Act 5 scene 1

Synopsis of Act 5 Scene 1

A jealous Regan questions Edmund about his relationship with Goneril, and Goneril – in an aside to the audience – says that she would rather lose the military battle than lose Edmund to Regan. 
Edgar appears in disguise and takes Albany to one side, showing him Goneril’s secret letter to Edmund. Edgar proposes that after the battle Albany should call for a challenger to prove, via trial by combat, that the contents of the letter are true. 
In a soliloquy Edmund reflects that Albany’s authority will be needed in the battle, but that he hopes that Goneril will then arrange for her husband to be killed. Although Albany has decreed that mercy should be shown to Lear and Cordelia, Edmund will not permit it.

Commentary on Act 5 Scene 1

Whilst battle details are sketchy, attention is focussed on the sexual jealousy between Regan and Goneril. Their rivalry over Edmund (who treats both as pawns in his game) intensifies as a parallel to the growing conflict between Edmund and Albany. 
Know of the Duke if his last purpose hold: Edmund knows that Albany does not wish to fight against Lear and his supporters from France.
forfended place: Regan asks Edmund point-blank whether he has found his way to Goneril’s ‘forbidden place’, i.e. had sex with her.
I shall never endure her: Regan gives voice to her intense jealousy at the thought that Goneril may have won Edmund’s love.
Where I could not be honest, / I never yet was valiant: Albany reveals just how far his loyalties have been torn in different directions.
Why is this reasoned? Regan (supported by Goneril) thinks that Albany is wasting time in working out his attitude to the forthcoming battle.
I can produce a champion: Edgar knows that his appearance hardly creates confidence. Therefore, he asserts that he has a champion, i.e. a man who is ready to stand up for someone by taking up his cause in single combat.
To both these sisters have I sworn my love: In this soliloquy Edmund says how he intends to make use of Albany's authority until the fighting is over and then leave it to Goneril to get rid of him. 
we’ll use / His countenance for the battle: As always, characters have a strong sense of where they stand in the social hierarchy. Edmund knows that Albany's authority is much greater than his own, since Albany is a Duke and Edmund has only recently been promoted from a much lower social rank, being the illegitimate son of an earl.
Lear and .. Cordelia … Shall never see his pardon: Because, of course, Edmund will arrange their murder. Edmund’s ambition is limitless: he realises that he has a strong chance of becoming king, so long as his side wins the battle and those who stand in his way are eliminated.

Investigating Act 5 Scene 1...

  • How does this scene show the deteriorating relationship between Goneril and Regan?
  • What is the function of the letter which Edgar gives to Albany?
  • How does their relationship with Edmund show that Goneril and Regan are also capable of misjudging human nature?
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