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King Lear Commentary - Act III.

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Act III. Scene I. - A Heath.

The King of France may well invade England. Kent sends a messenger to Cordelia to keep her aware of King Lear's plight...

Amid lightning and storms, Kent and a Gentleman discuss Lear's situation. We learn that the King of France is planning to invade. We also learn of the growing conflict between the Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall.

Kent entrusts the Gentlemen to head for Dover where he is to report on Lear's suffering to allies and subjects of France already in England. Should he see Cordelia, a ring given by Kent will let Cordelia tell the Gentlemen who Kent is.

Act III. Scene II. - Another Part of the Heath. Storm still.

King Lear: "a man / More sinn'd against than sinning."

Lear braves the elements against a storm, no doubt symbolic of his tortured soul...

Lear cries out to the elements, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!" (Line 1). The Fool suggests by riddle that Lear seek shelter. Kent enters and Lear continues to torture himself to the elements, famously saying "I am a man / More sinn'd [sinned / wronged] against than sinning" (Line 58). Kent announces that he has found a nearby hovel that will serve as shelter. They enter and the Fool ends the scene in riddle.

Act III. Scene III. - A Room in Gloucester's Castle.

Edmund: "The younger rises when the old doth fall."

Gloucester lets slip to his traitorous son Edmund that the army of France is poised to invade, guaranteeing Gloucester's own future suffering. We learn more of a potential conflict between Regan and Goneril, centering on their husbands...

Gloucester and Edmund talk. Gloucester reaffirms the growing animosity (hatred) between the two Dukes. Gloucester is not happy that when he wanted to leave Goneril and Regan to mourn Lear's plight, they denied him use of his house, and told him not to in any way help Lear (Lines 1-7). We learn that "There is division between the Dukes," signaling further potential division between Regan and Goneril (Line 8).

Gloucester now makes the mistake of trusting Edmund, telling him of a letter locked in his closet. They explain that Lear's suffering will be avenged by a foreign power (France) already on English soil.

Gloucester tells Edmund to speak with the Duke to distract him, telling Edmund to say he is sick if called upon. Edmund now alone, realizes he has an opportunity to betray his father for personal gain when he says "The younger rises when the old doth [does] fall" (the younger himself rises, when the older, his father Gloucester falls), (Line 26).

Act III. Scene IV. - The Heath. Before a Hovel.

King Lear: "Is man no more than this?"

Lear is eventually brought out of the elements. Lear explains that its physical torment upon him distracted him from the pain his daughters have given him. Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son, makes his appearance, disguised as "poor Tom."

Battled by the elements, Lear is troubled by his daughters: "This tempest will not give me leave to ponder / On things would hurt me more" (this storm will not give me leave or allow me to be distracted, to think about things like my daughters that would hurt me more), (Line 25).

The Fool enters the hovel. Lear decides to stay out to pray: "I'll pray, and then I'll sleep" (Line 27). Again showing that he has gained true insight from his suffering, Lear laments that he has not cared enough for those "Poor naked wretches," (his less fortunate subjects), who must endure this storm (Line 28). Lear says he has "ta'en [taken] / Too little care of this" (Line 32).

Edgar makes his appearance at the hovel as a seeming madman and the Fool is reluctant to let him in. Kent tells the Fool to let "poor Tom" as he is known in. He describes the "foul fiend" pursuing him (Lines 43-62).

Hearing Edgar's (disguised as poor Tom) tortured murmuring, Lear asks if Tom has been brought to this by his daughters: "What! have his daughters brought him to this pass? Couldst thou save nothing? Didst thou give them all? (did you give them all), (Line 62). The Fool explains that Edgar reserved or at least kept a blanket, "else we had been all shamed" or else Edgar would be completely naked (Line 65).

Lear asks Edgar "What hast thou been?" (what were you) to which Edgar replies that he was once "A servingman, proud in heart and mind;" a reference to Edgar's earlier status before Edmund reduced him to a criminal on the run (Line 84). Lear now famously asks, "Is man no more than this?" (Line 100) later tearing off his clothes to brave the elements completely naked (Line 112).

Gloucester enters and is dismayed at the poor quality of the King's company (Line 146). Kent fears Lear is losing his mind to which Gloucester responds that given Lear's daughters betrayal this is not surprising. Gloucester then describes the pain his own child (Edgar) has given him. Lear agrees to enter the hovel only if his philosopher (Edgar) joins him, finally leaving the cruel elements...

Act III. Scene V. - A Room in Gloucester's Castle.

Cornwall and Edmund speak. After implicating his father Gloucester as a traitor against Cornwall, Edmund is rewarded for his family disloyalty by receiving his father's title as the new Earl of Gloucester. Cornwall tells Edmund to seek out his father saying "he may be ready for our apprehension" or punishment (Line 20).

Act III. Scene VI. - A Chamber in a Farmhouse adjoining the Castle.

Lear and company find solace and safety in a farmhouse. Lear showing signs of madness, holds a mock trial to punish his daughters. Kent leads Lear to Dover where he will be safe...

Gloucester leads Lear, Kent, the Fool and the disguised Edgar to a farmhouse. Gloucester leaves to get provisions. Lear seeking justice, arranges a mock trial for his absent daughters, saying that "I will arraign [arrange / set] them [Goneril and Regan] straight" or bring his daughters to justice (Line 23). Edgar and the Fool are to be the judges. Edgar in an aside (private speech) has difficulty in his role, such is his sadness (Lines 63-64). Goneril and Regan are addressed in absence or rather as the accepting Fool says as joint-stools (these joint-stools actually substitute for Regan and Goneril), (Line 55) and Gloucester arrives again. Kent warns him that Lear's wits are all but gone (Line 96).

Gloucester tells Kent that Lear's life is in danger and that Kent should take Lear to Dover where he will be safe (Line 98). Edgar now alone, philosophizes on his situation: "When we our betters see bearing our woes, / We scarcely think our miseries our foes" (when we see our betters or superiors bearing our problems, we rarely think our miseries to be our enemies), (Line 111).

Act III. Scene VII. - A Room in Gloucester's Castle.

Gloucester is captured and tortured first having his beard ripped away and later being made blind. Unable to bear Cornwall's brutality any longer, a slave wounds Cornwall...

Cornwall, Regan, Goneril and Edmund are discussing the traitorous Gloucester. Regan wants him hanged immediately (Line 4). Goneril suggests that his eyes be plucked out (Line 5). Cornwall advises them to leave Gloucester to him. Oswald enters reporting that Gloucester has sent King Lear to some well-armed friends near Dover.

Gloucester is captured and as Cornwall insults him, Regan tears off his beard (Line 34) Gloucester reminds his captors of the wrong they do him when he is their host. Cornwall asks Gloucester about the letters he has received from France. Gloucester is silent.

Gloucester tells him that he sent Lear to Dover because he could not bear to see "thy [your] cruel nails / Pluck out his poor old eyes; nor thy fierce sister / In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs" (your nails pluck out Lear's eyes nor your fierce sister stick or sink her boarish fangs into his flesh), (Line 57).

Shortly after these words are made, Cornwall takes out one of Gloucester's eyes, telling Gloucester that "Upon these eyes of thine [yours] I'll set my foot" by which Cornwall means he will crush Gloucester's eyes under his foot (Line 68). Regan tells Cornwall to remove the second eye when a servant suddenly wounds Cornwall in a fight; the First Servant could no longer bear his master's cruelty (Line 70).

Despite the First Servant's death, Cornwall completes his gruesome task. Now blind, Gloucester asks for his son Edmund. Regan explains to him that Edmund hates him and that "it was he [Edmund] / That made the overture of thy treasons to us," (Line 89) or told Cornwall and Regan of Gloucester's support for Lear and now Gloucester realizes that Edgar was his good son, not Edmund (Line 85-90).

Gloucester is thrown out of the castle to smell his way to Dover. The remaining servants decide to follow Gloucester and tend to his bleeding face, the Second Servant fetching the "Bedlam" (Edgar) to lead Gloucester where he wishes (Line 104).

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