Act 4 scene 4

Synopsis of Act 4 Scene 4

Cordelia hears that her father has been seen wandering and wearing a crown of flowers and weeds. She hopes to restore him to health and orders a search party. The Doctor offers some reassurance: Lear’s madness may be cured if he is able to rest and if the right medicinal herbs are available. A messenger reports that the armies of Cornwall and Albany are approaching. Cordelia says that she is going into battle for love for her father.

Commentary on Act 4 Scene 4

This short scene is full of visual spectacle, the opening stage direction calling for ‘drum and colours’, the accoutrements of battle. Cordelia is accompanied by a doctor, showing that the world Cordelia represents is one of compassion and healing – in very sharp contrast to the world of destruction and malice represented by her sisters.
What can man’s wisdom / In the restoring his bereaved sense: Cordelia comments that doctors may be confident in curing bodily wounds but that they are much less certain when it comes to diseased minds.
Our foster nurse of nature is repose: The doctor’s remedy for the King’s insanity is considerably gentler than traditional treatments usually meted out to the mad in Shakespeare’s day. Many of the inmates of Bethlehem Hospital would have been chained up and treated as animals. Here the doctor is saying that Mother Nature restores strength through rest.
Are many simples operative: ‘Simples’ are medicinal herbs. They would have formed the basis of medical treatment in Shakespeare’s day and doctors would be expected to know the effect of herbal medicines upon the human body.
O dear father / It is thy business that I go about: Cordelia has many of the qualities associated with Jesus Christ. Her words here echo those spoken by Jesus (in response to Mary and Joseph, who were looking for him) in Luke 2:49: ‘I must be about my father’s business.’

Investigating Act 4 Scene 4...

  • How does Cordelia show that she values her duty as a daughter above everything else?
  • How does Shakespeare emphasise that an invasion from France is to be welcomed?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.