Act 3 scene 1

Synopsis of Act 3 Scene 1

Kent meets a Gentleman and it is confirmed to the audience that:

  • Lear is raging madly in the storm, accompanied only by the Fool
  • There is division between Cornwall and Albany
  • Cordelia's French powers have arrived in England, preparing for war. 

As proof of his identity and loyalty, Kent gives the Gentleman a ring to show Cordelia, with the understanding that she will recognise from whom it has come.

Commentary on Act 3 Scene 1

This scene prepares the audience for Lear’s madness as well as suggesting that dissension is brewing between Albany and Cornwall. The scene establishes the symbolic nature of the storm, which powerfully conveys the plight of the King.

One minded like the weather: The Gentleman’s comment links Lear’s ‘mind’ with the ‘weather’.

Strives in his little world of man: In Shakespeare’s day a human being was regarded as a universe in miniature: a ‘microcosm’ as opposed to the ‘macrocosm’. See An ordered physical and political world. Mankind reflected principles which governed all of creation. Here Lear’s ‘little world’ is seen to be very weak and fragile in comparison with the mighty storm which rages around him.

Who have – as who have not … servants: The occupational hazard of powerful people is that ‘servants’ in a household can actually be spies.

And speculations / Intelligent of our state: The word ‘intelligence’ adds to the idea that a state of war exists between Britain and France.

From France there comes a power / Into this scattered kingdom: Shakespeare deals carefully with what would have been a sensitive contemporary issue (France was traditionally an enemy). It is a necessary part of his plot that Britain is invaded by France but Shakespeare emphasises that France is acting only from the most moral of motives, coming to the rescue of a country torn apart by the immorality of Goneril and Regan.

I am much more / Than my out-wall: Kent’s appearance does not lend him authority, since he is dressed as a servant. What convinces the gentleman is the contents of Kent’s purse: he has a ring which Cordelia will recognise.

Investigating Act 3 Scene 1...

  • The gentleman's language is full of nature/animal imagery. What effect does this have?
    • What relationship does it have to the way that Lear has been treated by his daughters?
  • What does Kent hope the invading French forces can achieve?
    • Why does he think they may be able to achieve success?
  • What does Kent share in common with Cordelia?
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