King Lear Act 4 Analysis

Main events of the act 4:

  • Goneril arrives at her castle, but her husband doesn't come to greet her;
  • Albany is unhappy about what happened to Lear and Goneril wants to have a love affair with Edmund;
  • Duke of Cornwall dies and his widow Regan starts to plan a marriage with Edmund;
  • Gloucester wants Edgar to take him to Dover to kill himself on the cliff;
  • Edgar persuades Gloucester that the flat ground in front of him is a cliff and Gloucester takes a step forward;
  • Edgar persuaded Gloucester that he fell off the cliff and survived;
  • Cordelia finds out that her father has lost his mind and orders him to be brought to the camp for treatment;
  • Regan promises to pay Oswald if he killed Gloucester;
  • Oswald attacks Gloucester, but Edgar steps in and kills Oswald;
  • Edgar finds on Oswald a letter from Goneril to Edmund. In this letter Goneril asks Edmund to kill her husband in the battle;
  • The forces of Albany and Cornwall are on their way to fight the French army;
  • King Lear feels better after doctor's treatment and reunites with Cordelia.


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4

Scene 5

Scene 6

Scene 7


Act 4 Scene 1

People present in the scene:

  • Edgar – son of Gloucester dressed like an insane beggar;
  • Gloucester – blinded nobleman;
  • Old Man – servant at the castle of Gloucester.

Place of the scene: Somewhere around the Gloucester castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • An Old Man hands blind Gloucester to Edgar;
  • Edgar hears how Gloucester is sorry that he believed Edmund’s lies about Edgar;
  • Edgar doesn’t reveal himself to his father;
  • Gloucester wants to be taken to Dover and jump off the cliff there.

Short Summary:

Edgar is wandering around the castle ground pretending to be poor Tom. All of the sudden he sees that an Old Man is taking his father somewhere. The Old Man tells Gloucester that he has been living on his castle grounds for 80 years, serving first Gloucester’s father, then Gloucester himself.

Gloucester is overwhelmed with sorrow, he doesn't care that he has lost his sight, because he is so sorry about how he treated Edgar. Gloucester recognizes poor Tom that he saw with the king a day before and asks to be let with him. Gloucester also asks the Old Man to give poor Tom good clothes and send them in the direction of Dover.

Gloucester shows poor Tom (Edgar) his wallet and asks to take him to a cliff in Dover. He promises to remunerate poor Tom well if only he takes him to that cliff. Edgar (dressed as poor Tom) agrees and they leave for Dover.


Act 4 Scene 2

People present in the scene:

  • Goneril – elder daughter of King Lear;
  • Edmund – illegitimate son of Gloucester who now received his father’s title and wealth;
  • Oswald – loyal servant of Goneril;
  • Messenger.

Place of the scene: In front of Duke of Albany castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Edmund and Goneril arrive at Goneril castle;
  • The Duke of Albany doesn’t approve of Goneril’s behavior towards her father;
  • The Duke of Albany is reluctant to go to war with the French army;
  • Goneril dislikes her husband’s attitude and contemplates a possible love affair with Edmund;
  • Regan’s messenger informs that Duke of Cornwall died.

Short Summary:

Goneril arrived home together with Edmund. Oswald greets them. Goneril isn’t happy that her husband Albany didn’t greet her and Edmund. Oswald informs her that Albany isn’t happy about the news he received from Gloucester castle.

Goneril is sure that Albany is too scared to recognize the events that would call him to action. Goneril sends Edmund to go back to Cornwall and start gathering the army. Goneril gives him a kiss to seal the deal and sends Oswald to go with Edmund.

When Edmund leaves Goneril talks out loud how much Edmund is better than her husband. When her husband enters she expresses her dissatisfaction that he didn’t greet her. In his turn, Albany expresses his dissatisfaction with Goneril’s rudeness towards her father. Goneril accuses her husband of cowardice.

The messenger brings the latest news: the Duke of Cornwall died while fighting with the servant of Gloucester. The messenger also gives a letter to Goneril from Regan. Goneril isn’t happy to hear that Regan is now a widow because she is afraid that her sister will steal away her potential lover, Edmund.

Albany wonders where was Edmund when his father was tortured. The messenger tells him that Edmund came to his castle with Goneril but is already gone. The messenger tells Albany that it was Edmund who betrayed his father and left the castle while Gloucester was punished for the things he didn’t do. Albany promises to thank Gloucester for his loyalty to Lear and revenge for his lost eyes.


Act 4 Scene 3

People present in the scene:

  • Kent – servant of King Lear;
  • Gentleman.

Place of the scene: French army camp near port Dover.

Main events of the scene:

  • In the French camp Kent finds out that Cordelia is heading the French army;
  • Cordelia came to protect her father from her sisters;
  • Armies of Albany and Cornwall are on their way to fight the French army.

Short Summary:

Kent wonders how come the French king left for France so hastily. The gentleman tells him that he had urgent matters to attend to in France. He also told Kent that when Cordelia read about her father’s problems back home, she was very worried and started to cry.

King Lear is already in Dover. He realizes what is going on around him from time to time, but still avoids seeing his daughter because he is sorry for what he has done to Cordelia.

The nobleman also informed Kent that armies of both dukes, Duke of Albany and Duke of Cornwall are heading their way. Kent takes the gentleman to King Lear and is still keeping his cover and not telling anybody that he is the nobleman Kent.


Act 4 Scene 4

People present in the scene:

  • Cordelia – the youngest daughter of King Lear;
  • Doctor;
  • Soldiers.

Place of the scene: One of the tents in Dover.

Main events of the scene:

  • Cordelia finds out that her father has gone insane;
  • Cordelia gives orders to find and treat King Lear.

Short Summary:

Cordelia wants the guards to find her father. She heard many stories about his insane behavior: how he used to roam around the fields and sing songs wearing flower wreath. She is ready to give everything she has for the doctor to save her father. The doctor is going to give King Lear special herbs to help him sleep.

The messenger informs Cordelia that the British army is heading their way. Cordelia is ready to face them. She confesses that she started this war for her father.


Act 4 Scene 5

People present in the scene:

  • Regan – daughter of King Lear who has just lost her husband, Duke of Cornwall;
  • Oswald – servant of Goneril, elder daughter of King Lear.

Place of the scene: Gloucester castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Regan is now officially a widow and wants to marry Edmund to secure her status and wealth;
  • Regan considers Goneril a potential rival in her quest for Edmund;
  • Regan sends Oswald to kill Gloucester.

Short Summary:

Oswald tells Regan that the army of Duke of Albany went to war with the French army even though the duke wasn’t happy about it. The Duke of Albany is personally accompanying his soldiers.

Regan knows that Goneril sent Edmund a letter. She is jealous. Regan also thinks that it was a foolish idea to leave the Earl of Gloucester alive – he could turn people against them.

Regan wants to bribe Oswald to let her read the letter from Goneril to Edmund. But Oswald doesn’t let her do it. Regan asks Oswald to give Edmund a ring as a sign of her love and says that she would remunerate Oswald if he killed the blind Gloucester.


Act 4 Scene 6

People present in the scene:

  • Gloucester – the blinded Earl;
  • Edgar – son of Gloucester in disguise;
  • King Lear – retired British monarch who lost his mind;
  • Oswald – Goneril’s servant;
  • Servants of Cordelia.

Place of the scene: Somewhere near Port Dover.

Main events of the scene:

  • Edgar brings Gloucester to Dover and persuades him that he is standing at the edge of the cliff (when in fact he is standing on a flat surface);
  • Gloucester tries to kill himself and steps off the “cliff”;
  • Edgar pretends to be another person and tells his father that he fell off the cliff but survived;
  • Cordelia’s servants find King Lear who is wearing a flower wreath and walks around talking nonsense;
  • Oswald attacks Gloucester but dies in a fight with Edgar;
  • Edgar finds in Oswald’s pocket a letter from Goneril to Edmund in which she asks Edmund to kill her husband Albany during a fight with the French army.

Short Summary:

Gloucester is eager to get to the cliff. Edgar brought him to a flat terrain but convinced the blind Gloucester that he is near the cliff. Edgar says that Gloucester can’t hear the sounds of the sea because all his senses are dimmed. Gloucester notices that Edgar is no longer talking nonsense like poor Tom used to.

Gloucester gives Edgar a bag with money and wants him to leave. Believing that he is alone, the blind man makes a step towards the end of the imaginary cliff.

Gloucester falls and this time Edgar approaches him like a stranger. Edgar tells Gloucester that it is a miracle that he survived. While they talk, Lear passes through them. The King is out of his mind, talking about soldiers, daughters, marriage and etc.

The servants sent by Cordelia find Lear and take him to the doctor. The servants also tell Edgar that the war is coming and that the army should be in that place within an hour or so.

Oswald is passing by, he sees Gloucester and decides to kill him to get remuneration from Regan. Edgar steps in to protect Gloucester and kills Oswald. Before dying Oswald gives Edgar his wallet and a letter, asking him to hand it over to Earl Edmund who is with the British army now.

Edgar opens the letter and in that letter Goneril asks Edmund to kill her husband Albany during a battle with the French army. Edgar decides to show this letter to the Duke of Albany.


Act 4 Scene 7

People present in the scene:

  • King Lear – the king who gave everything to his elder daughters and has gone insane;
  • Cordelia - youngest daughter of Lear who was left with no heritage;
  • Kent - a nobleman of Lear who disagreed with his decision to punish Cordelia;
  • The Doctor;
  • The servants.

Place of the scene: A tent of the French army settlement in Dover.

Main events of the scene:

  • The doctors cure King Lear and he regains his reason;
  • King Lear thanks Cordelia for her care and love;
  • King Lear is sorry that he was so wrong about his youngest daughter.

Short Summary:

Cordelia wants to thank Kent for keeping an eye on her father. She wants Kent to take off his servant clothes and start being himself. But Kent has a plan and doesn't want people to know that he is in town.

Cordelia talks to the doctor who is treating King Lear. King Lear wakes up after a long sleep. At first, he thinks that Cordelia is a ghost. But soon he gets a better grab of a situation and falls on his knees asking for Cordelia's forgiveness. He is desperate saying that Cordelia has a real reason to hate him, while her elder sisters treated him badly having no reason at all.

The doctor advises Cordelia not to provoke painful memories since Lear is still recovering. She leaves with her father leaving Kent alone with the Gentleman.

The Gentleman shares the news that Duke Cornwall died and his army is led by Edmund, the illegitimate son of Earl of Gloucester. There are rumors that Edgar and Kent are both in Germany.

The British army is approaching the camp and the French are getting ready for the battle.

Act 4: Analysis and Interpretation

Act four opens yet another family intrigue - both Goneril and Regan want to marry Edmund. Shakespeare managed to find a fine way to demonstrate the fickle nature of life. Once an outcast, a bastard Edmund is now the number one most wanted bachelor.

The Duke of Albany picks up the line of dignity from Gloucester and openly disagrees with his wicked wife Goneril. Goneril doesn't seem to have any kind of respect to her husband's opinion. On the contrary, she takes his opinion as a sign of weakness. The fight between Goneril and Albany escalates quickly. If in the first act Albany simply didn’t approve of his wife’s actions, in Act four he is already outraged and calls her a monster.

Regan doesn't wait long to mourn the death of her husband. This creates a parallel with Shakespeare's other play, Hamlet, in which the queen hastily remarried after the death of her beloved husband. Regan sees an opportunity to secure her position in the marriage with Edmund and already devises a plan. That is exactly why Regan wants to get rid of Gloucester. The fact that the old Earl Gloucester is still alive means that he might reclaim his status.

Act four is also a bright example of the balance in Shakespeare's plays. While King Lear loses his mind more and more, Edgar starts to give up on his role as an insane Tom and is already speaking normally in scene six. He is even calling Gloucester "father" more and more often towards the end of the scene. All the hidden things are coming to reveal their nature.

Act four finishes with the anticipation of war that is coming. Shakespeare doesn't tell his audience about the numbers or preferences in this war, however, it is clear that England is in no position to stand her grounds on the battlefield. When Lear gave his kingdom to Goneril and Regan, he didn't only strip himself of the royal power - he destroyed any authority in the country whatsoever. When facing the French, Britain has no ruler and no defined position. The conflict between Goneril and Regan and the intrigues of Edmund have weakened the government unity. The audience is kept in suspense about the outcomes of this war.