King Lear

Where does the play begin? King Lear’s court.
CONTEXT: What is the significance about the choice of performance at court during Christmas 1606? St Stephens Night, now known as Boxing Day, was traditionally associated with hospitality to the poor and homeless. This play, in which the sovereign is reduced to a beggar, was an apt choice.
CONTEXT: What was significant about a Jacobean audience and the way they viewed plays? (3) 1. A love of violence/ gore. 2. What was seen on the outside mirrored the inside. 3. Everything taken at face value.
CONTEXT: What is the significance of the Wheel of Fortune? There were people in different positions of the wheel. An anti meritocratic perspective of society.
What does Lear devise to decide how to divide his Kingdom? A “love-test”.
CONTEXT: What has the love-test been compared to? Those enacted in fairy tales and folklore.
Who does Lear expect to win? Cordelia, whom he loves the most.
Who does Cordelia marry upon her banishment? The King of France.
Who are Lear’s two faithful servants? Kent and the Fool.
Who else is banished when Cordelia is banished? Kent.
Which duke does Kent suggest that Lear favours? The Duke of Albany.
Who discusses the divisions of the Kingdom at the beginning of the play? Kent and Gloucester.
Who are Gloucester’s two sons? Edgar and Edmund.
Which of Gloucester’s sons is illegitimate? Edmund.
Does Gloucester favour both sons equally? Yes.
Who is Goneril married to? Albany.
Who is Regan married to? Cornwall.
Why does Lear want to divide up his Kingdom? He wants to ‘shake all cares and business from our age’ and pass the responsibility of ruling onto his children.
CONTEXT: Why were inheritance issues a matter of national concern for Shakespeare’s audience in the late 16th/ early 17th century? Elizabeth I was unmarried with no children.
Who speaks first in the love-test? Goneril.
What does Goneril claim to love Lear more than? ‘eyesight, space, and liberty’.
What does Regan think about Goneril’s proclamation? It ‘comes too short’.
What do Goneril and Regan both try to do during the love-test? Measure their love for Lear, as if love is something that can be measured.
What does Cordelia dislike about Goneril and Regan’s answers? She finds their words ‘ponderous’.
How does Cordelia wish to answer the test? Honestly and simply.
What does Cordelia say she has to say to Lear? ‘Nothing’.
How does Cordelia claim to love Lear? ‘According to my bond; nor more nor less’.
How does Lear react to Cordelia’s response? He’s hurt and angry. He asks her to speak again.
What happens when Cordelia refuses to change her answer? He casts her off without a moment of hesitation.
Who argues with Lear over Cordelia’s banishment? Kent. He accuses Lear of ‘hideous rashness’ and warns him that Goneril and Regan were false.
How does Lear react to Kent’s argument? He’s further enraged and banishes him, too.
Who are Cordelia’s two suitors? France and Burgundy.
Who does Lear summon upon Lear’s banishment? France and Burgundy.
Who does Lear invest with power? Albany and Cornwall.
How many knights does Lear intend to keep in his service? 100.
Where does Lear plan to spend his time? Divided between Goneril and Regan.
Why does Burgundy refuse to marry Cordelia? He wants the dowry that Lear had previously promised him.
Why does France agree to marry Cordelia, despite her being penniless and without her father’s favour? For her virtues.
Who leads Cordelia away? France.
What closes the first scene? An urgent discussion between Goneril and Regan.
What does Goneril decide at the end of the first scene? That the sisters ‘must do something, and i’th’heat’.
What do Goneril and Regan complain about? Lear’s rash judgement and unpredictable behaviour.
What are Goneril and Regan worried about? That they will receive unfair treatment like their sister, Cordelia.
What kind of mood is established in the first six lines of the play? One of uncertainty. This is typical within Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, where characters set the scene and introduce key themes and ideas.
What is typical within Elizabethan and Jacobean drama? Characters setting the scene and introducing key themes and ideas.
Where do we first learn that inheritance and property issues are at stake within the play? When Kent and Gloucester discuss the division of the Kingdom.
What idea is established in the opening exchange? A sense of favouritism.
Why is Edmund’s silence during the first scene significant? It is symbolic as his position as the bastard son. He has no voice or rights within his position in society.
What is the effect created by Shakespeare keeping Edmund’s character concealed? His soliloquy is exciting and surprising.
What is a soliloquy? An act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play.
What does Edmund’s polite exterior conceal? His evil nature.
What does Edmund’s concealment suggest? That the difference between appearance and reality is a theme within the play.
What shows that Gloucester takes his rule of Edmund for granted? The brief (possibly brutal) lines that he speaks about Edmund’s past and future.
What suggests that Gloucester has lax morals? He jokes about Edmund’s bastardy.
Name a display of Lear’s power in the opening scene. His impressive entrance.
What is egotistical and foolish about King Lear? His “love-test”. And his desire to be treated as an important, royal personage after he has given away his Kingdom.
What is alarming about Lear’s intentions to split his Kingdom? These are not the actions of a responsible ruler.
Suggest how Shakespeare presents Lear as unable to see clearly. He is fooled by Goneril and Regan’s superficial and elegant speeches, yet is unable to recognise Cordelia and Kent’s honesty.
How does Cordelia stand up for the correct order of family life? She claims that her love should go to her husband when she marries.
How is Cordelia’s strength of character and integrity shown upon her banishment? She scorns Burgundy, and parts frostily from her sisters, telling them that she knows they’re cunning and false.
What is ironic, as some commentators have discussed, that Cordelia is the first to rebel? She is presented as a moral character, but she shows stubbornness and destructiveness (like her father?) and is actually the one to trigger the unfortunate series of events.
How is Kent also subversive in the opening scene? He uses insulting language, referring to Lear as ‘thou’ and ‘old man’.
CONTEXT: Why does Kent’s use of ‘thou’ portray disrespect? In Shakespeare’s time, ‘thou’ was the pronoun used to address close friends and children. ‘You’ was the polite and respectful form.
What do Cordelia and Kent’s good intentions hope to reveal to Lear? His false and materialistic values.
What kind of ruler does Lear behave like in the opening scene? A tyrant.
At what point do we realise that Lear has lost control? When he goes to strike Kent.
What demonstrates Lear’s newfound lack of authority? He continues to issue orders, and speaks very cruelly to Cordelia, but his authority is denied.
What, arguably, do the audience feel towards Lear? Why? Sympathy. He clearly loved his youngest daughter a great deal, dividing the Kingdom so that she would receive the most opulent share, hoping he could rely on her ‘kind nursery’ as he ‘crawls’ towards death. (Language used here suggests vulnerability of a baby).
What do Goneril and Regan’s remarks at the end of the scene sum up about Lear? The explosive and violent Lear that we have just seen.
What, arguably, do Goneril and Regan use Lear’s outburst for? To justify the wicked intentions they already possess when they decide to ‘hit together’.
What has been destroyed by the end of the first scene? Family and national harmony. One daughter has challenged her father, and two more prepare to subvert his authority.
What does Lear’s tragic fall proceed from? The tragic misuse of power in Act 1 Scene 1.
Who is ‘HECAT’? Hecate, goddess of night, darkness, the underworld, witchcraft.
Define ‘Propinquity and property of blood’. Close family ties, kinship.
What is a ‘SCYTHIAN’? A savage. Scythians who lived in an area of Russia were thought to be barbaric, cruel cannibals.
Explore significance of ‘makes his generation messes’. It continues the theme of barbaric cannibalism; he who feeds on his own children.
Apollo In Roman mythology, the God of the Sun.
Jupiter The Roman ruler of the Gods.
What does Edmund falsely convince Gloucester in Act 1 Scene 2? That Edgar seeks his life.
How does Act 1 Scene 2 open? With Edmund giving his soliloquy.
What does Edmund refuse to submit to? The patriarchal hierarchy.
What does Edmund claim is his “Goddess”? Nature.
What does Edmund argue makes him equal to his legitimate brother, Edgar? The personal qualities he possesses.
What is Edmund determined to do? ‘Grow’ and ‘Prosper’. Like Goneril and Regan, he’s determined to defend his own prospects.
How does Edmund attempt to gain advantage over Edgar? He has written a letter, supposedly from Edgar, claiming he is unhappy because he wants to enjoy Gloucester’s fortunes now, and feels frustrated by the ‘idle and fond bondage of ‘aged tyranny’. “Edgar” seems to be suggesting that he wishes his father dead.
What does Edmund seek at this point in the play? To inherit his brother’s land.
How does Gloucester enter the scene? Muttering, disturbed by Lear’s rashness.
What does Edmund pretend to do upon Gloucester’s arrival, in order to manipulate his father? He pretends to be putting away the letter, and pretends to be reluctant to let Gloucester read it.
What does Edmund (falsely) tell Gloucester that he heard Edgar say in order to make his father more suspicious? ‘Sons at the perfect age and fathers declined, the father should be as ward to the son, and the son manage his revenue’.
What does the appalled Gloucester demand? That his legitimate son be ‘apprehended’ immediately.
How does Edmund react to Gloucester’s reaction? He pretends to be concerned about family honour and suggests that Gloucester should wait to hear Edgar condemn himself out of his own mouth before taking action.
What does Gloucester agree to? Let Edmund ‘Frame the business’ of discovering the truth about Edgar’s feelings.
What does Gloucester reflect on pessimistically? The conflict of the nation. He mentions predictions of discord, treason, friendships cooling and fathers and sons going against the ‘bias of nature’.
What does Gloucester promise Edmund? That he will gain by uncovering Edgar’s villainy.
What does Edmund do once he is alone again? Rejects his father’s superstitious beliefs. He says that the ‘whoremaster man’ is responsible for his own fortunes and actions.
What does Edmund pretend to be doing when he sees Edgar coming? To be musing on the effects of the recent eclipses.
What do the brothers joke about? Edmund’s supposed fondness for astronomy.
CONTEXT: What do references to astrology and pagan gods in the play remind us? That Lear is set in the pre-christian era. Gloucester’s concerns about breaches in nature also reflect Elizabethan and Jacobean beliefs about witchcraft.
What does Edmund tell Edgar? That he has offended their father, and that he advises him to stay out of his way.
How does Edgar react to the news that Gloucester is angry? He is alarmed, and fears that ‘some villain hath done be wrong’.
What does Edgar do after learning the news that Gloucester is angry? Upon Edmund’s suggestion that he go into hiding at his lodgings, he does just that.
What does Edmund’s opening soliloquy shows his reasoning for what? Him being the discontented malcontent.
CONTEXT: What was the malcontent? A scornful, mocking outsider. John Marston’s play ‘The malcontent’ established this character as a theatrical type.
Which line of his soliloquy signifies Edmund’s defiance? The last line. ‘Now gods stand up for bastards!’
What tells us that Edmund doesn’t actually need help from the gods? He is a master manipulator and a fine actor, who takes his father and brother with disturbing ease.
What does Edmund prey on? What does this show? The emotions of his relatives. That he is cold and calculating.
What is Edmunds view on men? Is it plausible at this time in the play? That men mar or make their own fortunes. It is entirely plausible at this point.
What do fathers do in scene 1 and scene 2? What is the effect of this? Misjudge their children. It precipitates their own ruin.
What does Gloucester’s swift rejection of Edgar mirror? Lear’s swift rejection of Cordelia.
What does Edmund’s villainy prepare the way for? Goneril and Regan’s treachery in the next act.
How else does the subplot mirror the main plot? Gloucester is taken in by false words and appearances, as Lear was. Gloucester’s family harmony is in jeopardy, and inheritance issues are troublesome. Another innocent and virtuous child is cast off, whilst the father promises his property to unworthy child(ren) in return for a show of affection. Gloucester puts himself in his son Edmund’s power, just as Lear resigned his authority to Goneril and Regan. Edmund’s triumphant opportunism, energy and directness when he is alone on stage mirror Goneril and Regan’s urgent speaking at the end of Act 1 Scene 1.
What is gaining ground by the end of Act 1 Scene 2? The evil children.
Define ‘curiosity of nations’. Patriarchal laws and rules.
Define ‘bias of nature’. Natural tendencies.
What is the significant of ‘Ursa Major’? It is a cluster of stars, The Great Bear. Those born under it were thought to be lecherous.
What is the significance of ‘catastrophe of the old comedy’? In old fashioned comedies events seemed to be worked out in mechanical way, with a convenient incident or event of some kind, e.g. a timely ‘catastrophe’ to bring on the denouement (the final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved). The implication is that Edgar arrives at a convenient time for Edmund.
Who does Goneril complain to in Act 1 Scene 3? Her steward, Oswald.
What does Goneril complain to Oswald about? Lear and his followers.
When does Act 1 Scene 3 take place? After a short period of time has elapsed.
Where is Lear staying in Act 1 Scene 3? With Goneril.
How does Goneril claim Lear has been acting? Erratically, setting everyone at odds.
What is Goneril determined to do about Lear’s behaviour? Put a stop to it. She claims ‘I’ll not endure it!… I will not speak to him’.
What does Goneril tell Oswald to do when he hears Lear arriving back from hunting? To put on a ‘weary negligence’ and tell the other servants to follow suit.
What does Goneril want to provoke? A clash with her father.
Why does Goneril leave? To write a letter to Regan, presumably to recount Lear’s ‘gross’ crimes.
How seriously should we take Goneril’s complaints of Lear’s knights? Depends partly on how a director choses to present the knights. It is possible that they’re a rabble and Goneril is justified in her irritation. But, because we know that Goneril and Regan have been scheming (via letters), the complaints look suspiciously empty.
What is it also worth considering when judging Goneril’s anger? The duties of the host. As Lear’s host, Goneril has a duty to protect her father and behave graciously. Instead she prepares to subvert his authority.
What is Goneril’s tone like throughout this scene? Assertive and uncompromising; she insists that she is the wronged part, suggesting the balance of power is shifting from Lear to his daughters.
What happens between Goneril and Regan in Act 1 Scene 4? They clash, and Lear leaves to go and stay with Regan.
Who does Lear find upon returning from hunting? Caius (Kent in disguise), a serving man who seeks employment.
How does Lear react to finding Caius? He agrees to take him on if he likes him ‘no worse after dinner’.
What happens as Lear calls for dinner and his fool? Oswald wanders in and out, following Goneril’s instructions with admirable precision.
How does Lear react to Oswald? He is enraged, and commands one of his knights to bring the insolent wretch back.
What is discussed? The ‘great abatement of kindness’ shown to the King.
What do Lear and his followers start to notice? That Goneril’s servants have started to treat them unkindly.
What does Lear do about this new realisation? He decides to ‘look further into’t’ and asks again for his fool.
What do we learn about the Fool? That he has been pining away since Cordelia went to France.
What shows that Lear cannot bear to hear his daughter’s name? He snaps, demanding ‘No more of that’.
How does Lear react when Oswald returns (of his own accord)? He rages at him, ‘who am I sir’.
How does Oswald react to Lear’s rage? He replies insolently ‘My lady’s father’.
How does Lear react to Oswald’s insolence? He curses and strikes him.
How does Kent (as Caius) get involved with the dispute? He trips the ‘clotpoll’ up, earning the King’s praise.
Who then appears? The Fool. He offers Kent his coxcomb (his cap) ‘for taking ones part thats out of favour’. Coxcombs are signs of foolishness.
What does the Fool harp on? Lear’s folly in riddles and songs. A lot of his lines refer directly to property, the implication being that without property, Lear is helpless. He also suggests that Lear has threatened the natural order.
CONTEXT: What was significant about the Fool’s address of the audience in Shakespeare’s playhouse? In Shakespeare’s playhouse, the Fool would have addressed the audience from the downstage area. This would have encouraged the audience to identify with his point of view.
What does Lear threaten to do to the Fool? Have him whipped.
What does Goneril do upon entering the scene? She comes in frowning, and launches her own attack on Lear.
What does Goneril accuse Lear of? Encouraging quarrelsome behaviour in his knights and suggests that a remedy must be sought. Lear is incredulous. Goneril continues her verbal assault, complaining of the knight’s degeneracy.
How does Lear react to Goneril’s accusations? He tries to dismiss these insults but his eldest daughter remains firm: if Lear doesn’t cut down his train, she will. He calls his train together to leave.
What does Lear claim he still has after cursing Goneril? One ‘kind and comfortable’ daughter left to go to, Regan.
Who enters now, whom Lear hopelessly appeals to? Albany.
How does Albany react to Lear’s pleas? He’s puzzled by Lear’s passion and distress.
Who does Lear call on for help? On his knees, ‘Nature’.
What does Lear wish upon Goneril? That she will either be sterile or give birth to a thankless child who will torment her. (From line 274)- ‘Into her womb convey sterility! Dry up her organs of increase’ etc.
What is the reaction to Lear’s curse? Lear rushes out. Albany is shocked. Goneril is unperturbed.
What does Lear discover when he returns briefly? Fifty of his followers have already been dismissed (there is an inconsistency in the text here, there are further references to his 100 knights later in the text).
What does Lear threaten? To take back the power that he has given away. He refuses to weep and insists that Regan will help him.
What does Goneril do once Lear has left? She continues to complain about Lear’s followers and how her father ‘holds our lives at mercy’ all the time he retains them.
What does Albany do once Lear has left? He’s uneasy but does not assert himself. He says that they should wait to see what happens.
Where does Goneril send Oswald? To Regan, with a letter, presumably describing the course she has taken, asking for her sisters support.
Why is this a difficult scene for Lear? He finds his expectations and beliefs thwarted at every turn. He is challenged directly by Goneril, and his dependent state is revealed when Oswald tells him that he is now simply his mistress’ father, not a royal monarch who must be obeyed.
What further suggests Lear’s powerlessness? The Fool’s scathing jests. The fact that he continues to take verbal swipes at Lear after he has threatened him with whipping reinforces the idea that Lear is no longer in control. As does his frantic to-ing and fro-ing at the end of the scene.
What does Lear begin to question at the end of the scene? His identity, he asks ‘Who is there that can tell me who I am?’. His use of ‘I’ is at odds with the royal ‘we’ he invokes in his earlier question ‘Are you our daughter?’. Lear thinks- or hopes- that he is joking when he asks these questions, but the audience will recognise that these are serious concerns. LEAR IS NO LONGER OMNIPOTENT. Even servants disobey him now.
What do Lear’s questions also reveal? Lear’s blindness, although there is an indication that he realises he has behaved unwisely when he says ‘Woe that too late repents’ and calls out in anguish ‘O Lear, Lear, Lear!/ Beat at this gate that let thy folly in/ And thy dear judgement out!’.
CONTEXT: What convention was frequently used in Jacobean drama? The theatrical convention of impenetrable disguise. Audience accepted that characters would not recognise someone in disguise. A lot of this in Shakespeare’s plays, e.g. In “Measure for Measure” Duke pretends to be a friar so he can spy on people. In King Lear, Edgar and Kent are forced to conceal their identities to preserve their lives.
Why is the dismissal of Lear’s knights significant? His followers are a symbol of Lear’s might and importance, but they also represent real fighting power. With only the support of a few old men, he will not be able to assert himself or regain control of the kingdom. His threats and curses seem increasingly empty as the scene goes on.
What part of Lear’s speech hints at the madness to come? It becomes increasingly disjointed as he becomes more distressed.
What suggests that Goneril and Albany will clash later in the play? Their different responses to Lear.
Who is more assertive within their marriage at this point? Goneril.
What suggests that Goneril’s evil will go unchecked for some time? Albany’s feeble protestations seem inadequate.
What is paralleled with Goneril and Edmund within the main plot and the subplot? Goneril has assumed control in the same ruthless way that Edmund deals with his father and brother in the subplot.
What does Lear do in Act 1 Scene 5? He sends a letter to Regan, announcing his arrival.
What does Lear fear in Act 1 Scene 5? That he is going mad.
What is Kent (Caius) not to do? Tell Regan anything that happened in the previous scene. Presumably, Lear wants to offer his own account of Goneril’s heartless disobedience.
What does the Fool continue to do? Make barbed comments about Lear’s predicament.
Who does Lear claim to have wronged? Cordelia.
What does Lear fear is driving him mad? Goneril’s ingratitude.
What does Lear wonder if he can do? Reclaim the throne by violent means.
What does Act 1 Scene 5 suggest? What is this reflected by? Lear’s growing isolation and increasingly fragile mental state. It’s reflected by the fact that it takes place outside.
How do we know that Lear is disturbed? He is so disturbed that he hardly engages with the Fool?
What does the Fool taunt, reflecting Lear’s descent into madness? ‘If a man’s brains were in’s heels, were’t not in danger of kibes?’ ‘thy wit shall not go slipshod’…Essentially meaning Lear will not need slippers for chilblains because you have no brains.
What increases Lear’s sense of isolation? His recognition that he has mistreated Cordelia.
What is suspected by the audience at this point? That Regan will receive him coldly.
What does this mean for Lear? That soon he will have no one to turn to, he will be isolated by all of his daughters.
What could be a sign of anxiety for Lear about the reception he will receive from Regan? The fact that he doesn’t mention the events of Act 1 Scene 4 in his letter.
What truths is Lear still blind to? His faults as a father (in his view, his troubles are created by a troublesome offspring); the fact that he has little chance of reclaiming the throne now.
What offers a moment of relief after the tension and violent emotions of the previous scene? The Fool’s vulgar rhyming couplet at the end of Act 1 Scene 5. ‘She that’s a maid now, and laughs at my departure/ Shall not be a maid long, unless things be cut shorter’- The virgin who does not understand the seriousness of a situation will be too simple to preserve her chastity, a coarse reference to cutting short the penis, so prolonging the girls virginity.
CONTEXT: What did Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists often employ minor characters to do? Reveal important information or ideas. The Fool fits into this tradition because he offers a commentary on significant events whenever he is on stage.
What is clear to the audience by the end of the first Act? Lear’s suffering has started in earnest.
What are the THREE main events of Act 2 Scene 1? 1. Edmund persuades Edgar to flee. 2. Gloucester issues orders to have Edgar hunted down. 3. Regan and Cornwall arrive at Gloucester’s castle.
Who is Curan? A courtier.
Where does Act 2 Scene 1 take place? The Great Hall of Gloucester’s castle.
What does Curan inform Edmund? That Regan and Cornwall are expected soon.
What is there gossip over? The ‘likely wars’ between Cornwall and Albany, suggesting further strife between brothers.
What does Edmund use to his advantage? How? The arrival of Cornwall and Regan. He calls Edgar down from his hiding place and tells him he must escape at once. He asks Edgar whether he has spoken against Cornwall, implying that Cornwall and Regan are as enraged against him as Gloucester.
How does Edgar react to Edmund’s (false) news? He is alarmed and denies abusing Cornwall. He is drawn into a mock fight with Edmund and then flees.
What does Edmund do in order to further incriminate Edgar? He deliberately wounds himself and cries out for help. Gloucester rushes in and sends his servants to pursue Edgar.
What kind of picture does Edmund paint of his brother? A very black one. He says that Edgar tried to involve him in a plan to murder Gloucester. He pretends his wound was caused by Edgar.
How is Gloucester fooled? He is horrified by the idea of a son who appears to have broken all the natural bonds between father and child.
What does Gloucester say will happen to Edgar? He will be caught no matter how far he goes. When he is caught he will be executed. Anyone who helps Edgar will also die.
What does Edmund report to his father? A conversation he allegedly had with Edgar. He claims that he mocked his bastardy; who would take the word of the illegitimate child against the legitimate one?
INTERPRETATIONS: What did a unique portrayal of Edmund at the National Theatre represent? Edmund was portrayed as a malcontent scientist- interested in optics and technology- as a symbol for the generation gap between him and superstitious father Gloucester.
What does Gloucester praise Edmund about (after the trumpets have announced the arrival of Cornwall and Regan)? That he is a ‘loyal and natural boy’ and he will disinherit Edgar.
What have Cornwall and Regan already been told? The ‘strange news’ of Edgar’s treachery.
What does Regan wonder about Edgar? About whether he was egged on to thoughts of patricide by Lear’s riotous knights.
What has Regan received, leading her to believe this? Goneril’s letters, which give details of the knights unruly behaviour.
What, like Goneril, does Regan have no intention of doing? Giving them house room (this is the real reason she and Cornwall have come to visit Gloucester).
What does Cornwall praise Edmund for? Showing his father ‘a child-like office’.
Who does Edmund promise to serve? Cornwall.
What begins to gain ground in this scene? The evil characters.
What shows plot and subplot becoming intertwined? Edmund’s plans prosper and he now aligns himself with Cornwall and Regan.
What helps Edmund? Why? His quick wit. He is able to respond to events, as well as control them. His lines to Edgar at the start of the scene are full of short, sharp statements and questions, suggesting his command of circumstances.
What goal does Edmund achieve? The one he set himself in Act 1 Scene 2, with terrifying ease, indicating how effortlessly evil begins to run riot in the kingdom.
CONTEXT: What is Machiavellian and why could this be used to describe Edmund? Shakespeare’s contemporaries misunderstood the works of the influential Florentine writer, Niccolo Machiavelli. They believed that Machiavelli proposed that rulers should behave in immoral and corrupt ways. Edmund’s Machiavellian, immoral practices include his deception, betrayal and sexual misconduct.
Whose lead does Gloucester follow entirely? Edmund’s, as he appears to be overwhelmed.
What shows that, like Lear, Gloucester is vulnerable? In his speech to Regan: ‘my old heart is cracked, it’s cracked’.
What distresses both patriarchs Lear and Gloucester? Thoughts of filial ingratitude.
How is Gloucester also isolated in this scene, Act 2 Scene 1? As the evil characters draw closer together, he has little to say. Cornwall and Regan are as smooth and assured as Edmund. Both assume a commanding tone. Regan’s comforting and affectionate words to Gloucester are perhaps surprising.
Why does Shakespeare conceal Regan’s true nature partially concealed? For maximum dramatic impact in Act 2 Scene 4.
Why are we likely to distrust Regan? She and Goneril share the same low opinion of Lear’s followers, and Regan has deliberately chosen to thwart her father’s plans by coming to visit Gloucester. Essentially, she’s denying her father shelter.
What is the general reaction of the audience when Edmund offers his services to Cornwall? Alarm; what is the bastard son hoping to gain now?
What are the TWO main events of Act 2 Scene 2? 1. Kent (as Caius) quarrels with Oswald and challenges him to a fight. 2. He is punished by Cornwall, who puts him in the stocks.
Who are the two messengers in this scene? Where do they meet? Kent (Caius) and Oswald. Outside Gloucester’s castle.
What does Kent (Caius) accuse Oswald of? Being a conceited coward (amongst other things).
How does Oswald react to Kent’s accusations? He is perplexed. He fails to recognise his adversary as Kent.
How does Oswald react when Kent challenges him to a fight? He reveals his true colours, backing away and yelling for help.
Who does Oswald’s cry bring running? Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, Edmund and the other servants.
How does the fight unfold? Edmund tries to part the combatants, but Kent is keen to give Oswald a beating. Cornwall stops the fight.
How does Kent respond when asked why he dislikes Oswald so much? He claims his face offends him. Unable to hold his tongue, he goes on to insult Cornwall.
What happens to Kent as punishment for his plain speaking? He’s sent to the stocks.
How does Kent (Caius) protest his punishment? He claims he’s there on the king’s business and should not be treated in this degrading fashion.
How does Cornwall react to Kent’s protesting? He ignores him and says that he’ll be left there until noon.
What does this show? That Lear is losing power fast, his name commands no authority any more.
What does Regan want to happen to Kent? That he be left in the stocks all night.
What happens when Gloucester tries to plead for Kent? Cornwall sweeps his protestations aside.
What does Gloucester stay behind to say to Kent? He stays behind to offer his condolences. He tries to excuse Cornwall.
What does Kent do once he’s left in the stocks? He’s stoical and says he’ll ‘sleep out’ his time in the stocks.
What does Kent (Caius) reveal when alone on stage? That he has a letter from Cordelia. She intends to put right all the wrongs that have been done to Lear since she was banished.
What do the audience enjoy in this scene? Why? Kent’s long list of imaginative and lively insults. Oswald is a worthy object of scorn and the quarrel at the start of the scene provides a moment of relief.
What serious point lies behind Kent’s insults? The dangers of a bad servant. It is possible to argue that Lear is full of bad servants, who subvert the audience that they should be serving faithfully. He also makes a serious point when he says that he does not like the faces that he sees before him; unlike Lear, he is not fooled by appearances and recognises Regan, Cornwall and Oswald for what they truly are.
What does Kent voice when he insults Cornwall? The concern of the audience.
What does Kent receive for his honesty? What does this mirror? He is punished for his goodness and honesty, as Cordelia and Edgar have been punished, in spite of their virtues.
Why else is the punishment of Kent significant? We see that Cornwall is arrogant, Regan vindictive. It becomes clear that husband and wife operate effectively as a team and enjoy their cruelty, hinting at the horrors to come in Act 3 Scene 7.
What is clear in this scene? That power is in new hands. Gloucester is ineffectual in this scene, and Lear’s representative Kent (Caius) is treated with scorn.
What is pushed aside in this scene? The old patriarchs, as Cornwall and Regan exert their authority.
What offers the audience some hope that the progress of the evil characters will be checked? The hint that Cordelia may return.
What is the significance of the ‘halcyon’? It was a kingfisher. People believed that if you hung a kingfisher up it would twist so that it’d beak was turned into the wind. The implication here is that fawning, false servants like Oswald will turn their thoughts and deeds to suit their masters.
What is the main event of Act 2 Scene 3? Edgar disguises himself as Poor Tom, the mad beggar.
Where does the scene take place? Out in the countryside.
What is happening to Edgar in Act 2 Scene 3? He is alone. Having heard himself proclaimed a criminal, he has concealed himself in a tree.
What is Edgar’s position like at this point? He’s desperate. He cannot attempt to flee England as all the ports (seaports and town gates) are watched, and his father’s men roam the countryside hunting him down.
What does Edgar do to preserve his life? He decides to disguise himself as a ‘Bedlam beggar’.
How does Edgar describe his disguise? Knot his hair, cover himself in dirt and wear only a blanket for protection.
What is there no doubt of for the audience? The difficulties Edgar will face.
What does his choice of disguise show? By deciding to be a social outcast, it reveals his desperation and the danger he’s in?
CONTEXT:What’s the significance of ‘Bedlam’? In Shakespeare’s day, ‘Bedlam’ (Bethlehem) hospital housed the mentally ill. When they were released, inmates were allowed to go begging for survival; this is what Edgar had been reduced to by his brother and father.
What do we see, as with the previous scene, within this scene? How goodness is pushed aside, degraded and punished.
How does Edgar’s situation mirror Lear’s? Edgar is now reliant on charity, his world and expectations turned upside down.
What do we get a glimpse into with Edgar, the Bedlam beggar? What Lear will be reduced to.
What contrast could not be more stark here? The contrast between life as a absolute monarch and the powerless existence described here.
What does Edgar’s assumed madness point towards? Lear’s madness in Act 3.
What are the FOUR main events of Act 2 Scene 4? 1. Kent is found in the stocks by Lear. 2. Lear tries to complain to Regan about Goneril. 3. The sisters reduce his train. 4. Angry and distressed, Lear rushes out into the storm.
What is Lear wondering when he arrives at Gloucester’s castle? Why Regan and Cornwall have not sent Caius (Kent) back with a message explaining their movements.
How does Lear react to seeing Kent in the stocks? He’s upset.
The Fool mocks Kent whilst Lear does what? Refuses to believe that Cornwall and Regan are responsible for his servant’s ‘shame’.
What do we learn after Kent has recounted his version of events? That Cornwall and Regan left home immediately on receipt of Goneril’s letter
What does the pithy line from the Fool following Kent’s narration suggest? The image of wild geese and winter suggests that there is worse to come.
What does Lear pay no heed to? The Fool as he continues to riddle about fathers and children.
What is Lear more concerned with? His own mental state. He fears he’s becoming hysterical with sorrow.
What does Lear demand? To know where Regan is. He decides to look for her himself.
What happens when Lear leaves the stage? Kent asks the Fool why Lear has come with so few followers.
How does the Fool respond to Kent’s question? He doesn’t give a direct answer, but gives some advice instead: don’t follow a master whose power is waning.
Does the Fool follow his own advice? For all his wisdom, no. He says that he is ‘no knave’ and will stay loyal to Lear.
CONTEXT: What place did the Fool have in Shakespeare’s time? Rich householders and European rulers had employed “all licensed” fools as entertainers for many generations. Fools wore distinctive dress- motley and a coxcomb- and were multi talented individuals; they sang, danced, and performed acrobatics and told witty jokes and riddles. There were female as well as male fools.
Who does Lear return with? What kind of temperament does he have? Gloucester, Lear is angry and incredulous.
Why do Regan and Cornwall claim they cannot speak with Lear? They are sick and weary.
How does Lear respond to this? He thinks they’re tricking him. He packs Gloucester off to get a better answer.
Who does Gloucester defend? Cornwall, he tries to thwart Lear by excusing Cornwall’s behaviour.
How does Lear react to Gloucester? He is enraged. However, he then accepts that his son-in-law might not be well and decides to be patient.
Does this mood last long? No. Lear reverts to his opinion that Cornwall and Regan are deceiving him.
What does Lear do when he senses himself becoming hysterical once more? He tries to control himself.
What TWO examples of idiotic kindness does the Fool offer? 1. A cook tries to make an eel pie without killing the eels first because she cannot bear to harm them. 2. Her brother puts butter on his horses hay to improve the taste.
What do the Fool’s disturbing little tales of misguided kindness also operate as? A choric introduction to the ‘cruel kindness’ Goneril and Regan display later in Act 2 Scene 4
Who arrives to the scene? Cornwall and Regan. Kent is freed.
How does Lear react to this? He hopes Regan is glad to see him. He is so troubled by this point that he can hardly speak ending his first speech with a pitiful plea ‘O Regan!’
How does Regan respond to Lear? She adopts the same sharp tone that Goneril used so effectively in Act 1 Scene 4.
What does Regan tell her father? That he should accept his age and failing powers of judgement and be left by other. Her advice is to return to Goneril and and beg her pardon.
How does Lear react to Regan’s advice? He is astonished. He goes down to his knees and, in what he thinks is a satirical speech, offers a portrait of himself as a weak old man begging for clothing and shelter.
What does Regan show little patience for? Lear’s ‘unsightly tricks’, so she repeats her previous instructions.
What does Lear continue to complain about? His eldest daughter, Goneril.
What does Regan snap back, in an accusatory way? He will curse her too ‘when the rash mood is on’.
How does Lear deny this accusation? He claims Regan is a more natural child.
Do Lear’s flattering words work? No. So he shifts his attention back to Kent and asks who put him in the stocks.
Who arrives next? Goneril.
What effect does Goneril’s arrival have on Lear? He is disconcerted, and continues to ask how Kent came to be in the stocks.
What does Cornwall smoothly admit to? Being responsible for Kent’s (Caius) punishment.
What happens to Regan’s tone? It becomes harsher; again she tells Lear to go back to Gonerilm and to dismiss half his train.
Does Lear agree? No, he stubbornly refuses.
Is Goneril concerned? No.
What does Lear fear? That he’s losing his wits, so he curses Goneril, whom he still blames.
What does Lear insist? That he can stay with Regan and keep his knights.
How does Regan contradict this? She suggests a further reduction in his train.
What does bewildered Lear try to remind his daughters? That he gave them everything.
How do Goneril and Regan react? They’re unimpressed. They eventually argue Lear out of all his knights.
How does Lear react to this? He’s agonised, and finally bursts out ‘O, reason not the need!’. He refuses to accept his daughters’ way of looking at the world. Man’s needs cannot be measured as Goneril and Regan insist on doing.
What does Lear threaten his daughters? That he will be revenged on them.
What does Lear do as the Storm starts? He angrily refuses to weep but then cries out in terror, ‘O Fool, I shall go mad!’.
How do the sisters justify letting Lear leave? The ‘house’ is too small to accommodate his followers.
What news does Gloucester bring? He follows Lear out and returns with the news that the King is ‘in high rage’.
How does Gloucester show his concern for Lear’s wellbeing? He tells us that the country he has gone out into is desolate, affording little protection from the elements. Clearly, he wants to have his guests call Lear back.
What do Gloucester’s guests insist? That Lear should be left to suffer the consequences of his actions.
What does Regan instruct Gloucester? To lock the doors, still maintaining that the King’s followers are dangerous. Lear is left outside in the storm.
What does Lear find insurmountable in this scene? The number of difficulties he is faced with.
What creates a sense of anxiety for the audience in this scene? Watching Lear’s power and self-possession be stripped away.
What points towards the dark outcome? What is this outcome? A number of events and speeches towards the beginning of the scene, resulting in Lear being rejected by his eldest daughters.
What is the effect of Kent being in the stocks on King Lear? It unnerves him. It is proof that he continues to be treated with contempt, a point reinforced by Cornwall and Regan’s refusal to speak with him.
What is interesting about Lear seeking out Regan himself? He doesn’t send a servant to fetch her. He is now reduced to conveying his own requests. This powerlessness is emphasised again when his requests for information are ignored; he asks many times how Kent came to be in the stocks before receiving an answer.
What does the pattern of entrances and exits early in the scene mirror? The close of Act 1 Scene 4, and hints at the chaos to come in Act 3.
What indicates Lear’s increasing mental instability? His changes of mood and tone.
What does the perfunctory and frosty greeting between Lear, Cornwall and Regan suggest? That Lear is foolish to pin his hopes on his second daughter’s kindness. His belief that Regan would never ‘oppose the bolt/ Against my coming in’ is chillingly ironic.
What does Goneril’s entrance prove to be for the beleaguered King? The turning point.
What does Goneril’s lack of concern about whether or not Lear returns prove? That the sisters are oblivious to their father’s agitation and suffering.
When do Goneril and Regan show they’re extremely firm and authoritative? When they’re ‘measuring out’ Lear’s knights for him.
What are we reminded of with this? The dangers of measuring love in words and numbers. Lear’s insistence that he will stay with the daughter who allows him to retain the greatest number of followers is as blind and foolish as his ‘love-test’ in Act 1 Scene 1.
What can Lear not see? That neither of his daughters care for him.
What is impotent about Lear? His curses and threats of revenge, as his bargaining is desperate.
What do the tone of the speeches that follow Lear’s exit tell? Goneril, Regan and Cornwall are unmoved by Lear’s agonised final speech; their cool control contrasts starkly with his wild passion. There is a cruel desire to inflict punishment on ‘the old man’.
What is recognised at this point by the audience? The hypocrisy of Regan’s fears about Lear’s knights.
What has been proved in this scene, Act 2 Scene 4? That Goneril and Regan are expert manipulators, ready to use any excuse to justify their own actions.
What do we know when the storm starts? That Goneril and Regan have ‘won’. Lear’s feat that he will go mad, first voiced in Act 1 Scene 4, has been realised.
CONTEXT: What was Renaissance medical theory based on? Theories that were arrived at during the Middle Ages. Shakespeare’s contemporaries believed in the imbalance of the four humours; Lear is a choleric man (short tempered and rash), which might be considered one of the causes of his madness.
What is ‘Hysteria passio’? A kind of hysteria, which made the afflicted person feel as if they were being suffocated, starting in the womb (‘mother’), and then moving up into the heart and throat, hence the idea of ‘climbing sorrow’.
CONTEXT/CRITIC: What is the significance of Shakespeare’s use of ‘Hysteria passio’? It has been seen by some critics as part of a network of gendered characteristics in the play- father-daughter bonds, the absent Mrs Lear, Lear’s own misogyny- in which the feminine is routinely suppressed or denigrated. (See essays by McCluskie and Kahn in Kiernan Ryan’s “New Casebook” (1993) on the play.
What is the main event in Act 3 Scene 1? Out on the heath, Kent and the Gentleman search for Lear.
What do we learn about Lear when Kent asks the gentleman where the King’s gone? That he is out on the heath, raging against the elements.
Who is Lear’s only companion out on the heath? The Fool, and he is trying to distract his master with jokes.
What vivid picture does the Gentleman paint of Lear? Tearing his hair, running about unprotected, calling out for the destruction of the world.
What does Kent (Caius) speak of? The recent ‘division’ between Albany and Cornwall. He goes on to explain that France is preparing to invade England, having already sent some of his army across secretly.
What does Kent give the Gentleman? A ring, and asks him to deliver it to Cordelia, who has landed with the French forces at Dover.
How do they end the scene? They continue to search for Lear.
What is the effect of Act 3 being split into swift, short scenes? It allows the audience to see Lear’s dramatic descent into madness.
What do we also learn in Act 3? What happens to Lear’s mirror image, Gloucester. There is a spiralling downwards for both characters culminating in a scene of appalling violence against Gloucester.
What kind of figures are Lear and Gloucester in Act 3? Both heroic and tragic.
What do the Gentleman’s depictions of Lear prepare the audience for in the next scene? The sight of the lunatic King. And it establishes the violence of the storm.
What kind of chaos does Kent provide information of? A clash between the English and French forces.
What does the character’s anxiety about Lear reflect? How the audience probably feels at this point in the play.
What is a ‘cub-drawn bear’? A bear, who is hungry because she has fed her cubs. Ironic sense of natural parental selflessness contrasted with the father-child bonds we see in the play.
What are the TWO main events in Act 3 Scene 2? 1. Increasingly mad, Lear rants into the storm. 2. The Fool and Kent try to soothe him.
What does Lear rant at the elements during the storm? That he hopes the tempest will obliterate the world. He wants to see the ‘ingrateful man’ destroyed.
What does Lear ignore? The Fool’s plead to return to Gloucester’s castle to ask Goneril and Regan for shelter.
What does Lear become preoccupied with? The thoughts of his daughters’ ingratitude.
What heart rendering self assessment does Lear give at the beginning of the scene? ‘here I stand, your slave,/ A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.’
What does Lear, becoming increasingly deranged, accuse the storm of? Being in league with Goneril and Regan.
What does the Fool sing and offer an epigram (a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way) of? Female vanity and the dangers of promiscuity.
CONTEXT: How was the sound of thunder created on the Renaissance stage? In one of two ways: either by rolling a bullet on a sheet of metal, or by beating a drum.
How does Lear react to the Fool’s jibes? He doesn’t engage, willing himself to stay calm and patient, selected in the line ‘I will say nothing’. Links back to the idea that ‘Nothing will come of nothing’ at the beginning of the play.
What is Kent’s feeling when he catches up with his master? He’s concerned by what he sees. His lines are suitably gloomy; he says that this storm is so hostile man is unlikely to be able to endure it.
How does Lear react to this? Does he recognise Kent? He fails to recognise Kent and carries on speaking about what he hopes the storm will uncover.
What does Lear say about sinners? That sinners of various kinds should tremble because the Gods will find out their crimes. Perhaps he mistakes Kent for one of these sinners, as he exclaims ‘Tremble, thou wretch’.
What does Lear conclude about himself and sinning? That he is ‘a man/ More sinned against than sinning’.
CONTEXT: What was there a tradition of in Medieval Literature? Moral criticism of the rich for their callous treatment of the poor. Lear’s criticism of the justice system fits into this tradition. During the same period that King Lear was written, Shakespeare also wrote Measure for Measure, which questions many ideas about authority and justice.
What does Kent spy nearby? A hovel, where he tries to persuade Lear to take shelter.
What does Kent intend to do? To return to Gloucester’s castle and beg Goneril and Regan to take their father in.
What side of Lear’s character is revealed? His empathetic side, when he expresses concern for the Fool and identifies with his suffering. He now recognises how precious such things as shelter are.
Where does Lear ask Kent to lead him to? The hovel.
What does the Fool do when left alone on stage? He makes predictions about Albion’s (Britain’s) future. Like his master, he speaks of the sinners of his own age; dishonest brewers, cutpurses, users, pimps and prostitutes. He then seems to describe a utopia where evil will cease to exist. When criminals turn virtuous- ‘that going shall be used with feet’ (AKA, things will be as they should).
What does Lear’s speech establish and reflect? The properties of the storm. They are full of anger and distress, as the mad king moves swiftly from one topic to another.
What does the violence of the imagery Lear employs reflect? The state of his mind.
What represents Lear’s isolation? His lack of interaction with others on stage, which also indicates that he is now engaged in an internal struggle; he is battling to preserve his wits.
What does the storm serve as a metaphor for? Lear- and England’s plight (a dangerous, difficult, or otherwise unfortunate situation).
What is introduced in this scene, Act 3 Scene 2, and maintained until the end of the play? Lear’s obsession with justice and criminal behaviour.
What has Lear started to consider, that he took little care of as ruler? Different issues, indicating his journey towards a greater understanding of himself and the world around him. His ignorance has led to being able to see clearer.
What are the two ways of interpreting the Fool’s prophecy? 1. He is suggesting- optimistically- that virtue will triumph in England. 2. Optimism about the future is misplace; even in these terrible days men use their feet for walking.
What does the Fool, again, provide for the audience? A moment of relief, a pause in the action where the audience can gather their thoughts.
What is ‘cataracts’? A heavy rainstorm.
What are the TWO main events of Act 3 Scene 3? 1. Gloucester tells Edmund he intends to help Lear. 2. Edmund decides to betray his father to Cornwall.
What does Gloucester fret about, creating a tense mood? The ‘unnatural dealing’ of Cornwall, Regan and Goneril, who have warned him against helping Lear.
What does Gloucester tell Edmund, (falsely) believing that Edmund shares his concern? That Albany and Cornwall are set to clash and that France has begun his invasion to restore Lear.
What does Gloucester propose to Edmund? That they should assist Lear. He decides Edmund should act as decoy, while he goes out to find the King.
What does Edmund do once Gloucester leaves? He announces his intention to betray his father to Gloucester.
CONTEXT: What does Edmund’s final couplet in the scene stress? Inter-generational rivalry as a key motivator of the play: much as in early modern England where the older generation held power and authority over the young.
What does Edmund have his sights set on at this point in the play? His father’s title.
What befits Edmund’s ruthless nature? His decision to betray his father without a moments hesitation.
How does Gloucester contrast Edmund? Gloucester has prevaricated (speak or act in an evasive way) and shows here that he is anxious about his decision to support Lear.
What does Gloucester’s feverish fretting mirror? The alarm the audience will feel at the end of this scene; we know that Gloucester is in great danger now.
What triumphs in this scene? Evil, as good intentions continue to be thwarted.
How does Gloucester’s earnest desire to help Lear appear as? As hopeless and doomed as Kent and the Fool’s concern in the previous scene.
What are the TWO main events of Act 3 Scene 4? 1. Lear continues to rant on the heath. 2. Poor Tom is found in a hovel.
Who reaches the hovel? Lear, Kent and the Fool.
What does Lear do when Kent suggests finding shelter there? He shows reluctance. He explains that the storm does not effect him because he’s suffering inner torment. He explains how man only feels bodily complaints when the mind is ‘free’ (not troubled by worries).
What does Lear explicitly link the storm to? His mental state.
What theme does Lear return to that torments him? Filial ingratitude. The sense that it is common to find sons and daughters who show much ingratitude and cruelty towards their parents….What made this play a tragedy was the evil children’s “filial ingratitude,” for the “blindness” of Lear and Gloucester was so great that only through suffering from the “monster ingratitude” of Goneril, Regan, and Edmund did they learn to distinguish the good children from the evil ones. It was “filial ingratitude” which opened Lear’s eyes to the “painful truth”: he had disinherited his good daughter and had given power to his evil daughters.
How does Lear maintain his daughter’s cruelty but show a sense of resignation? ‘Pour on; I will endure’.
How does Lear respond when Kent, again, urges him to enter the hovel? He tells him to take shelter himself first. He seeks isolation and wants to stay out in the storm to pray.
What fate does Lear consider in the prayer? The fate of the homeless.
Why does the Fool rush out of the hovel? He’s scared of the creature he’s found there.
How does Kent tempt it out? He kindly takes his hand and calls the ‘spirit’ out.
Who is the creature? Edgar as Poor Tom.
How does Lear react to seeing Edgar as Poor Tom? He becomes even more demented.
What does Lear recognise within Tom? Himself. He’s convinced that cruel daughters must have reduced this pitiful specimen to beggary.
How does Poor Tom describe his miserable life? He says he was hounded by the ‘foul fiend’
CONTEXT: What is significant about Edgar’s tales of the ‘foul fiend’ biting his back? It reflects renaissance religious beliefs. People believed in the devil as a palpable presence, who walked abroad, trying to tempt them into doing evil. The devil was also held responsible for ailments in people and plants.
What provides a much needed moment of relief within the scene? The Fool jokes about Edgar’s clothing.
When does the scene become more disturbing? Lear asks Poor Tom to recount his history.
What image of himself does Edgar construct? A degenerate servant. It contains references to lechery and the dangers of female sexuality, a theme Lear dwells on in Act 4 Scene 6.
What effect does Poor Tom’s presence have on Lear? A profound one. He begins to empathic with the dispossessed an believes that he sees humanity in its essence when he looks at Tom.
What does Lear decide? That man is really ‘a poor, bare, forked animal’; he wants to know what it means to have nothing, to be nothing.
What does Lear begin to do in his admiration for Tom? Undress. Lear wants to remove all of the superficial trappings that stand between him and the ‘Unaccommodated man’.
How do Kent and the Fool react? They’re alarmed, and try to dissuade Lear from stripping.
Who appears during the confusion? Gloucester. This is the first time Edgar has set eyes on his father.
What shows that, perhaps, Edgar fears detection by his father? He seems to behave in a more exaggerated way, chanting and ranting. He sings a song about a female demon who suffocates her victims.
What does Kent do as Edgar chants? He vainly tries to obtain a response from Lear, who fails to recognise Gloucester.
What is the effect of the darkness on the characters? It appears to make them nervous.
What questions do the characters ask? Kent wants to know who Gloucester is and why he has come. Gloucester asks anxiously about the inhabitants of the hovel.
How does Edgar respond to these questions? He launches into an account of seven terrible years as a mad beggar.
What causes Gloucester dismay? To see the King in such poor company.
What does Tom complain of? How does Gloucester react? Tom complains piteously of the cold, but Gloucester ignores him, urging Lear to go with him to a safe place.
How does Lear react to Gloucester? He continues to be concerned with Poor Tom, believing he is a wise Greek philosopher who can teach him.
What does Kent do? He sides with Gloucester, and pleads with the King to go, but Lear is beyond their help now.
CONTEXT: What is (the significance) of the ‘flibberdigibbet’? It’s the name of a dancing devil. The names of many of the devils that appear in Act 3, and some of the other language that Edgar uses as Poor Tom, are probably taken from a book, A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures by Samuel Harsnet’ which appears in 1603. In this book Harsnet, who was the chamberlain of the Bishop of London, wrote scathingly about fraudulent exorcisms carried out by Catholic priests. Edgar’s language as Poor Tom reflects the language used by the victims of these exorcisms.
What does Gloucester tell Kent when Kent urges him to leave? That Goneril and Regan seek Lear’s death. He also speaks of his own suffering; thoughts of his sons betrayal have sent him half mad with grief.
What does Lear add when Gloucester tells Tom to go into the hovel? ‘Come, let’s in all’. He jealously guards the beggar when Kent tries to part them.
How does the scene end? Kent finally accepts Tom and the characters enter the hovel.
What are the key senses within this scene? Isolation and suffering.
What oppresses each character within this scene? Their own concerns. Kent is agitated because Lear suffers, the Fool shivers in the storm. Both are helpless bystanders. Like Lear, Gloucester is preoccupied with thoughts of filial ingratitude. Edgar’s breathless craziness reflects his own suffering as an outcast and heightens our sense of the King’s suffering- his speeches are erratic in a way that the King’s are not, full of terrifying descriptions of physical and mental violence.
What does Lear undergo through his interaction with Poor Tom? A terrible kind of purging.
What does Lear also display in this scene? The stoicism of a tragic hero, although his patience seems hard-won. His concern for Kent, the Fool and Tom suggests he is learning compassion, reflected in is lines about the fate of the homeless: ‘O, I have taken/ Too little care of this’.
What increases our sense of pity for Lear? The fact that he learns to pity others. We also realise that Lear has recognised the need to look beyond appearances when he tries to remove his clothing.
What can Edgar’s description of life as a corrupt servant be read as a comment on? Oswald’s career. OR a parody of the seven deadly sins.
What does Edgar’s account of seven years as a beggar seem to be directed at? His father, whom he will judge harshly for his adultery in Act 5 Scene 3.
What are Lear and Gloucester forced to face up to in King Lear? Their sins. Lear has already started to confront his failings.
What remains in spite of the madness and suffering displayed in this scene? Why? Some hope. The characters sympathise with one another, although Kent is initially reluctant to allow Poor Tom to take shelter with the King.
Describe the overall prevailing mood. Sombre.
What is ominous in Poor Tom’s speech? His references to the ‘dark tower’ and the Jack the giant killer story in the final lines of the scene.
CONTEXT: What do some critics argue about Poor Tom’s speeches? That they contain critical comments about the legitimacy of the witchcraft trials that were held in England during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Tom’s madness and history of evil doing as a servant are a sham, while the real criminals, Goneril and Regan, cause devastation.
What does Gloucester’s castle now hold? Four murderous predators (Goneril, Regan, Cornwall and Edmund) who plot against their fathers.
What does ‘shake the superflux’ mean? Give superfluous luxuries or riches to the poor.
CONTEXT: What is ‘pelican daughters’? A medieval legend. It was believed that young pelicans turned on and killed the parent birds and drank their blood, the implication being that Goneril and Regan are feeding on and thus killing their father.
How does Poor Tom describe his past life? ‘Hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey’
CONTEXT: What is the significance of Edgar describing his negative attributes as animals? The seven deadly sins were often portrayed as animals.
What is ‘Smulkin’ ‘Modo’ and ‘Mahu’? Modo was a name given to satan, whist Mahu was another devil. See card on Flibberdigibbet.
What is the significant event in Act 3 Scene 5? Edmund betrays Gloucester.
What has Cornwall been given at the start of the scene? What does he intend to do with it? The letter which contains information about the French invasion. He intends to punish Gloucester for his treachery.
What does Cornwall tell Edmund to do? How does he react? To go and find his father, Gloucester. He pretends to be torn between being loyal to Cornwall and faithful to his ‘blood’, but hopes that he will find his father with Lear. This will make Cornwall even more suspicious.
What is the audience left in no doubt over at the end of the scene? Cornwall’s intentions. He seeks Gloucester’s death.
CONTEXT: What is Edmund routinely called in the play printed in 1608 and 1623? ‘Bastard’ in speech prefixes and stage directions, perhaps stressing stock associations rather than individual personality.
What does the first line of the scene, Act 3 Scene 5, suggest? That violence is imminent. Cornwall declares ‘I will have my revenge ere I depart this house’.
What is this confirmed by? Cornwalls’ consistently decisive and ruthless tone.
How does Edmund present himself within this scene? Showing his customary facility with language, he speaks politely and formally to Cornwall, who now acts as if he is the father of the nation. Edmund’s aside to the audience is as vicious and cold blooded as is new patron’s lines.
What do both evil men lust after? For power, selfishly and destructively.
What does ‘intelligent party to the advantages’ mean? A spy who is helping advance the French cause.
What are the TWO main events of Act 3 Scene 6? 1. Inside the hovel, Lear conducts a trial of Goneril and Regan. 2. Gloucester brings a coach to transport Lear to safety at Dover.
Who leaves, after helping Lear into the hovel? Gloucester, saying he’ll return with provisions.
CONTEXT: What do the settings in the play help to convey? A sense of disorder; the hovel is the ultimate expression of this. Other settings of chaos include the battlefield, the heath and Dover cliff. These settings are also linked to acts of violence- war, the storm, attempted suicide.
What does Poor Tom continue to gibber on about? The devil.
What does the Fool continue to taunt Lear with? Home truths.
What is strange about the dialogue in this scene? Each character appears to be talking to themselves, at cross purposes. Lear is lost in a mad world of his own.
What is Lear preoccupied with? Thoughts of vengeance.
What does Lear decide to do? ‘Try’ his daughters (see justice and images and themes in play for interpretations of trial).
Who does Lear call on to assist him on the bench? The Fool and Poor Tom.
What does Lear, in his madness, imagine? That a joint-stool is Goneril and accuses ‘her’ of kicking him. He thinks his eldest daughter has escaped from the ‘courtroom’ and screams for her to apprehended.
How does Edgar react to Lear’s lunatic agony? He’s in tears. His ‘act’ momentarily breaks down at ‘Bless thy five wits’.
How does Kent react to Lear’s ramblings? He implores Lear to be patient.
How does Lear’s trial continue? He ‘anatomises’ Regan. He wants to find out why she has such a hard heart.
Name an example of more black humour. Lear castigates (reprimand severely) Poor Tom about his clothes.
What happens when Kent tries to soothe Lear again? The old king finally agrees to rest.
What news does Gloucester bring when he returns? That Lear must be removed to safety immediately because there’s a plot to kill him. He has prepared a litter (coach) to transport him to Dover, where he will be met by the friends (the French forces).
What within this scene, Act 3 Scene 6, contrasts the cold-blooded discussion in the previous scene? The solicitous way Gloucester and Kent continue to behave towards Lear.
What is the mock trial a parody of? The “love-test” in Act 1 Scene 1.
What is different between the mock trial and the love-test? Here, in Act 3 Scene 6, Lear’s judgement is not faulty. His madness has helped him see his daughters clearly.
What is the Fool’s last line in the play, which he speaks in this scene? What is its significance? ‘And I’ll go to bed at noon’. This comically mad remark is an appropriate summing up of this scene. This phrase meant “to act the fool”. Other commentators think that the Fool is perhaps referring to a premature death. Again, this is appropriate, and not simply to the Fool.
What has been confirmed by the end of the scene? Lear’s life is in danger.
CONTEXT: Who was ‘Nero’? A corrupt, lascivious Roman emperor, reputedly insane.
CONTEXT: What was emitted from the Folio (final) version of the play? The mock trial in the hovel. Many feel the scene is ‘enactable’, so Shakespeare removed it.
What is the significance of ‘thy horn is dry’? Bedlam beggars used horns for begging drinks. The suggestion here is that Edgar is “worn out”, empty. He is exhausted by playing the part of Poor Tom and by observing Lear’s distressing madness.
What is the main event of Act 3 Scene 7? Cornwall and Regan take out their horrible revenge on Gloucester.
What does Cornwall tell Goneril to do? Return to Albany and show him Gloucester’s letter (containing the news of the French invasion).
What does Cornwall expect will come of this? That Albany will join forces with him.
What does Regan think should become of Gloucester? He should be hanged immediately.
What does Goneril think should become of Gloucester? A more vicious form of torture- the plucking out of the eyes.
Who is set to accompany Goneril on her way home? Edmund.
When do we know that Gloucester will suffer horribly? When Cornwall says to Edmund ‘the revenges we are bound to take upon your traitorous father are not fit for your beholding’.
What seals the old earl’s fate? Cornwall calls Edmund ‘My lord of Gloucester’. Gloucester is not expected to survive his punishment.
What news does Oswald bring? That Gloucester has helped Lear escape to Dover with thirty-five or six of his loyal knights.
What shows a reversal of the way justice should work? Cornwall proposes to pass a sentence on Gloucester without trial.
Who is brought into the scene? Gloucester, knowing that his guests intend to harm him.
How does Regan treat Gloucester? She speaks to him venomously and disrespectfully plucks him by the beard- a foretaste of the violence to come.
What does Gloucester do, when tied to a chair? He asks fearfully ‘What will you do?’.
What does Gloucester compare himself to? A bear in the spot of bear-baiting; he is tied to a stake while the dogs savage him. He must endure. LINK TO IDEA of cub-drawn bear and punishment for poor treatment of children.
What does Gloucester offer as explanation of sending Lear to Dover? He could not bear to see him tortured by Goneril and Regan. He also describes Lear’s sufferings out in the ‘hell-black night’ of the storm.
What happens as Gloucester says he hopes to see ‘The winged Vengeance overtake such children’? Cornwall gouges out one of Gloucester’s eyes.
What does Regan urge Cornwall to do? Pluck out his other eye.
Who walks in? What is his reaction to the horror? One of Cornwall’s servants. He’s appalled. He bids Cornwall to stop. The two men draw their swords and Cornwall is wounded.
How does Regan react to the servant wounding Cornwall? She takes a sword from another servant and runs the challenger through.
What does Cornwall do, in spite of his wound? Put out Gloucester’s other eye, mocking his victim.
What does Gloucester hope? That Edmund will revenge him.
What does Regan reveal to Gloucester? She taunts him, revealing to the old man the Edmund hates him.
What does Gloucester realise? That he’s been deceived. He calls on the gods to protect Edgar and forgive him for doubting his true son.
What does Regan tell servants to do? To ‘thrust’ Gloucester ‘out at gates and let him smell/ His way to Dover’. She then helps her wounded husband from the stage.
What do two servants decide to do to Gloucester? Help him, fetching some medicine to soothe his wounded eyes. They want to take him to Poor Tom, who can act as his guide.
What does this scene contain? One of the most shocking acts of physical violence in any of Shakespeare’s play.
What does the physical torture match? The mental agony Lear has endured in Act 3.
What increases the tension feel that prepares us for Gloucester’s blinding? Many references to eyes and sight. Beginning with Goneril’s pluck out his eyes’. Even though she doesn’t take part in Gloucester’s maiming, her suggestion implicates Goneril in this crime.
What does Gloucester achieve through suffering? Heroism, like Lear.
How is Gloucester presented through his speech in this scene, Act 3 Scene 7? It contains some of his most powerful speeches. He is eloquent, brave and determined as he defends himself and castigates Cornwall and Regan for their cruelty to the King.
What does Gloucester become? The voice of the audience, describing their outrage.
What does Gloucester learn in a similar fashion to Lear? The truth about his children in a particularly brutal way. He also shares Lear’s agony when he discovers that he has been taken in by outward appearances.
What sums up the barbarism of the scene? Regan’s final callous order to the servants .
What does the cruelty of this scene indicate? How? That the world has been turned upside down within King Lear. A woman suggests a method of torture, another woman relishes inflicting pain, egging her husband on to further cruelty before killing a man herself.
Name another miscarriage of justice within the scene? A servant turns on his master. This act of heroism prepares us for the kindness the servants show Gloucester at the end of the scene.
What prevails, despite the play having reached its most tragic point before the final tragic scene? The generous actions of the servants in Act 3 Scene 7 indicate that there is some kind of justice at work.
What is the significance of ‘anointed flesh’? A reference to Lear’s status as God’s deputy on earth, who rules by divine right (a christian idea which is at odds with the pagan setting of the play). At coronation monarchs were anointed with holy oil, reconfirming their sacred status.
What is the significance of ‘All cruel else subscribe’? There are different interpretations of this line. It might mean that Goneril and Regan would have allowed any cruel or wild beast into the castle on such a stormy night, but not Lear (emphasising their cruelty). Or perhaps it suggests that on this terrible night, any other cruel creature would have pitied Lear and given him shelter, but not his barbaric daughters.
What is the main event of Act 4 Scene 1? Edgar comes across his blind, suicidal father and starts to lead him to Dover.
What does Edgar consider in this scene? The merits of being a poor, despised outcast. At least a beggar has nothing to lose or fear- he cannot sink any lower.
Who is Gloucester led on by? An old man.
What is the effect of seeing Gloucester on Edgar? His fragile optimism is shattered.
What does the deeply suffering Gloucester do? He tells the old man to leave, concerned he’ll be punished for helping him. He says he has lost his way in life and wishes to “see” Edgar again, so that he can ask for his forgiveness.
What do Edgar’s responding lines reflect? The despair his father feels. He’s moved by Gloucester’s words.
What does Gloucester offer a dark view on? The world and those who rule man’s fate, ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;/ They kill us for their sport’.
Who does the old man call to? Poor Tom (Edgar) to assist Gloucester.
What is Edgar torn between? Continuing his disguise and revealing his identity.
What is the old man doubtful about? Leaving Gloucester alone with Poor Tom, as Gloucester asks him to go and fetch some clothes for Poor Tom.
How does Gloucester reassure the old man? He says that it’s appropriate for a lunatic to lead a blind man.
What does Gloucester ask of Tom? To lead him to Dover, he gives him money for his services.
How does Edgar feel? He’s distressed, and has difficulty in maintaining his disguise.
What, like Lear, is Gloucester preoccupied with? Thoughts of justice. He hopes the rich man, who has too much and ‘will not see/ Because he does not feel’, will have his eyes opened by the gods. He suggests that man needs to be stripped of his excess wealth in order to see clearly. He says that wealth should be distributed more evenly so that ‘each man have enough’.
What does Gloucester’s final speech convey? His desire to die.
What does Gloucester promise Edgar? Further financial reward if he leads him ‘to the very brim’ of the cliff. We understand that he intends to attempt suicide.
How does Edgar seem at the start of the scene? Positive; his experiences have taught him to withstand the ‘blasts’ of Fortune. Like Gloucester and Lear, he is learning to endure.
How is Gloucester’s stoicism severely tested in this scene? His view of the sadistic gods show us clearly that he has been pushed to the limits of endurance.
How does Gloucester act at his most desolate? Generously towards others, speaking graciously to the old man and Poor Tom. He seems more concerned with their fortunes than his own.
What does this scene prove? That if the gods are cruel, man can be kind.
Which of Gloucester’s interests reflects Lear’s? Social justice, and proves that the patriarchs have learned to see the world clearly. As Gloucester said so aptly, he ‘stumbled’ when he saw.
What does Gloucester’s clarity of vision bring? Despair.
What is Edgar’s role within this scene? To guide our responses to his father’s misery.
What are the TWO main events of Act 4 Scene 2? 1. Goneril and Edmund return to Goneril’s residence. 2. Albany accuses Goneril of cruelty to her father. He also learns of the blinding of Gloucester.
What is Goneril surprised about upon arriving home with Edmund? Her husband has not come out to greet them.
What does Oswald tell Goneril? That Albany has undergone a radical change of heart. He is glad of the French invasion and appalled by Edmund’s treachery of his father.
How does Goneril respond to this news? She says her husband is a coward.
What does Goneril propose to Edmund? She tells Edmund to return to Cornwall to help with the preparations for battle. Goneril offers herself to Edmund; she says that she will shortly command him as his mistress.
How does Edmund respond to Goneril’s proposal? He pledges his loyalty to her.
How does Goneril greet Albany when he appears? Sarcastically.
What is Albany, in response, eloquent with? His denigration (the action of unfairly criticizing someone or something) of Goneril. She is a devil. The sisters behaved like ‘Tigers not daughters’.
How does Goneril respond to these insults? She disregards them.
Where does Albany’s language become more violent? As he describes how he would like to tear Goneril limb from limb.
As a messenger arrives, what news does he bring? That Cornwall has died.
How does Albany react to this news? He says that this is just and shows sympathy for Gloucester.
What does the messenger also bring? A letter for Goneril, from Regan.
How does Goneril feel towards her sister at this point? She is suspicious of her sister. She is concerned that Regan will seek to marry Edmund. The sisters are now rivals for Edmund’s love.
How does Goneril react to the letter? In spite of her concern, she doesn’t seem alarmed. She leaves to read and answer Regan’s letter.
What does Albany do at the end of the scene? He’s still thinking about Gloucester. He asks the messenger where Edmund was when Gloucester was tortured. On learning the truth, he resolves to revenge Gloucester and support Lear’s cause.
What does the change in Albany suggest? That the influence of the evil characters will no longer go unchecked.
What does Albany become a figure of in this scene? Justice and morality, voicing the audience’s concerns about his wife.
Who continues to assume authority? Goneril, disregarding her husband and wooing Edmund.
How could you describe Goneril’s actions and desires? Subversive and immoral.
What is there a clash between in this scene? Good (Albany) and evil (Goneril).
What does this clash point towards? The French and British forces at the end of Act 4.
What is the significance of the word ‘distaff’? It’s the stick used to spin wool (a female pursuit. Goneril implies she’s more of a man than her husband: he is fit only for woman’s work).
What is the main event of Act 4 Scene 3? Kent and the Gentleman speak of Cordelia, and how Lear is too ashamed to see her.
What does Kent ask the Gentleman at the beginning of the scene? Why the King of France has returned home.
What do we learn? That he has urgent state business to attend to.
What does Kent then ask the Gentleman next? How Cordelia reacted when she read his letters (describing Lear’s treatment at the hands of Goneril and Regan).
How did Cordelia react upon reading Kent’s letter? We are told that ‘holy water’ fell from her ‘heavenly eyes’ as she lamented Lear’s plight.
What does Kent report? Lear’s arrival in Dover.
What is Lear’s mental state like, apparently? He is sometimes ‘in his better tune’ but so ashamed of his ‘unkindness’ to Cordelia that he will not see her.
How does the scene end? The Gentleman says that Albany and Corwall’s forces are ‘afoot’. Kent takes him to attend on Lear.
What does this scene prepare us for? Cordelia’s return.
What is Lear’s youngest daughter now the epitome of? Graceful, Christian femininity, described as compassionate and loving.
What do we know the the reconciliation between Lear and Cordelia will be like? Painful and poignant.
What has Lear started to regain? What is the consequence of this? His wits, but clarity of vision brings with it distress and regret.
What emotion do father and daughter now share? Sorrow.
What is the significance of ‘clamour, moistened’? There are two possible meanings: either that Cordelia is so overcome her speech is stopped by her tears, or that she was crying while she spoke.
What are the TWO main events of Act 4 Scene 4? 1. Cordelia sends her soldiers to search for Lear, who is still wandering around outside. 2. She expresses deep concern for her father.
How does Cordelia describe how Lear has been seen? Mad, singing wearing a crown of flowers and weeds.
What does Cordelia do in reaction to this? She sends one hundred soldiers out to find Lear and calls on the earth to help restore him.
What does a messenger inform Cordelia? That the British army is drawing closer.
What does Cordelia do to diminish the audience’s fears of a foreign invasion? She insists that she has come to defend Lear’s rights; she is motivated by love, not political ambition. She hopes fervently that she will soon see and hear Lear.
CONTEXT: What do readings of Cordelia’s character suggest? She is a Christ-like figure. This rests on her lines which suggest she has her father’s interest at heart. Her words echo Christ’s in Luke 2:49, ‘O dear father, it is thy business I go about’.
What is Lear’s crown of weed’s symbolic significance? The King is now associated with nature rather than the world of the court, which is fitting given his interest in justice and the human condition.
How does Cordelia conform to the descriptions of her in the previous scene? She shows great compassion to her father. He is her sole concern.
How is Cordelia similar to Edgar in this sense? They both actively assist the parent who rejected them so cruelly.
What is the significant of ‘furrow weeds’? They are the weeds that grow in fields that have been ploughed. All the weeds Lear is wearing are poisonous or bitter tasting. Weeds are also destructive. They are appropriate to his current state.
What is the main event of Act 4 Scene 5? Regan interrogates Oswald about a letter he is carrying from Goneril to Edmund.
What does Regan say to Oswald at the beginning of the scene? She asks why Goneril has written to Edmund. She tries to persuade him to show her the letter he is carrying. She tells Oswald that Edmund has ridden away to finish off Gloucester and find out how strong the French forces are.
What does Regan admit? That it was a mistake to let Gloucester live: people who have heard of his cruel treatment have turned against her.
How does she try to prevent Oswal’d departure? She says that ‘the ways are dangerous’.
How does Oswald react? He’s diligent as ever, and insists he must go.
Why does Regan adopt a threatening tone when demanding to see the letter again? She and Edmund have talked, and agreed on marriage. Goneril must be warned off.
What does Regan give Oswald? A letter or gift for Edmund and asks him to deliver it.
What does Regan casually mention? The fact that there is a reward out for anyone who kills Gloucester.
What contrasts between Regan and Cordelia in this scene? Regan’s preoccupation with her own selfish lust contrasts sharply with Cordelia’s generosity in the previous scene.
How are the sisters presented through Act 4? They are juxtaposed, scene by scene.
What does the audience watch progress? Both good and evil.
What kind of language does Regan use to describe her liaison with Edmund? It is in keeping with the materialistic desires of the evil characters; Edmund is ‘more convenient’ for her than Goneril.
What are Goneril and Regan now divided by? Their rivalry in love.
How do the good characters now contrast Goneril and Regan? They share the same aims and appear to be gathering strength.
What suggests that the hope evil might be vanquished is justified? The fact that people are appalled by Gloucester’s blinding.
What are the THREE main events of Act 4 Scene 6? 1. Gloucester tries to commit suicide at Dover. 2. Lear and Gloucester meet for the last time. 3. Edgar saves Gloucester’s life when Oswald threatens him.
What does Edgar pretend when leading Gloucester to Dover? That they are labouring up a steep hill to the cliff top. He asks Gloucester if he can hear the sea.
What has changed in Gloucester since his blinding? His other senses are more acute; he thinks he is walking on even ground and has also noticed that Edgar speaks differently.
How does Edgar react to Gloucester’s observations? He dismisses them.
What does Edgar do next? He pretends to be dizzy, and says they’re so high up it’s impossible to hear the sea.
What does Gloucester request? To be moved to the edge of the cliff. He gives his peasant guide a jewel as payment for his services.
What does Edgar inform us? That he has deceived Gloucester in order to ‘cure’ his despair.
What does Gloucester kneel and announce to the gods? Why? That he intends to kill himself. The pain he feels is too much for him.
What are his final generous thoughts of? His son Edgar and the beggar who has helped him.
What follows this? The extraordinary sight of Gloucester throwing himself off the imaginary cliff and falling on the ground.
What does Edgar worry? Gloucester’s desire to kill himself might have actually caused his death.
How does Gloucester feel when he revives? He’s still suicidal.
How does Edgar try to fix this? He pretends to be a passerby on the beach, and tries to chase away his gloomy thoughts. He tells him his life must have been preserved by a miracle.
How does Gloucester react to Edgar’s description of his “fall”? He is wretched: he’s been unable to find comfort in death and fears the gods have thwarted him.
How does Edgar persist? He urges Gloucester to stand and helps him up. He describes the strange creature on the cliff top, implying that a devil drove his father into attempting suicide. He desperately tries to convince his father that the kind gods have saved him.
What does this explanation do to Gloucester? It forges a change of heart, who now declares that he will endure until life itself gives up on him.
Who enters the scene next? Lear, wearing his crown of weeds.
How does Lear say people treated him? ‘The flattered me like a dog’
CONTEXT: What is the significance of people flattering Lear like a dog? There was a dog at the bottom of the Medieval Chain of Being.
CONTEXT: What lay outside of the Chain of Being? Nothingness/ Chaos.
How does Edgar react to seeing Lear? He is appalled that his mind is still ravaged.
How does Lear speak? His speech is disjointed, about money, justice and archery. He insists that he is still ‘the King himself’ and declares that he will defend himself against anyone, even a giant.
CONTEXT/ CRITICS: What is the significance of the virtuous characters continuing to address Lear respectfully as their sovereign, despite his madness? Critics have suggested that this deference is proof that Shakespeare does not intend to undermine conventional ideas about kingship in this play.
What happens when Gloucester recognises Lear’s voice? A strange, cruel exchanged ensues.
Who does Lear mistake Gloucester for? Goneril ‘with a white beard’ and launches into a tirade against female sexuality.
What does Lear’s fear of monstrous femininity lead him to? Introducing the topic of Gloucester’s adultery. Perhaps one part of his fevered brain recognises his old friend.
Where is there a sense of cruel irony? In Lear’s lines about Gloucester’s ‘kind’ bastard son. The cruelty continues when Lear seems to mock the old Earl’s blindness, talking about blind cupid and asking Gloucester to read a summons he had drawn up.
How does Gloucester respond to Lear? With pity and reverence: as Lear taunts him, he begs to be allowed to kiss the king’s hand.
What is Lear obsessed with? Give examples of how Lear shows this. Social and moral justice. He talks about how thieves are condemned by corrupt justices of the peace. But with a bribe the justice will let the thief off, so who is the real thief? Authority is a sham: even a dog is obeyed in office because of his status.
What does Lear then appear to see before him? Hypocrites; a beadle who whips a prostitute but lusts after her himself, a money lender who hangs a petty cheat.
What does Lear disparage? Rich sinners who are able to break the ‘strong lance of justice’, while beggars cannot escape punishment for their crimes because they have no money to make bribes.
What radical conclusion does Lear appear to have come to? One about human justice: he wants to defend the poor and give them power.
What does Lear offer Gloucester? Something to ‘seal th’accuser’s lips’.
Why does Lear offer him this? Perhaps he wants Gloucester to bribe a justice to look leniently on one of the poor sinners he has described.
What does Lear proceed to advise Gloucester? To get glasses so that he can act like a cunning politician, who conjures up intrigues to justify his actions.
What does Lear ask Gloucester to do? Pull of his boots.
How does Lear reveal he knows who Gloucester is? He acknowledges himself in two lines of perfect sense, telling him to be patient.
What does Lear then offer? A pessimistic assessment of the human condition: it is man’s lot to suffer and endure.
Who arrives now? Cordelia’s attendants.
How does Lear react to Cordelia’s attendants? He seems to see them as hostile figures and runs off. The attendants pursue him whilst the Gentleman remains behind.
What does Edgar ask the Gentleman for? News of the battle that is expected between the French and British forces.
What does Gloucester’s encounter with Lear appear to have done? Chased away his thoughts of suicide. Lear’s appalling condition has made him realise that his own suffering is not so unendurable.
What does Edgar claim he’ll do? Lead Gloucester to a safe place.
Who comes upon Edgar and Gloucester as they prepare to leave? Oswald.
Why is Oswald delighted upon finding them? He will now be able to claim Regan’s reward.
What does Gloucester welcome? Oswald’s sword.
What does Edgar do when he challenges Oswald? He assumes the accent of a country bumpkin.
How does the fight end? Oswald is fatally wounded.
What does Oswald say in his dying speech? He asks Edgar to take the letter he is carrying to Edmund.
How does Edgar react to Oswald’s death? He regrets that he had to act as Oswald’s ‘deaths man’, and sums up the self-seeking servant neatly as the corrupt follower of an evil mistress.
CONTEXT: What is the significance of Oswald’s name? It was the name of the first Christian king of Northumberland, later Saint Oswald. Therefore is Shakespeare’s use of the name ironic?
What does Edgar discover when he reads the letters? Goneril’s plot against Albany’s life.
How does Edgar react to discovering this? He’s shocked, and decides to inform Albany of the contents of this letter, when the time is right. He drags Oswald’s body off stage for burial.
What is Gloucester, meanwhile, preoccupied by? Thoughts of Lear’s lunacy. He wishes he could be mad, like Lear, believing that madness would distract him from his agony. In spite of the stoicism he has shown in Act 4, Gloucester finds it very difficult to maintain cheerful thoughts.
How does the scene end? Edgar returns to escort his father to safety at the French camp.
What does the drumroll at the end of the scene suggest? That battle is imminent.
What does Edgar’s description of the view from the cliff top serve purpose for? 1. To convince his father that he stands on the edge of the cliff. 2. To show Gloucester’s desperation.
What does Edgar’s ASIDE at line 42 hint at? The terror created by Gloucester’s attempted suicide, which can seen both tragic and absurd in performance.
What do Edgar’s words emphasise? The pathos (a quality that evokes pity or sadness) in the exchange between Lear and Gloucester.
How do both patriarchs seem? Worn out, but they ‘see how this world goes’ now.
What have the old patriarchs achieved? Understanding and wisdom through suffering.
How might Lear’s lines about adultery be read? As an attempt to come to terms with his own sexual union with his daughters’ mother- did he cause those hard hearts?
How does Lear appear to be playing the same role for Gloucester that the Fool played for him? He is a cruel commentator in this scene. His obsession with justice fits in with his earlier concern for ‘unaccommodated man’.
How does Edgar take on a more active role towards the end of the scene? When he defends his father. He will play the role of the revenger again in Act 5 Scene 3.
What about Edgar offers us hope? His energetic goodness. It seems that Gloucester and Lear’s pessimism about the human condition is not entirely justified.
CONTEXT: Name TWO practical reasons why Shakespeare may have included the Gloucester subplot. 1. The Lear plot did not have sufficient roles for the actors in Shakespeare’s company, The King’s Men. 2. Audiences were accustomed to double plots and theatrical variety.
What is the main event of Act 4 Scene 7? Cordelia and Lear are reunited and reconciled.
Where has Lear been brought? The French camp near Dover.
Who thanks Kent for his services? How does he respond? Cordelia. Modest as ever, he says he does not need payment.
What does Cordelia urge Kent to do? Give up his disguise, but he says he still needs it.
What does Cordelia do as Lear sleeps? She prays to ‘the kind gods’ to restore her father’s senses.
What does the Doctor say? That it is time to wake Lear, who has been dressed in fresh garments while sleeping.
What happens as Lear is brought in? He is carried in on an old chair and all the characters on stage prostrate themselves before him. The Doctor calls for music.
CONTEXT: Where else does Shakespeare demonstrate the powerful healing properties of music? A number of his plays, including the late romance, The Winter’s Tale.
What does Cordelia do before Lear wakes up? Kneels by his chair, hoping that her kiss will make up for some of the ‘violent harms’ done by her sisters.
How is Lear when he wakes up? He is bewildered and this he is in hell, ‘bound/ Upon a wheel of fire’. He does not seem to recognise his daughter, who asks for his blessing.
How does Lear show his regret for his wrongdoing to Cordelia? He falls on his knees before her. He sees himself clearly as ‘a very foolish fond old man’.
What does Cordelia deny? That she has any reason to feel bitter towards her father.
What does Cordelia ask? If Lear would like to walk with her. Father and daughter leave the stage together.
Who remains behind to discuss the battle? Kent and the Gentleman.
What information is revealed? Edmund has been put in charge of Cornwall’s men. A bloody confrontation is expected.
What is this a scene of? Pathos and renewal.
What were sleep and music understood to have had? Powerful healing properties.
How is our sense of restoration heightened? When the characters kneel before Lear, who is treated as a powerful monarch. All of the words addressed to him are respectful and he sits “above” his subjects once more.
What do we quickly realise? That Lear is not the towering figure he once was. His speeches are hesitant, and he humbles himself before Cordelia.
How does Lear no longer speak of himself? As the royal “we”.
What does Lear understand at this point? That he has sinned against his youngest daughter and wishes to honour her.
What does Lear NOT accept responsibility for? Goneril and Regan.
What are Goneril and Regan now identified as (in Cordelia’s lines before Lear awakes)? The sole cause of Lear’s suffering.
How are we now expected to view Lear? As a victim.
What would many argue? That the tragedy of this play is that wisdom comes too late.
Does Lear view himself as a victim? Yes. His lines are full of self-pity.
What does this scene, Act 4 Scene 7, come as a relief after? The chaos and darkness of Acts 3 and 4.
What does news of the battle suggest? That the harmony that is achieved here is already under threat.
What are the THREE main events of Act 5 Scene 1? 1. Regan questions Edmund about his feelings for Goneril. 2. Edgar gives Albany the letter disclosing Edmund and Goneril’s plot against his life. 3. Edmund says he will show Lear and Cordelia no mercy after the battle.
What does Act 5 open with? Preparations for the clash between the British and French armies.
How does Edmund begin the scene? Decisively, complaining to Regan that Albany keeps changing his plans.
What does Regan fear? That something has happened to Cornwall.
What does Regan ask Edmund? If he is in love with Goneril.
Who arrives next? Albany and Goneril, with Albany’s forces.
What does Goneril say upon seeing Edmund and Regan together? That she would rather lose the battle than Edmund.
How does Goneril respond when Albany speaks sympathetically about the reasons for French invasion? She insists they must all unite against the enemy now.
How does Albany respond? He agrees, and says that they must consult ‘th’ancient of war’ (experienced campaigners) about the best way to proceed in battle.
What does Edmund agree to? Discussing strategy in Albany’s tent.
What does Goneril refuse to do? Regan asks Goneril to accompany them, she refuses.
What does Goneril realise? Regan is concerned about leaving her alone with Edmund. But she then changes her mind and goes with the others.
Who arrives as Albany prepares to leave? Edgar (still disguised) and asks to speak to him.
What does Edgar give Albany? The letter he found on Oswald and tells him to open it before going into battle.
What does Edgar ask Albany to do? To have a trumpet sounded if Britain wins the battle, so that a champion may appear to prove the truth of the contents of the letter.
What does Edmund return with the news of? That the French are approaching.
What does Edmund muse over when left alone on stage? His predicament. He has sworn his love to both Goneril and Regan and can’t decide which one to ‘take’. He knows the sisters are so jealous that one will die in order for him to “enjoy” the other. He decides to wait and see what happens after the battle.
What does Edmund inform us? That Albany intends to show mercy for Lear and Cordelia if the British win. But Edmund has other plans for them- they must die.
What is this a scene of? Uneasiness and urgency.
Who is clashing in this scene? What over? Goneril and Regan over Edmund; Goneril and Albany over differing views on the battle; Edmund and Albany with different intentions on the battle and its outcome.
What do Edmund’s brief responses to Regan suggest? His impatience and discomfort with love talk.
What does this conform to? His first soliloquy, where he reveals his callous approach to matrimony. This matches the ruthlessness he has shown in all of his dealings throughout King Lear.
Where do Edmund’s loyalties lie? To himself.
What do Edmund’s last three lines of the scene suggest? That Edmund revels in his newly exalted position and power.
What is the audience left fearing? The outcome of the battle, and how the rivalry between Goneril and Regan will be resolved.
What are the TWO main events of Act 5 Scene 2? 1. The French forces are defeated in battle. 2. Edgar leads Gloucester to safety for the last time.
Who exits and then re-enters the stage with the news that the French forces have lost? Edgar.
Who is captured in battle? Lear and Cordelia.
Why does Gloucester refuse to leave with Edgar? He’s overcome with pessimistic thoughts, so Edgar chides him. He implies that man should not sit and ‘rot’ as Gloucester says he wishes to. He must prepare for death and await the moment chosen for him.
Does Gloucester allow Edgar to lead him off in the end? Yes.
How is the battle dealt with? Perfunctorily.
What is Shakespeare most interested in? The consequences of the battle.
What does Edgar say which gives indication of what’s to come? ‘Men must endure/ Their going hence even as their coming hither;/ Ripeness is all’.
What does Gloucester still wish for? Death.
Why is Lear in danger? He’s now a prisoner.
What do both old men have in common? They have endured enough.
What does the tragic stoicism of Edgar’s lines prepare us for? The outcome of Act 5 Scene 3.
What are the FOUR main events of Act 5 Scene 3? 1. Lear and Cordelia are sent away to prison. Edmund sends a death warrant after them. 2. Albany accuses Goneril and Edmund of treason and Edgar appears to challenge Edmund. 3. Edmund is fatally wounded in the fight. Goneril poisons Regan and stabs herself. 4. Lear carries in the dead body of Cordelia and dies, mourning her.
What signifies the triumph of evil? Edmund leads on his prisoners to the sound of drums.
CONTEXT: What are there many examples of in Renaissance dramas? Revengers. Many are dubious figures but Edgar is a benign revenger, an upright figure who is driven to set things right.
What does Edmund order? For officers to take Cordelia and Lear away.
How does Cordelia express her dismay at being captured? She couches it in terms of compassion for Lear.
What does Cordelia ask Edmund? If she and Lear will see Goneril and Regan.
Why is Lear horrified? He cannot bear the idea of setting sights on his eldest daughters again. Instead he says he’d be pleased to go to prison with Cordelia.
What does Lear imagine imprisonment as? A time of happiness away from the superficial cares of the court.
How does Lear treat Cordelia? He embraces her protectively, they are each others only concerns.
What does Lear say to Cordelia as she cries? He tells her to wipe her tears, and offers a defiant view of his new bond with his daughter.
Who does Edmund order to follow Lear and Cordelia as they are escorted to prison? A captain, and he gives him a death warrant.
What does it appear that Edmund is now aiming for? The crown.
Who has Edmund underestimated? Albany, who now enters with Goneril and Regan and officers. After briefly praising Edmund’s courage in battle, Albany demands to see the prisoners.
How does Edmund’s eloquence fail him, for once? He hedges and claims that Lear and Cordelia will be ready to appear for judgement in two to three days.
How does Albany interrupt? Icily with a rebuke, telling Edmund he is his subject, not his ‘brother’ (equal) and should be ruled by him.
How does Regan react to Albany? She’s annoyed, and defends him.
Who starts to squabble at this point? Goneril and Regan. Goneril says Edmund’s personal merits ‘exalt’ him; he doesn’t need any title Regan can confer on him to make him worthy.
Who announces their intentions to marry Edmund? Regan.
How does Albany insult Edmund? He calls him ‘Half-blooded’ and arrests him for treason.
Who sounds the trumpet to call Edmund’s accuser? Albany. He announces his own willingness to challenge Edmund.
What do we learn about Goneril and Regan? Goneril has poisoned Regan, who complains of feeling increasingly unwell.
How does Edmund remain? Defiant. He declares his intention to ‘maintain/ My truth and honour firmly’.
What happens to Regan? She’s carried away sick.
Who appears, armed, on the third trumpet? Edgar.
CONTEXT: Why do some critics feel the scene ends on a vaguely optimistic note? Edgar was the name of a king who united England and Scotland; so if Gloucester’s son is now in charge, perhaps reunification of Lear’s battered kingdom is possible.
What does Edgar accuse Edmund of? Betraying Albany, ‘thy gods, thy brother and thy father’.
What is Edmund impressed by? Edgar’s ‘fair and warlike’ exterior; he agrees to fight him.
Who is wounded in the fight? Edmund.
Who claims the fight was unlawful? Goneril, dismayed at the outcome.
What does Albany confront Goneril with? Her letter to Edmund.
How does Goneril react to this? She tries to tear it up, and, like her paramour, is defiant till the last. She tries her last attempt at asserting power before running off.
What does Edmund do as he lies dying? He confesses his crimes. He says he will forgive his adversary if he is a nobleman.
Who puts aside their disguise? Edgar.
How does Edgar judge his father and brother? Harshly.
What does Edmund admit? The justice of Edgar’s remarks and stoically accepts his own death.
What does Edgar do next? He and Albany embrace. He recounts his own history since the play began, including his attempts to keep Gloucester from despair.
What does Edgar regret? Remaining in disguise for so long.
What happens to Gloucester? Edgar is particularly distressed when describing how his father died of shock and joy when Edgar removed his disguise. Gloucester’s heart ‘Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief,/ Burst smilingly’.
How do people react to Gloucester’s death? Albany is overwhelmed by this tale of woe. Edmund says it has moved him, ‘and shall perchance do good’.
When does the final movement of the play begin? When the Gentleman enters carrying a bloody knife.
What has happened now? Goneril has killed herself (offstage) and Regan is dead too.
Who returns now? Kent, who comes to ‘bid my King and master aye good night’.
What is Kent defined by? Integrity, and loyalty, whose goodness is immeasurable, as is his love for his king. Kent’s destiny is irrevocably connected to that of the king’s, as the final scene of the play reveals.
What realisation do Kent’s words bring Albany to? That they have forgotten about Lear. He urgently asks Edmund where he sent Lear and Cordelia.
Whose bodies are dragged onto stage? Goneril and Regan’s.
Why does a moment of panic ensue? Albany and Edmund try to establish how to repel the death warrant, but it is much too late.
Who comes in as Edmund is carried off to die? Lear, carrying Cordelia’s body in his arms.
How does Lear react? He’s distraught, and asks for a feather to place on Cordelia’s lips. He hopes that his daughter still breathes.
What does Kent ask in horror? ‘Is this the promised end?’
What does Lear call those around him? Murderers and traitors for allowing Cordelia to die.
What was Lear’s last act of heroism in his daughter’s defence? He killed her hangman.
How does Lear seem to tumble into madness again? His eyesight fails him; all his senses give up the fight to live.
What does Kent tell Lear of? Goneril and Regan’s deaths, but they have no effect on the grieving man.
What does a messenger bring news of? Edmund’s death.
What does Albany say he intends to do? Resign his power to Lear. He also says that Edgar and Kent will receive their rights back as earls, and be rewarded with new honours.
What does Lear do as he grieves over Cordelia’s body? He starts choking, and asks someone to come and undo his buttons.
Why does Kent stop Edgar as he goes to rush and help him? Kent says to let him be; he will welcome death after the sufferings of his life. Sorrowfully, he adds that he expects to die soon.
What does the fact that Kent expects to die once Lear dies show? Kent feels that his job on earth is to serve his king, and with that job now ended, he anticipates his own death.
What does Kent brush off? Albany’s suggestion about sharing power and ruling Britain.
Who dies now? Lear.
Who are left to sustain the ‘gored state’? Albany and Edgar.
What does Edgar call for? Everyone to speak plainly and honestly and acknowledge their grief.
What does Edgar claim about the survivors? That they ‘Shall never see so much nor live so long’, suggesting that the lives of those who remain have been shattered by the events of Act 5 Scene 3.
CONTEXT: What is the significance of the last lines of the play? They’re different in the Quarto and Folio versions of the play. In the Quarto (earlier version) Albany speaks the final lines. In the Folio, Edgar speaks them. Usually in Shakespeare’s plays, the highest ranking surviving character speaks the closing lines. So, if Edgar speaks the lines, there is a definite shift that there has been a shift in power.
When is there a brief moment of hope in the scene? When Lear describes his life with Cordelia in prison, but his dreams are revealed as an illusion almost immediately.
What is emphasised despite what? Sorrow and pain, despite the evil character’s plots being uncovered and Albany and Edgar insisting on justice.
What is felt in this scene? The devastating effects of Edmund’s evilness. It is possible to argue that he is responsible for the deaths of the whole royal family, as well as his father’s fate.
What does Edgar seem to suggest? That Edmund’s death is deserved. The same can be said of Goneril and Regan’s deaths.
What is the effect of Cordelia’s corpse being brought onstage? It’s hard to feel that justice has been served. The good characters have drawn together and asserted themselves but they are unable to restore order in the way that they wish.
How might Albany’s offer to resign power be seen? As futile and ill-timed, a distraction from Lear’s grief.
What has Edgar been unable to do, in spite of his valour? Preserve his father’s life.
How do the final lines of the play leave us? Exhausted and numb, like the characters. They do not provide a sense of hope for the future.
How is Kent’s tone appropriate for the occasion? His sorrowful stoicism strikes the right now. He has no desire to live after his master has lost the battle.
What do we know when Lear appears himself? Optimism of any kind is out of place.
What expresses the misery of every character on stage? The agony of Lear’s first words, ‘Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones!’. The repetition of Lear’s lines reveals the extent of his grief and suggests that Cordelia’s death is an unendurable blow.
What must we agree with? Kent’s suggestion that Lear will find release in death.
What is similar about Gloucester and Lear’s deaths? They both die feeling both joy and pain.
How is the audience left feeling? That the outcome of King Lear is not entirely just, be appropriate. The evil characters have certainly been punished.
CONTEXT: Why was preacher John Knox’s work First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women significant? In Shakespeare’s day it was very influential and it emphasises the importance of keeping women under control.