Act 3 scene 2

Synopsis of Act 3 Scene 2

Lear raves at the heart of the storm, cursing his daughters. He calls on the elements to destroy him and refers to himself as ‘a despised old man’ and says that [his] ‘wits begin to turn’. Kent appears and pleads with the king to take shelter in a nearby hovel. The Fool predicts that there will be serious disruption for England, whatever the future brings.

King Lear and the fool in the storm by William DyceCommentary on Act 3 Scene 2

The scene is dominated by the storm, which is both real and an encapsulation of Lear’s madness and energetic anger. Lear’s attempt to command the elements is ironically counterpointed by Psalms 29:3-9 (with which Shakespeare’s audience would have been familiar) in which the storm is a metaphor for God’s power, whereas here Lear is the victim of the elements
There is an intense irony that in his madness Lear sees the world and its injustices much more clearly than he did when he was sane. Similarly Shakespeare later develops the idea of ‘seeing’ more clearly when rendered blind.
Blow … crack … drenched … drowned … singe … rumble … cataracts … hurricanoes … horrible … foul … executing etc.: The combination of verbs, nouns and adjectives in this scene lend it a terrifying energy. It is not surprising that for many readers and audiences this scene is the poetic and dramatic heart of the play.
drench’d our steeples: the pointed spire on a parish church was the highest building for miles around in Shakespeare’s day, consequently emphasizing the depth of the flood Lear calls for.
Crack nature’s moulds: The image of cracking the moulds that produced life carries the idea of total destruction. Once a mould is broken, then nothing can be created from it again. The natural order therefore comes to an end.
A poor, infirm, weak and despised old man: This is an entirely lucid summary of Lear’s current state. As the storm rages, Lear is able to ‘see’ his condition with arresting clarity.
The cod-piece that will house / Before the head has any: A codpiece was a prominent padded covering over the penis, often used as a euphemism for it. The Fool is pointing out the dangers of sexual urges overtaking rationalism (as Regan and Goneril are soon to discover).
The man that makes his toe / What his heart would make: The Fool indirectly criticises Lear, hinting that Lear has put his trust in his evil and worthless daughters rather than in the honest and loyal Cordelia.
I am a man more sinned against than sinning: Lear compares himself with the list of wrong-doers he has just mentioned. They have plenty of crimes to hide and must be warned that they will suffer for their misdemeanours eventually. Lear has committed relatively few crimes and yet he is being made to suffer now.
Alchemist's WorkshopThe art of our necessities is strange: As a king, Lear would never have entered such a place as this hovel. Now necessity makes the hovel desirable. The idea of making vile things precious is related to alchemy whose best-known aim was to turn base metal into gold (see Alchemy).
Albion: The ancient name for Britain, as used by the Romans and Greeks.
This prophecy Merlin shall make: The wizard in the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Fool steps into the world of Shakespeare’s contemporary audience, commenting that he cannot quote Merlin because in the world in which the play is set, Merlin has not yet been born.

Investigating Act 3 Scene 2

  • Why does Lear call upon the storm to produce disorder?
    • What is wrong with the world as it is?
  • How does Lear think about himself in the scene?
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