Act 1 scene 5

Synopsis of Act 1 Scene 5

Lear sends Kent with a letter to Regan to warn her that he is on his way. Once again the Fool taunts the King for being at the mercy of his daughters. Lear mentions for the first time his fear that the treatment he is receiving will make him mad.

Commentary on Act 1 Scene 5

The Fool dominates this scene and the 'nonsense' he speaks points towards the dissolution of rational thought in Lear's own mind. Lear's faith in natural order and justice starts to crumble, just as words start to lose their capacity to convey transparent meanings. Notice how the word 'mad' is used three times in two lines.

Go ...letters: The mention of Gloucester refers to the place, not the character. We can assume that the Earl has a castle in the town. Lear travels towards the town of Gloucester just as his fate becomes entwined with that of the Earl: the King with his daughters, the Earl with his sons.

go slip-shod: walk in slippers. The Fool means that Lear's intelligence would never need to walk in slippers because Lear’s behaviour implies that he does not have any. If he had been intelligent, he would never have behaved in the way he has.

I did her wrong: Lear admits that he has done Cordelia an injustice.

The Pleiadesseven stars: This is a cluster of stars called the Pleiades. Lear gives a naive answer to a naive riddle. It is an example of the sort of old joke commonly associated with fools. The Fool's comment that Lear is well qualified to be a fool falls on deaf ears because Lear can think only of Goneril's 'monstrous ingratitude'. He is incensed to think that she has removed what he sees as his right to have a hundred knights.

O, let me not be mad ...mad ...mad: The first indication that Lear is going mad is spoken by Lear himself.

Investigating Act 1 Scene 5...

  • How does Kent continue to show his loyalty to the King?
  • In giving up his power, what else does Lear think he has lost?
    • Why does he fear that he may fall into madness?
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