Act 3 scene 3

Synopsis of Act 3 Scene 3

Gloucester tells Edmund that Cornwall, who is his feudal lord, has expressly forbidden him to shelter Lear. He also tells Edmund that he has received an alarming letter which explains how Lear was wronged and that France is preparing for war. Gloucester insists that the contents of this letter must be kept secret. This, of course, is music to Edmund’s ears and, when he is left alone, he states that he will use the letter to destroy his father and to further his own ends.

Commentary on Act 3 Scene 3

The scene further binds together the main Lear plot and the Gloucester subplot. Gloucester will be loyal to Lear but is blind to the fact that revealing this loyalty to Edmund will destroy him. Like Lear, Gloucester cannot perceive which of his children is really behaving unnaturally towards him.
unnatural dealing: The term is highly ironic. Gloucester refers to the ‘unnatural’ behaviour of Goneril and Regan, not seeing that it is equally applicable to Edmund. To underline the point, Edmund picks the word up from Gloucester and seems to be enjoying his father’s blindness to the truth. Gloucester reveals that he has received secret (and therefore dangerous) information about the military assistance on its way to Lear from France. What he does not realise is that Edmund will use this as proof of his father’s treachery, in order to seize Gloucester’s titles and property.
This courtesy … shall the duke instantly know: Edmund will be turning this 
acknowledged kindness to the King into something which will bring himself reward. 
The younger rises when the old doth fall: This sounds like a proverb and suggests that Edmund has no moral qualms at all about what he is doing. It is as though his actions reflect a natural principle, according to which the young replace the old in power and influence. This is contrary to the contemporary concept of ‘divine order’ in which youth defers to age, as emphasised in classical and biblical writings.

Investigating Act 3 Scene 3

  • How does Gloucester’s blind trust in Edmund link his and Lear’s situations?
  • What hopes does Gloucester have for Cordelia and the French army?
  • How does Edmund mock his father’s belief in a universe governed by justice and order?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.