King Lear Contents
- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Social / political background
- Religious / philosophical background
- The Theatre
- Act I
- Act II
- Act III
- Act IV
- Act V
Act 3 scene 4
Synopsis of Act 3 Scene 4
Lear, Kent and the Fool approach the hovel. Lear declares that the storm is easier to suffer than the cruel treatment he has received but sends the Fool inside. Lear realises he has taken too little care of the plight of the poor when he was King.
The Fool reappears, terrified of Edgar, disguised as Tom O’Bedlam, who raves about being pursued by devils. Lear sympathises with him, supposing that he too must have been betrayed by his daughters. Edgar states that the devils who afflict him are punishment for sins he has committed, claiming he slept with his mistress, amongst other misdemeanours. Lear identifies with this ‘sinner’ and strips off his own clothing.
Gloucester appears, looking for the King, and is surprised to discover Lear in such lowly company. He offers everyone shelter and confides to Kent that Lear's daughters seek the King's death.
Commentary on Act 3 Scene 4
As Lear becomes more insane he appears calmer in the way he speaks. Despite Kent’s protestations, Lear continues to expose himself to the storm. The storm reflects nature devoid of morality; Lear by contrast shows moral consciousness which distinguishes humankind from the rest of nature. Edgar’s pretended madness is also contrasted with Lear’s real lunacy. When Gloucester enters, the two strands of the plot come together.
Save what beats there. Filial ingratitude: To Lear, the storm outside and the storm in his head are as one: the tempest in his mind dominates all his senses.
But I will punish home: Whilst thinking about the ingratitude of his daughters and wishing to have retribution, Lear also knows that such thinking is dangerous: ‘That way madness lies.’
Nay, get you in: By asking someone far inferior to a king to enter the hovel before him, Lear overturns the normal order of precedence.
Take physic, pomp: Lear now recognises that, before he suffered, he virtually ignored the poor and defenceless. Pomp is associated with people wearing rich clothing.
Hast thou given all to thy two daughters: Seeing Edgar dressed as a madman intensifies Lear’s own madness. He assumes that Edgar’s lunacy must, like his own, spring from the ingratitude of daughters.
Bless thy five wits: These were not the same as the five senses; instead, to Shakespeare’s original audience, they would have been common sense, imagination, fantasy, estimation and memory. Edgar’s impersonation of a beggar includes calling down blessings on someone who would give him a charitable donation.
star-blasting and taking: The destructive influence of the stars is again referred to. ‘Blasting’ is withering and ‘taking’ means ‘exercising a malignant influence’.
Death, traitor: Kent has dared to disagree with Lear – which is why the King has called him a traitor. Lear now seems to be obsessed with the idea that only by having ungrateful daughters can a man like Edgar have fallen into such suffering.
Judicious punishment!: Lear thinks the punishment is ‘just’ since his own flesh was responsible for the creation of such daughters.
pelican: It was a widespread belief in Shakespeare's day that the mother pelican feeds her offspring with blood taken from her own breast, and that this blood had the power of reviving her young if they died. The mother pelican therefore became a symbol of parents who love their children too much, giving them more than they can reasonably expect. Lear feels that he has given his daughters nothing less than his lifeblood.
Obey thy parents … proud array: There are many references to the Ten Commandments in the Bible (see Exodus 20:1-17). Those specifically referred to here are:
- the third Commandment, ‘Do not swear/take the name of God in vain’
- the fifth, ‘Honour your father and your mother’
- the seventh, ‘You shall not commit adultery’
- the ninth, ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour’
- and the tenth, ‘You shall not covet’.
hog in sloth: In medieval bestiaries (books about animals) each animal was given a unique characteristic, to teach humans moral lessons. For instance, the pig served as a warning against laziness and the fox was the epitome of stealthy cunning.
to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies: Most men cover their bodies with material that has been derived from animals: wool, leather, silk etc. However, Edgar is a poor naked wretch who has no such defence against the elements. Therefore, he becomes a symbol of humanity at its most basic, his bare skin his only defence against the storm.
Off, off, you lendings! By ‘lendings’ Lear means things which are not essential to the basic human being. Here he refers to his clothes, objects which do not belong to the blood, bone, skin and muscle which constitute a human body. He tears off his clothes because he wants to become like the naked beggars he has been talking about.
Now a little fire in a wild field were like an old lecher’s heart: A torch is of little use to a human body in the midst of a raging storm. In the same way the sexual desires of an old lecher can do very little to inflame his whole being when the rest of his body is cold and unresponsive.
Flibbertigibbet: A restless, unstable person.
the first cock: This was commonly taken as the first sign that dawn was breaking.
who is whipped from tithing to tithing: Vagrants were commonly whipped from parish to parish in an attempt to make them return to the place that they had come from.
stock-punished: Punished in an humiliating fashion by being placed within the stocks.
The prince of darkness is a gentleman: Edgar warns against judging by appearances (as Gloucester still is doing) by saying how the Devil himself can appear as a gentleman.
Our flesh and blood … doth hate what gets it: Gloucester appears to be thinking not only of his son Edgar, whom Edmund has framed as a treacherous criminal, but also of Goneril and Regan.
First let me talk about this philosopher: The word ‘philosopher’ could mean both somebody who thought about metaphysical topics and a scientist who studied the natural world and who, therefore, would understand the nature of thunder.
Ah, that good Kent! / He said it would be thus: There is obvious dramatic irony here, since Kent is in disguise and Gloucester fails to recognise him.
Now outlawed from my blood: To be condemned as an outlaw was equivalent to being sentenced to death. Such a conviction meant that the outlaw lost any right to inheriting property.
Child Rowland to the dark tower came: The word ‘child’ in this context means a probationary knight. Rowland was the hero of an old French legend and nephew to Charlemagne. These lines spoken by Edgar appear to come from an old ballad.
I smell the blood of a British man: These words are traditionally spoken by the Giant in the fairy-tale of Jack and the Beanstalk (or Jack the Giant-Killer). The more usual version of the line is, ‘I smell the blood of an Englishman’. However, Shakespeare sets this play in ancient Britain, rather than England, and so uses the form he does.
Investigating Act 3 Scene 4
What exactly has driven Lear to this state of madness?
What insights into the lives of the poor does his madness give him?
Why did he lack these insights when he was king?
What is Lear’s reaction to Edgar?
What kind of contrast does he offer to his daughters?
What is the dramatic effect of Gloucester failing to recognise his own child?
How does this parallel the Lear/Kent relationship?
How do these examples develop the theme of blindness in the play?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1And God spoke all these words, saying, 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3You shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's. 18Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19and said to Moses, You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die. 20Moses said to the people, Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin. 21The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. 22And the Lord said to Moses, Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. 23You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. 26And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.
1And God spake all these words, saying, 2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. 12Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 13Thou shalt not kill. 14Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15Thou shalt not steal. 16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. 17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's. 18And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 21And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. 22And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. 24An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. 25And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. 26Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
Also called 'The Decalogue' (Ten Words). Instructions said to have been given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, which have not only shaped Jewish and Christian belief and practice but also strongly influenced the legal systems of many countries.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
Belonging to the Middle Ages.
Area with its own church, served by a priest who has the spiritual care of all those living within it.
Also known as Satan or Lucifer, the Bible depicts him as the chief of the fallen angels and demons, the arch enemy of God who mounts a significant, but ultimately futile, challenge to God's authority.
Charlemagne, circa 78AD – 814AD, was the ruler of the medieval Franks of western Europe and crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
Traditional poem or song, usually consisting of quatrains with abcb rhyme and iambic tetrameters.
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