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King Lear Commentary - Act IV.

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Act IV. Scene I. - The Heath.

Gloucester: "I stumbled when I saw."

Gloucester now blind, realizes in his suffering his mistakes, especially about his son Edgar. Gloucester meets "poor Tom" not realizing it is Edgar in disguise. Edgar leads his father to the cliffs of Dover where his father wishes to commit suicide.

Edgar, alone reassures himself that since the worst has happened, all further change can only be positive. Shortly after, a blind Gloucester arrives. Gloucester does not want the help of the Old Man who is leading him, famously explaining that "I stumbled when I saw" meaning Gloucester made mistakes when he could see, a metaphor for Gloucester saying he was wrong about Edmund, when with all his senses, he had little reason to be (Line 19).

Gloucester hears another man who is introduced by the Old Man as "poor mad Tom" (Line 26). Gloucester explains that he saw this man earlier in the rain, thinking him a worm and then he thought of his son (Line 33). Edgar in aside (private speech revealing his innermost thoughts), realizes he has not seen the worst (Line 27).

Edgar is saddened that he must still hide his true identity from his father. The scene ends with Edgar agreeing to lead Gloucester to the cliffs of Dover where we presume Gloucester wishes to commit suicide. "Give me thy [your] arm: / Poor Tom shall lead thee [you]" Edgar exclaims. (Line 80)

Act IV. Scene II. - Before the Duke of Albany's Palace.

The Duke of Albany on Regan and Goneril: "Tigers, not daughters, what have you perform'd?"

The Duke of Albany renounces (disowns) his wife Goneril, realizing that he has been on the wrong side... The Duke of Cornwall (Regan's husband) is now dead. The rivalry for Edmund by Regan and Goneril intensifies.

Goneril and Edmund are present. Goneril is glad that her husband (The Duke of Albany) did not see them. Oswald enters and we learn that The Duke of Albany is not himself. Upon hearing reports of the French landing an army, he simply smiled at the news (Line 5). When told that Goneril was coming, he replied "'The worse:'" (Line 6).

The Duke of Albany even called Oswald a "sot," when Oswald told Albany of Gloucester's supposed treachery and the loyalty of Edmund. Goneril, now angry, remarks that "It is the cowish terror of his spirit / That dares not undertake;" (Line 13).

Goneril sends Edmund back to Cornwall, "to my brother;" (Line 15) to help him prepare to fight the French. Goneril will take command since she no longer trusts her husband. She secures Edmund's trust with a kiss, signaling a change of relationship (Lines 20-24).

Albany arrives, cursing Goneril as "not worth the dust which the rude wind / Blows in your face" (Line 31). He fears her disposition adding that "Wisdom and goodness to the vile [evil] seem vile [evil];" (Line 38) adding that combined, Goneril and sister Regan are "Tigers, not daughters," asking them "what have you perform'd?" (what have you done?), (Line 40).

Goneril replies that Albany is a "Milk-liver'd man! That bear'st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs; / Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning / Thine honour from thy suffering;" (Line 50). Albany's words clearly show his disgust for his wife (Lines 62-68).

A Messenger enters. He tells us that the Duke of Cornwall is now dead. He was "Slain [killed] by his servant, going to put out / The other eye of Gloucester" (Line 70). Albany remarks that this shows a higher justice at work (Lines 78-80).

In an aside, Goneril remarks "One way I like this well;" but then comments that Regan being a widow makes her more available to Edmund who she calls "my Gloucester", something she does not particularly like (Lines 83-86).

Act IV. Scene III. - The French Camp, near Dover.

Kent wonders how Cordelia can be good and her sisters so evil. The King of France will not oversee the battle about to start. Cordelia is saddened by what she learns of King Lear's plight...

Kent and a Gentlemen discuss recent events. The King of France will not personally oversee the battle; his attention is required elsewhere. We also learn of Cordelia's distress at hearing news of her father's plight, and how she "shook / The holy water from her heavenly eyes," in order to be strong for the battle ahead (Line 31).

Kent comments that perhaps the stars are responsible for the difference of character between Cordelia and her sisters (Lines 34-37). Kent also adds that "Lear's i' [is in] the town," or is nearby but will not "yield to see his daughter" so ashamed is he of his treatment of Cordelia (Lines 44-49). Kent and the Gentleman remark that Albany's and Cornwall's forces are "afoot" or on the move (Line 51). Kent tells the Gentleman that he will bring him to Lear to shed his disguised identity at a future time.

Act IV. Scene IV. - The Same. A Tent.

Cordelia has her men search for her father...

Cordelia commands her men to "Search every acre in the high-grown field," for her father who she knows to be near and disguised with " burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers," and other assorted weeds.

A Physician or doctor assures Cordelia that there is a means by which Lear's sanity may be restored. A Messenger enters, announcing that "The British powers [army, forces] are marching hitherward [near]", (Line 21). Cordelia hopes to soon see her father again (Line 26).

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

With the battle almost about to start, we learn Albany has switched sides again, supporting Goneril and Regan's forces. Regan worries more about her sister's intentions for Edmund than the battle that lies ahead...

Regan and Oswald discuss the coming battle. We learn that Albany, Regan's brother is supporting the sisters against the invading French (Cordelia's army). Regan worries about Goneril's letter to Edmund.

Regan believes that Edmund has departed to kill his father Gloucester, thus killing an important symbol against the rule of the two sisters (Lines 10-12).

Regan tells Oswald to stay with her and her troops who depart tomorrow. Oswald will not. He must deliver a message to Edmund. Regan is worried about what kind of relationship such letters may support. She succeeds in taking and reading her sister's letter from Oswald.

She instructs Oswald to give Edmund what presumably is a letter and explains to him that she is a much more fitting bride for Edmund than her sister is, telling Oswald to talk some sense into her sister and to talk Goneril out of such silly notions (a romance with Edmund). She also instructs Oswald to kill Gloucester should he find him and wishes Oswald well.

Act IV. Scene VI. - The Country near Dover.

Lear: "A man may see how this world goes with no eyes."

Edgar continues to lead his father to the cliffs of Dover where he tricks him that he has miraculously survived his fall. Lear learns of Gloucester's blindness. Edgar kills Oswald when he attempts to kill Gloucester. Oswald's letter, which comes from Goneril, reveals instructions for Edmund to kill her husband, The Duke of Albany.

Edgar, still disguised to his father, continues to lead his father to the cliffs of Dover (Lines 1-40). Edgar tells his father that he hears the sea when it is obvious to the audience, that Gloucester is not being led up a steep hill, as Edgar suggests. At line 35, Gloucester bids farewell to the world, mentioning Edgar.

"If Edgar live, O, bless him!" (If Edgar, my true son still lives, bless him!), says Gloucester before falling off the cliff, so to speak (Line 41).

Edgar in an aside(private speech) is still tortured by the fact that he has not made his identity obvious to his blind father. Edgar tells his father that he survived the fall, in what clearly was a miracle (Lines 50-65). Lear enters, dressed fantastically in flowers. He is described by Edgar, as a "side-piercing sight!" (shocking sight), (Line 86).

Lear now riddles like the Fool (Lines 87-94) and goes on to criticize his own folly with his daughters and later makes a case for adultery (Lines 97-136). When Gloucester wishes to kiss the hand of his King, Lear exclaims "Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality" (Line 136).

Gloucester then describes his King as a "ruin'd piece of nature!", fearing that the world will ground them both to nothing (Line 138).

Lear learns of Gloucester's blindness and Lear in a line suggesting he has reached true wisdom, explains that "A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond justice rails upon yon simple thief" (a man can see how the world really works with no eyes. Look with your ears, see how justice rails upon a simple thief), (Lines 153-160).

Upon hearing more of Lear's insights, Edgar exclaims "O! matter and impertinency mix'd; / Reason in madness!" (Line 180).

A Gentleman with Attendants now find Lear and announce that his daughter has been searching for him (Lines 193-209). The Gentleman leaves and speaks with Edgar.

We learn that the other army (Goneril's and Regan's forces) are "Near, and on speedy foot;" (Line 218). We learn also that "Though that the queen on special cause [finding her father] is here, / Her army is mov'd on" (her army has moved on), (Line 220).

Gloucester wishes to the gods: "You ever-gentle gods, take my breath from me: / Let not my worser spirit tempt me again / To die before you please!" (kill me should I ever be tempted again to suicide), (Line 223).

Oswald finds Gloucester and delightedly draws his sword to kill him. Unfortunately, Edgar "interposes [intervenes]" killing Oswald (Line 257).

Before he dies, Oswald asks his murderer whom he calls "Villain," to deliver his letters to Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester. Edgar reads the letter. From Goneril, it advises Edmund to kill the Duke of Albany to win her hand. Upon hearing drums, Edgar again leads his father away.

Act IV. Scene VII. - A Tent in the French Camp.

Lear: "I am a very foolish fond old man...."

Cordelia finds her father Lear who deeply regrets how he treated her...

Cordelia is grateful to Kent for his loyal work: "O thou good Kent! how shall I live and work / To match thy [your] goodness? My life will be too short, / And every measure fail me" (Line 1). The attendant Doctor tells Cordelia that Lear sleeps deeply, and upon her instruction, wakes him with music.

Cordelia speaks of her love for her father (Lines 26-28 and 29-42). Lear awakening, believes himself to be in his grave but soon realizes this is not the case (Line 45).

Confused, Cordelia introduces herself to him, Cordelia telling Lear not to kneel.

Lear asks that he not be mocked for "I am a very foolish fond old man," (Line 60) adding "I fear I am not in my perfect mind" (Line 63), explaining that "For, as I am a man, I think this lady / To be my child Cordelia" (Line 70).

Lear remorseful tells Cordelia that should she have poison for him, he will gladly drink it. Lear asks if he is in France. The Doctor advises Cordelia not to distress Lear further. Lear exclaims to Cordelia that "You must bear with me. Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish" (Line 85).

The Gentleman and Kent speak of the coming battle; the bastard son of Gloucester (Edmund) leads their enemy's forces. The war will be bloody.

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