King Lear Act 5 Analysis

Main events of the act 5:

  • Regan wants to know whether Edmund loves Goneril;
  • Edgar gives a letter to the Duke of Albany as proof of Goneril's sins;
  • Edmund doesn't want to choose between Regan or Goneril and hopes that one of them will murder the other;
  • Edmund is dreaming of becoming a kind after Lear and Cordelia are dead;
  • King Lear and Cordelia are captured by the Brits, Edmund gives orders to kill them in prison;
  • Albany wants to fight Edmund for having an affair with his wife, but Edgar (disguised) steps in and takes the challenge;
  • Edmund dies from the wound after the duel, Edgar reveals his identity;
  • Goneril poisoned Regan and then killed herself with a knife;
  • Cordelia is hung in the prison and Lear dies holding her body in his hands;
  • Albany wants to rebuild the country with the help of Kent and Edgar.


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3


Act 5 Scene 1

People present in the scene:

  • Regan – daughter of Lear;
  • Edmund – illegitimate son of Gloucester;
  • Soldiers and Gentlemen.

Place of the scene: British camp near Dover.

Main events of the scene:

  • Regan talks about love feelings with Edmund;
  • Regan and Goneril fiercely fight for Edmund’s attention;
  • Edgar changes his clothes and gives the Duke of Albany a letter in which Goneril asks Edmund to kill him;
  • Edgar is willing to prove the authenticity of the letter in an open court fight with Edmund;
  • Edmund can't choose between the two sisters and hopes one of them kills the other;

Short Summary:

Edmund talks to the soldiers - he wants to know the latest plan of the Duke of Albany because he is uncertain and constantly changing his opinion and plans. Regan guesses that something happened to Oswald who was supposed to bring a message to the camp.

Regan admits to having feelings for Edmund and wants to know whether he loves her sister. She wants to know whether he has crossed the line and went to bed with her. Edmund denies sleeping with Goneril but says that he likes her.

Goneril and the Duke of Albany enter. Goneril is not willing to let her sister have Edmund.

Edgar comes dressed like a regular man. He hands Albany the letter that Goneril wrote to Edmund and asks him to read it before the battle. Edmund says that it's time to prepare for the battle. Albany says he will be ready in time and leaves.

When left alone, Edmund opens up that he doesn't have any preference among Goneril and Regan. They both want him as their husband, but he can't choose. He also knows that Goneril is married. He says that it should be her problem to get rid of the husband.


Act 5 Scene 2

People present in the scene:

  • Gloucester – a nobleman who was blinded because of trying to help King Lear;
  • Edgar – son of Gloucester.

Place of the scene: Field between British and French camps.

Main events of the scene:

  • Edgar and Gloucester find out that that the French army was defeated;
  • King Lear and Cordelia were taken hostage by the Brits.

Short Summary:

Edgar leaves Gloucester under the tree and goes to take part in the battle. After a while, Edgar comes back saying that Brits won and they have to run. Both Lear and Cordelia are captured by the British army.


Act 5 Scene 3

People present in the scene:

  • Edmund – son of Gloucester;
  • King Lear – retired King captured by British army;
  • Cordelia – daughter of Lear and Queen of France, captured by British army;
  • Duke of Albany – husband of Goneril;
  • Goneril – elder daughter of Lear;
  • Regan – daughter of Lear.

Place of the scene: British camp near Dover.

Main events of the scene:

  • Edmund gives orders to kill captured Cordelia and King Lear;
  • Regan announces that she wants to marry Edmund;
  • Goneril gives Regan poison, Regan doesn’t feel well and is taken to the tent;
  • After reading the letter, Albany accuses Edmund of treason and betrayal;
  • Edgar enters into a fight and kills Edmund, revealing his real name;
  • Goneril kills herself with the knife, confessing that she poisoned her sister;
  • Gloucester died when Edgar revealed his identity to him;
  • Before dying Edmund tells about his order to kill Cordelia and King Lear;
  • Everybody runs to the prison but Cordelia is already hung;
  • King Lear dies holding his daughter’s dead body, before that he killed the officer that killed Cordelia;
  • Duke of Albany asks Kent and Edgar to help him rebuild the country.

Short Summary:

Edmund comes into the British tent as a proud winner. Cordelia and Lear are tied and held by the soldiers. Lear says that he can go anywhere just to be with Cordelia. His language hints that he is losing his mind again.

Edmund gives a paper note to the officer. He promises to give the officer a promotion if he executes a favor written in the note. Edmund leaves him no choice and the officer promises to perform whatever action is written in the paper note.

The Duke of Albany wants Edmund to give him Cordelia and Lear. Edmund protests saying that Lear and Cordelia can stir trouble among British people. Edmund behaves very arrogantly, making decisions of the same level as Duke of Albany. When Albany reminds him that he is not a royal, Regan steps in saying that they consider him their brother. Goneril also steps in and the two sisters start fighting with each other over Edmund. In the heated conversation, Regan officially declared her will to marry Edmund.

The Duke of Albany gives orders to arrest Edmund on the grounds of being a traitor. He also renounces his wife for colluding with Edmund. Just at the point that Albany is ready to fight Edmund, Edgar enters dressed as a soldier. He accuses Edmund of betrayal and wants to fight his infamous brother. When Edmund falls, Albany shows him a letter from Goneril. Goneril admits that she knows about this letter and leaves the room.

While the two fight, Regan feels unwell and is taken away. Feeling his soon demise Edmund wants to know the name of the one who defeated him. Edgar reveals his real identity. Albany congratulates Edgar and praises the good character of his father Gloucester. When asked about what happened to him, Edgar told his story and also mentioned that he has revealed his secret to Gloucester 30 minutes ago and the old man died. Edgar also tells everybody that Kent has been following Lear since he was expelled.

The gentleman enters with a bloody knife in his hands. He informs that Goneril has killed herself and admitted that he had poisoned her sister Regan. Both of their bodies are brought into the room. Edmund contemplates that he was the reason that one sister killed the other.

Kent enters and he wants to see Lear and Cordelia. Edmund admits that he gave an order to kill them. Edgar grabs Edmund's sword (as a sign to cancel his order) and runs to the prison. But he is too late - King Lear enters with dead Cordelia in his hands. The king refuses to believe that she is dead and hopes to see signs of breath on the mirror. Lear killed the officer that executed Edmund's orders.

Kent tells Lear that he has been impersonating his servant for this whole time. The officer announces that Edmund died. Albany wants to give the throne back to Lear and promises to thank Kent and Edgar for their service and loyalty. However, Lear dies of grief. Albany gives orders to bury him with honors and asks Kent and Edgar to heal the wounds of the country.

Act 5: Analysis and Interpretation

The final act of the play is the battle between two camps. It is the battle between the good and the evil. Both of these notions are derived from the themes of fatherhood and generational differences that interested Shakespeare a lot.

Each of the characters that present the evil camp is a bright masterpiece of literary skills. In Cornwall, the audience sees an untamed cruelty that is ready to incur the most terrible pain on whoever gets in his way. In Oswald, the audience sees the truth that the messenger brings every time when he in on the stage. Oswald also demonstrates the traits of loyalty, reminding the audience that even evil characters can have positive traits in them. Evil is not always black, there is always some white to it.

But both Cornwall and Oswald play secondary roles - their functions are to help the audience understand and reveal the cruelty of Lear's daughters. Once they perform their function - they die in a middle of the play without waiting until the grand final.

The evil camp is, in fact, run by Regan and Goneril - the ungrateful daughters who wouldn't stop for anything. Driven by an egoistic desire, they demonstrate their cruel, hypocritical and immoral sides in every action they perform, every letter they write, and every phrase they produce.

Edmund joins the camp evil as a typical villain. In every scene and every act he has a carefully developed plan that aims at one goal - make him wealthy and important. He is the boy that started with nothing and through toughening his character and forgetting about all morals he made his way up the social ladder.

On the other side of the battle is camp good. The Duke of Albany and Kent demonstrate the wisdom and ability to read between the lines. It is worth mentioning that almost all camp good characters survive.

Kent is a nobleman, yet he understands the core of the idea of serving his king and doesn't mind pretending to be his servant. Both Gloucester and Edgar don't come by as smart and good-hearted people at first. But their actions at times of difficulty reveal the kindness of their characters. The spectacular fight between Edgar and Edmund that happened according to the most traditional chivalry norms could be characterized as the grand finale of the evil vs. good battle.

Act five reminds the reader that they are reading a typical Shakespeare tragedy - almost all of the characters die. King Lear is considered to be the quintessence of Shakespeare tragical mastery because it is so fine and delicate, yet so intriguing and revealing.

King Lear dies together with his three daughters. Shakespeare managed to take the audience on an evolutionary tour of Lear's character - from a proud ruler to a tragic outsider. The difficulties he had to go through provided him with an invaluable knowledge about the true nature of his daughters, it also gave him an insider view on how people of his country live. However, every knowledge has a price. In Lear's case, the price is first his mind and then his life - his fragile attention-craving soul couldn't stand the gravity of the pain he was living through.

The play finishes with Duke of Albany taking over the royal duties. It is typical for Shakespeare tragedies that the character holding the highest rank gets to say the final word. This brings the power ending to the play. However, in King Lear Shakespeare allowed Edgar and Kent, both of whom have about the same rank among themselves, respond to Albany's invitation to govern the country. In such way the writer demonstrates that the nature of times is changing and we should get ready for it.