Act 3 scene 5

Synopsis of Act 3 Scene 5

Pretending to be in a painful moral dilemma, Edmund betrays his father, giving to Cornwall the letter that Gloucester has received from Cordelia. Cornwall orders Edmund to have his father arrested, and promises to give Edmund Gloucester's title.

Commentary on Act 3 Scene 5

This scene provides a contrast with the previous one, as the kindness of Kent and Gloucester is replaced by the vindictiveness of Cornwall. Edmund is again seen as a brilliant actor in this scene, pretending that it is painful for him to act against his father.
ere I depart his house: This is Gloucester’s house. It is clear that Cornwall is weak and easily persuaded that Gloucester is a traitor because of his allegiance to Lear and that he must therefore be severely punished for his treachery.
a provoking merit … himself: Edgar has been accused of plotting to murder his father – but since a case against Gloucester has now been formulated, Edgar’s plans could be seen to have some justification in them, at least for those who believe Edmund’s stories.
an intelligent party to the advantages of France: Edmund produces the letter as proof that Gloucester is a spy in the service of the King of France. The letter is the same one that is mentioned in the Act 3 Scene 3.

Investigating Act 3 Scene 5

  • How can Edgar's treatment of Gloucester be seen as a crime against nature?
  • What is the meaning of Cornwall offering to be Edmund’s ‘dearer father’ from now on?
  • In what ways does Cornwall also display blindness in his treatment of Edmund – just as Gloucester and Edgar have done?
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