliss, thou art a soul; but I am bound,
On the wheel of fire, the tears of my own
Do, like molten lead, scald. (IV.7.45) (IV.7.45-48)
A common symbol for hell, originating from the medieval era, is the wheel of fire. It is not shocking for Lear to imagine hell, because Cordelia had only recently saved him from an infernal life on earth.
Lear related many of the things he learned during this traumatic time in the previous scene, but he clearly illustrates that he learned some equally valuable lessons in this brief scene. Lear makes no mention of royalty or of tests to assess the depth of love in his speech to Cordelia (IV.7.60-69), as performed in Act I. Lear no longer sees himself as infallible, and he completely expects Cordelia to hate him. When he eventually says “I think this lady / To be my child Cordelia” (IV.7.69-70), Lear is sane again at last.
The music that welcomes the return of Lear to wakefulness signifies a return to peace and substitutes Lear and his older daughters for the sounds of the storm and the thundering disharmony. With the incorporation of music, the order has returned to the realm of Lear, as Cordelia is reunited with him. In this scene, the contrast between Cordelia and her sisters is particularly dramatic. Cordelia has no need for retribution, nor the reason to make her dad suffer for misjudging her. Her virtue and innocence make it easy to see why Cordelia was portrayed by so many critics and scholars as Christ-like or reflecting God’s goodness.
Act-5 Critical Analysis
Act 5 scene 1
The opening of this scene reveals that the relationship between Goneril and Edmund remains of great concern to Regan. Regan needs to know the truth, or she claims that she does, but she just wants to know the truth if she wants to hear it. And so, with his version of the facts, Edmund obliges. His friendship with Goneril is just a “honor’d love” (V.1.9). Edmund adopts the language of the nobility, just as his ambitious scheme to rule the kingdom has been hatched since the first.
It is unconvincing for Edmund to agree not to form a liaison with a married woman. Adultery is definitely a sin, but that truth does not deter Edmund, who had a penchant for even greater sins. Her aside reveals how infatuated she, too, is with Edmund when Goneril enters. Up until this point, it was most necessary for Goneril to have power; now, quite unexpectedly, she is ready to lose the war, and thus the kingdom, rather than lose Edmund. It becomes apparent in Scene 3 how far her infatuation can spread.
He seeks to develop his position with regard to the coming battle as soon as Goneril and Albany join. Albany’s lines indicate that he is an honest and just human (V.1.24-27). The king and his allies are not the kingdom’s enemies, but the invasion of France is sufficient to lead his men into war. The purpose of Albany is not to regard Lear and his defenders as enemies, but only to protect the country against an invader from the outside. The others are in agreement with Albany to appease him and guarantee his cooperation.
The rift between Goneril and Regan becomes more apparent, and in this scene, their rivalry for Edmund becomes more evident. Regan does not trust Goneril and will not allow her, even for a moment, to be alone with Edmund. The insistence of Regan that Goneril does not stay behind with Edmund makes it clear how far the sisters have moved away from their previous relationship.
Goneril and Regan acted in Act I like one, both sharing agreement with Lear in their flattery. In Act II, as they joined together to reduce Lear’s forces, they were once again united. But they are now totally separated, each mistrusting the other, with the introduction of Edmund into their circle in Act III. Edmund is, in fact, occupied with some of his own plotting. The growing ambition of Edmund leads to the expectation that Goneril will kill Albany and, in exchange, Regan, who is free to marry Edmund, will kill him. Edmund would be left to rule as king, with Lear and Cordelia dead. A long way from the bastard son of Act I, he has come.
Act 5 scene 2
Edgar echoes a common belief in the time of Shakespeare when he says “Men must endure” (V.2.9). A central aspect of seventeenth-century life, a core belief of Christian doctrine, was patient pain. The Book of Job was not only part of the larger biblical text in this context; it was, instead, an aspect of the life of every human. The trials of Job were considered to be an actual historical account, written by Moses and intended by God to make it easier for God to recognize suffering as required for a later reward. In short, the path to greater happiness and glory with God was created by a belief in patience through the pain.
With his ability to suffer, Job’s suffering increases; and still, he only replies, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9). And though he can no longer bear his pain, Job refuses to curse God. He curses the day of his birth, instead. The persistence of Job with his loss and pain is immense, and this obviously serves as a model for Edgar, who faithfully endured his trials. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? (Job 38:4).In Job’s text, the reflective man, willing to suffer, reminded by the patience of God’s reward, finds an expression of his glory. While pre-Christianity is the atmosphere for King Lear, its influences are clearly seen in the way Edgar tells his father that they must endure.
Act 5 scene 3
This final scene takes both the plot and subplot to a conclusion. With Lear and Cordelia held prisoner by Edmund, the scene opens. The response of Cordelia to their capture evokes the same stoicism displayed by Edgar and Gloucester: “We are not the first / Who, with the best meaning, have incurred the worst” (V.3.3-4). Although facing these events bravely, Cordelia knows that they are at risk as well. Lear, unlike Cordelia, fails to understand the danger that the two hostages are now in. Lear is so happy to be with Cordelia, not thinking about the loss of the war, and they are prisoners. He is apparently unaware that Edmund is in danger. Lear just has dreams of her happiness (V.3.8-15).
Just to be with Cordelia, Lear asks for nothing more. The rest of the world will be shut down and his oldest daughters will also be disqualified. When Cordelia asks whether her daughters and sisters are to be seen, Lear’s response is a resounding “No, no, no, no!” (V.3.8). Except for Cordelia, his view of the future excludes all others. But there are other plans for Edmund, as he makes clear after Lear and Cordelia are taken to jail. Edmund orders the officer to stage the death of Cordelia as a suicide. The officer follows Edmund’s orders without hesitation, apparently unconcerned about killing the king and his daughter.
Several biblical wars between good and evil are remembered in Christian culture, as divine justice is an essential aspect of war trial. The fight between Edgar and Edmund is genuinely a struggle that represents this continuing struggle between good and evil, with Edgar’s defeat of Edmund clearly marking the victory of justice over corruption. In the end, by being honorable, by not being as cruel as he should be, or was, Edmund is defeated. He is disarmed by the system of honor and agrees to a duel, although he admits that he does not need to agree to a fight with an unspecified stranger (V.3.140-144).
Edmund also adopts the laws of social snobbery when fatally wounded, saying, “If thou’rt noble, / I do forgive thee” (V.3.164-165). But in contrast to the other great villain of Shakespeare, Iago, Edmund repents and attempts to revoke his order to execute Cordelia and Lear. He proves himself worthy of the blood of Gloucester in this little measure.
As Albany had earlier prophesied, they were eventually killed by Goneril and Regan’s evil. Early in this scene, the audience discovers that Goneril has poisoned Regan (V.3.97), and with Albany’s denunciation of the plotting of Goneril, Goneril kills herself. Ironically, while Gloucester had previously attempted suicide, only Goneril, who initially appeared so strong, succeeded in ending her own life.
The order from Albany to rescue Cordelia and Lear was issued too late. Any immediate ideas about divine justice are demolished when Lear reaches Cordelia’s body. Cornwall, Edmund, Regan, and Goneril’s deaths lulled the audience into an illusion that this tumultuous universe would restore order to the gods. But the death of Cordelia gives rise to new concerns about the position of divine justice.
As is the case in many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the stage is littered with bodies at the close of the play, some deserving of death, and some innocent victims of evil. Lear is surrounded by the bodies of his three daughters, just as in Act I he was surrounded by them. Traditionally, in a tragedy, the highest-ranking person speaks the last lines, but in this case, Edgar is given the final lines, as he responds to the request of Albany. Kent and Edgar have been appointed by Albany, whose rank places him above the others, to restore order. But in death, Kent plans to obey his master, and Edgar’s final lines are vague and his own early death may be depicted. King Lear finishes, thus, without the simple resolution of many of the other tragedies of Shakespeare. Audiences, if divine justice has prevailed, must judge for themselves.