King Lear Act 2 Analysis

Main events of the act 2:

  • Edmund persuades Edgar that his father wants to punish him for something so Edgar runs away;
  • Gloucester disowns his son Edgar and gives all his heritage to Edmund;
  • Regan knows that her father is coming to visit her but takes off to visit Gloucester castle;
  • Lear complaints about Goneril, but Regan finds excuses for her disrespect towards their father;
  • Regan wants Lear to cut ⅔ of his knights, he changes his mind and wants to go back to Goneril, but Goneril no longer accepts him;
  • Lear realizes that his daughters don't love or respect him and runs away from the castle;
  • It is storming outside, but Regan orders to have all the castle doors shut and leaves her father facing the storm outside.


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4


Act 2 Scene 1

People present in the scene:

  • Edmund – younger son of Gloucester born outside of marriage;
  • Curan – servant;
  • Edgar – son of Gloucester;
  • Regan – daughter of Lear;
  • Duke of Cornwall – husband of Regan.

Place of the scene: Castle of Gloucester.

Main events of the scene:

  • Regan and her husband Duke of Cornwall are visiting Gloucester;
  • Edmund claims that Edgar attacked him with a knife and ran away;
  • Gloucester renounces Edgar and signs all his possessions over to Edmund;
  • Regan received a letter from her sister and is set to continue their plan to undermine Lear's authority.

Short Summary:

Curan, the servant of the castle, meets Edmund and informs him that Regan and Duke of Cornwall will pay them a visit. There are rumors that Dukes of Albany and Cornwall don't get along well. Edmund plans to use Cornwall presence to his own advantage and benefit.

Edmund further persuades Edgar that Gloucester is mad at him. He tells him to run. When the two hear that Gloucester is approaching, Edmund suggests to pretend that they fight (because the guards have orders to seize Edgar) and then Edgar escapes.

Edmund wounds himself and accuses Edgar of attacking him. Edmund says that Edgar tried to persuade him to kill his father, didn't manage to do it and that's why he attacked Edmund. Gloucester renounces Edgar and promises to give all the power and possessions to Edmund.

When Regan and Duke of Cornwall arrive, Gloucester tells them the sad news about his son. Regan says that this could be the result of bad influence Lear's knights and servants had on Edgar.

Regan says that she has received letters from both Lear and Goneril. She intends to help her sister and has a bad opinion of Lear's knights. Nevertheless, Regan and Duke of Cornwall want Gloucester's advice on how to deal with these letters.


Act 2 Scene 2

People present in the scene:

  • Kent (dressed as another person) – pretends to be a servant of Lear;
  • Oswald – servant of Goneril, daughter of Lear;
  • Edmund – son and from now on the only heir of Gloucester;
  • Duke of Cornwall - husband of Goneril, elder daughter of Lear;
  • Regan - daughter of Lear;
  • Earn Gloucester – one of the noblemen of Great Britain.

Place of the scene: In front of Gloucester castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Kent arrives to deliver a letter from Lear;
  • Kent meets Goneril's messenger Oswald and they start a fight;
  • Regan and others come and order to fix Kent;
  • Kent says that treating him so badly means dishonoring the King whom he serves;
  • Duke of Cornwall and Regan don't care - they seek an open confrontation with Lear.

Short Summary:

Both Kent and Oswald arrive at Gloucester castle with letters. Kent recognizes the servant who insulted the king and was rude towards him. At first, Oswald doesn't recognize Kent but Kent reminds him of how he put Oswald to the ground at Goneril's castle. This provokes a fight, but it is mostly Kent who wants Oswald to fight him and Oswald who screams for help.

Gloucester with his guests hear the screams and come to the entrance. They break up a fight but Kent and Oswald continue to exchange mutual insults. The Duke of Cornwall tries to get to the bottom of Kent's hatred towards Oswald. Oswald tells the story of how he was beaten by the King and Kent. Kent keeps being rude, so Cornwall decides to chain him.

Gloucester tries to object saying that punishing Kent means punishing the King himself. But Regan says that attacking Oswald is like attacking her sister Goneril and such action should have consequences. When everybody leaves Gloucester stays and expresses his disagreement with Cornwall's decision about punishing Kent.

At the end Kent is alone. He says that his dear King has made a fire for him to burn in. He gets out of the pocket and reads a letter from Cordelia where she promises to help.


Act 2 Scene 3

People present in the scene:

  • Edgar – rightful son of Gloucester now outcasted and dishonored;

Place of the scene: in the woods.

Main events of the scene:

  • Edgar learns that there is a hunt for his head;
  • Edgar decides to pretend to be a poor homeless Tom;

Short Summary:

Edgar has run away from the castle and is now in the woods. All the guards are looking for him. The outraged Gloucester has sent out his pictures to all towns and villages.

Yet he thinks he is lucky he got to escape. He doesn't suspect Edmund. He decided to make himself look very poor, dirtied his face, messed up his hair, impersonating some homeless person named Tom. From now on he will pretend to be a poor insane Tom.


Act 2 Scene 4

People present in the scene:

  • King Lear – King of Britain who gave everything to his daughters;
  • Fool – personal entertainer of the King;
  • Kent – servant of King Lear;
  • Earl Gloucester – one of the nobleman of King Lear;
  • Cornwall – husband of Regan;
  • Regan – daughter of King Lear;
  • Oswald – servant of Goneril;
  • Goneril – elder daughter of King Lear.

Place of the scene: In front of Gloucester castle where Lear sees Kent chained. Then inside the castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • King Lear arrives to Gloucester castle, he sees Kent and can’t believe that somebody would treat his servant so badly;
  • Lear tells Regan and Cornwall about Goneril’s terrible attitude in treating her father;
  • Regan takes her sister’s side and says that her father is getting old and difficult;
  • Goneril arrives to the castle and keeps acting disrespectfully towards her father;
  • Goneril and Regan insist that Lear cuts down his servant number up to the point where they allow him to have no servants whatsoever;
  • Lear leaves the castle, terrible storm is brewing outside;
  • Lear’s daughters order to close all the castle door and not let Lear in.

Short Summary:

King Lear arrives at the Gloucester castle looking for shelter, love and understanding of his second daughter, Regan. From his words we understand that Lear is surprised that Regan left her castle without letting her father know, they took Kent with him and ordered him to wait for the answer to his letter.

Kent is fixed in the sticks. He sees Lear and tells him who put him in the stocks. Lear can’t believe that somebody, especially his dearest relatives, would insult him like this. Lear orders his servants to stay outside and comes to the castle to talk to his daughter.

Inside the castle, Gloucester informs Lear that Regan and Duke of Cornwall don’t feel well and can’t talk to the king. Lear didn’t take it easy – he demanded honor and proper treatment because he is the king. He said that illness should not impede one from fulfilling his duty to the monarch. He also demanded Kent be let free.

Eventually, Cornwall and Regan come out to see the king. Lear complained about Goneril’s behavior to Regan, but Regan kept finding excuses for Goneril’s defiance. Regan is convinced that it was the rudeness and willfulness of king’s servants that made Goneril kick them out. Regan openly says that Lear is old and should let others take over his life. Regan wants Lear to go back and apologize in front of Goneril.

Lear is reluctant to go back to Goneril, because he knows that Goneril wants to cut his servants in half (leaving him only 50). Lear is still persuaded that Regan will treat him better than Goneril. Lear is determined to get to the bottom of who chained Kent and hopes that Regan didn’t know about it.

Oswald comes to announce the arrival of Goneril. In her letter, Goneril had warned her sister that she was coming. Regan extends her hand to Goneril despite Lear’s protests. Regan wants Lear to go back to Goneril, cut his servants in half, and after a month come to stay with her. Lear isn’t willing to give up his servants. He is cursing Goneril and says that will stay with Regan together will this 100 servants.

Regan says that she wasn't ready to accept him, additionally, it is expensive and challenging to manage 100 servants and maybe Lear can get by with the servants of his daughters instead of having his own. Finally, she says that if staying with her, Lear can have only 25 servants and not more.

Lear is disappointed that he had to give up his whole kingdom on condition that he gets to keep 100 servants and now it is taken away from him. But 50 servant is still more than 25 and he now wants to stay with Goneril. At this point, Goneril says that Lear needs no servants whatsoever. Lear is outraged and leaves. There are sounds of thunder and rain coming to the castle.

Regan says that she would accept her father into castle, but is firm on not letting anybody from her father’s servants. Gloucester is the only one who went after Lear. He saw the king take a horse. Goneril and Regan don’t want to follow their father. They order the doors to the castle to be closed.

Act 2: Analysis and Interpretation

Act two further intensified Lear's struggle to keep his power and authority. Here it is important to understand that knights aren't just servants of the king. Since King Lear gave up all his land, the knights are the only attribute of royal power he has left.

In the play, Shakespeare uses the concept of servants as the sign of might. Because you are nobody if you have nobody who worships you. And the king is nothing without the people who serve him and put his interests in priority, even if these interests are having lunch or playing games.

King Lear gets his revelation in Act two and is already sorry that he divided his kingdom between his two daughters. He realizes that their words meant nothing and he can't hold them to their loud proclamations now.

Act two is also a place where Edmund's true manipulative character is revealed: her not only persuades his step-brother, Edgar, that he is in trouble, he dares to proclaim that Edgar tried to kill his father. In this situation Edgar looks weak and scared, he doesn't even try to regain his reputation and clear his name. He simply runs trusting that his brother was telling the truth.

There is a strong parallel between how Lear rejected Cordelia in act one and how Gloucester rejected his son Edgar in act two. Both men believed the lies and were caught in the net of carefully crafted intrigues. Both men thought that they were saving their reputation and assets when dishonoring their "unworthy" children when in fact it will turn the other way around.

Being alone in the storm brings Lear moments of revelation. He talks about the nature of human needs and that "Man's life's as cheap as beast's: thou art a lady… if only to go warm were gorgeous". He realizes the fickle nature of fame and love, but he also gets to see his own country from another perspective. Meeting Edgar, King Lear probably gets his first encounter with a vagabond and he realizes how terrible the living conditions in his country are.

If in act two there were two distinct positive characters - Kent and Cordelia - towards the end of act two Gloucester starts to reveal positive sides of his character. He has a strong sense of duty that doesn't allow him to simply stand back and watch how the king is being dishonored. He realizes that what Goneril and Regan are doing is wrong and, what is most important, he is ready to express his feelings openly.

Towards the end of the act two, the audience is expecting to see even more changes in play's characters.