Act 4 Scene 3

Synopsis of Act 4 Scene 3

In Dover a Gentleman tells Kent of the tears that Cordelia has shed in response to news about her father's condition. Kent replies that Lear is in Dover but that he refuses to see Cordelia because he is too ashamed of what he has done.

Commentary on Act 4 Scene 3

This scene reminds the audience of Cordelia, her sorrows serving as an effective counterbalance to the violent language and actions of the preceding scene. It also highlights the love and reverence that Kent has for Cordelia.
Why the King of France is so suddenly gone back: There are several dramatic reasons why Shakespeare excludes the King of France from the action. It removes part of the problem of having Britain invaded by a foreign power, as the army of France is now under the command of Cordelia. It is she who is now able to use the army to come to her father’s defence. The dramatic emphasis is on goodness fighting against evil rather than on a foreign power invading Britain.
There she shook / The holy water from her heavenly eyes: Cordelia's tears are seen as holy water (water blessed by the priest and sprinkled on Christians as a token of God's blessing).
The stars above us … different issues: Kent means that the only way of explaining such different qualities in people who come from the same family must be that fate (as working through the conjunction of the stars) decrees it to be so. In this way fate must be a stronger influence than the inheritance of family characteristics.
A sovereign shame so elbows him: Lear wants to approach Cordelia, but the shame he feels at the way he has treated her prevents him from doing so. Kent's words here prepare the audience for the eventual reconciliation between father and daughter.
They are afoot: This short scene may have been devoid of action but the news it has imparted has led to this point – there is now going to be an inevitable clash of armies.

Investigating Act 4 Scene 3

  • How does Kent seek to explain the differences between Cordelia and her sisters?
  • Lear can now see his children for what they are. In what ways is his madness similar to Gloucester’s blindness in granting insight into the truth?
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