Act 5 scene 2

Synopsis of Act 5 Scene 2

Nearby, during a battle between the British and the French, Gloucester rests under a tree whilst Edgar goes off to fight. Retreating soldiers pass by and Edgar returns saying that Cordelia’s forces have been defeated and that Lear and Cordelia are now prisoners of the English. Gloucester says that he will go no further, but Edgar reminds him of his resolution to endure his suffering with patience and the two go off together.

Commentary on Act 5 Scene 2

The battle is represented through sound: ‘Alarum and retreat within’. Any hope that the forces of goodness might prevail in the battle are abruptly dashed. Edgar summarises: ‘King Lear hath lost, he and his daughter ta’en.’
Alarum: This would have been the offstage sound representing battle noises.
father: This term was often used in Shakespeare's day to mean merely ‘old man’, and this is the sense in which Gloucester takes it. For the audience the phrase would also have had the more normal meaning.
Men must endure … / Ripeness is all: Edgar is advocating patience. He says it is wrong for human beings to pre-empt the natural time of death (something which Gloucester says he wants to do by remaining where he is). The word ‘ripeness’ and its association with nature reminds us of the play’s emphasis that it is wrong to go against the dictates of nature.

Investigating Act 5 Scene 2...

  • What is the dramatic effect of the battle being fought offstage?
    • How does this help to maintain the play's focus on family relationships?
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