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King Lear Commentary - Act V.

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Act V. Scene I. - The British Camp near Dover.

Goneril: "I had rather lose the battle than that sister / Should loosen him and me."

Regan and Goneril put Edmund on the spot by demanding he choose which one of them he loves. Albany decides to fight on Regan and Goneril's side but only to fight an invading power (France).

Edmund, Regan and various "Officers, Soldiers and Others" enter. Unsure of Albany's loyalties, Edmund dispatches an officer to find out.

Regan fears that Oswald may have met some harm and fearing her sister, both declares her love for Edmund and interrogates him on his feelings for her sister. Regan makes this clear when she says that "I never shall endure her: dear my lord, / Be not familiar [intimately familiar] with her" (Line 15). Edmund tells her to "Fear me not [trust me]" (Line 16). Goneril and Albany arrive.

Curiously, Goneril in an aside exclaims that "I had rather lose the battle than that sister / Should loosen him [Edmund] and me" (Line 17). Albany will fight on the side of Regan and Goneril but only because "France invades our land," (Line 25).Goneril and Regan support this move, Goneril remarking that now is not the time to ponder over "domestic and particular broils" (Line 29).

Edgar, disguised, delivers a letter to Albany which proves Goneril's intention to have Edmund kill her husband, The Duke of Albany so she can live with Edmund (first mentioned in Act IV Scene VII), (Lines 40-49). Edmund and Albany make plans to meet the enemy. In an aside, Edmund mulls over the competition for his love by Regan and Goneril and the delicate balancing act he is being forced to make (Lines 550-69) whilst commenting that once the battle is over, Lear and Cordelia will be dealt with, adding that they "Shall never see his pardon;" (Line 68).

Act V. Scene II. - A Field between the two Camps.

Edgar: "King Lear hast lost, he and his daughter ta'en."

Cordelia's forces lose to Goneril's and Regan's army and Cordelia and Lear are taken prisoner.

Lear, Cordelia and her forces are all present. Both forces are soon to be locked in battle. Edgar leads his father to the safety of a nearby tree and vows to return soon.

Edgar returns and the news is not good; "King Lear hast [has] lost, he and his daughter ta'en" (King Lear has lost, both he and Cordelia have been taken or captured), (Line 6). Gloucester despairs but with support from Edgar, finds the strength to go on.

Act V. Scene III. - The British Camp, near Dover.

King Lear: "She's dead as earth."

Captured, King Lear tries to comfort Cordelia. Albany congratulates his allies but now turns on them. Edgar fights his brother Edmund, mortally wounding him. Goneril kills herself and poisons sister Regan. Edgar reveals his true identity to Gloucester who dies from a heart unable to take both grief and joy. Albany and the dying Edmund try to prevent Lear and Cordelia being hanged but are too late for Cordelia. Lear howls with pain at his loss of Cordelia. Kent is finally recognized for his loyalty by Lear. Lear, unable to take further pain, dies. Albany is left to restore order following this tragedy...

Edmund orders some officers to take Lear and Cordelia away to await their fate as prisoners of the failed invasion (Lines 1-3). Lear tries to cheer Cordelia up, telling her to "Wipe thine eyes; / The goujeres shall devour them, flesh and fell, / Ere they shall make us weep: we'll see 'em [them] starve first" (don't weep Cordelia, these goujeres, a French disease will devour them. We'll see them starve first than weep), (Lines 23-26).

Edmund instructs an officer to do an unspecified task (kill Lear and Cordelia) for him, contained within a paper given to the officer. Success will bring the officer great fortune Edmund tells him; the officer accepts (Lines 27-32).

Albany, Goneril and Regan are in discussion. Albany comments that "fortune led you well;" (Line 42) in discussing the success of the sister's forces. Edmund informs them that he has placed Lear and Cordelia under guard to await further action. Albany now begins to turn on his allies, telling Edmund that "Sir, by your patience, I hold you but a subject of this war, / Not as a brother" (Lines 60-62).

Regan stands up for Edmund, but Albany will not change his mind. Regan and Goneril exchange barbs over their love for Edmund (Lines 68-78). Edmund explains to Albany that there is little he can do to create peace on this issue.

Presently, Albany announces his intention to arrest Edmund for capital treason (Line 84) "and, in thy [your] arrest, / This guilded serpent" pointing to Goneril. (Line 85).

Albany now informs Regan that since his wife Goneril appears to be involved with Edmund, Regan may now consider him as a husband (Lines 86-88). Albany now challenges Edmund to fight and Regan departs exclaiming "My sickness grows upon me" (Line 106).

A Herald enters and to the sound of a trumpet, reads aloud a statement. It asks for anyone who challenges the claim that Edmund "supposed Earl of Gloucester," (Line 114) is a traitor to speak before the third sounding of the trumpet. Edgar enters and draws his sword. Edmund refuses to fight such a dirty person who "looks so fair and war-like," (Line 143). They fight, and Edmund who did not ask for Edgar's name falls. Tellingly, Albany wishes that Edmund will be safe.

Goneril explains that Edmund should not have accepted the fight as by the law of arms, he was not bound to answer him. Angry, Albany rudely exclaims "Shut your mouth, dame, / Or with this paper shall I stop it" (shut your mouth or with this paper I will shut it), (Line 156).

Albany now knows of Goneril's subterfuge, describing her as "worse than any name," (Line 157). Goneril tries to assert that she decides the law, earning further spite from Albany. Albany gives the letter he has obtained to Edmund. Edmund knowing it will implicate him, asks not be questioned on it.

Albany tells Edmund to go after Goneril, but knowing the end is near, Edmund asks who his assailant was (Line 167). Edgar reveals his true identity now and Albany embraces Edgar as a noble brother. Edmund explains his suffering and that of his father (Lines 182-200).

Edgar explains to Albany how he disguised himself and protected his father, The Earl of Gloucester. He also explains that when he revealed his true identity to his father, it was too great a strain for his "flaw'd heart," (flawed, weak heart) which "'Twixt [between] two extremes of passion, joy and grief, / Burst smilingly" (Gloucester, his heart torn between both grief and joy has died smiling), (Lines 198-199).

The loyalty of Kent is also mentioned. A Gentleman carrying a bloody knife arrives. He announces that Albany's lady (Goneril) is dead by her own hands (a bloody knife), her sister Regan was poisoned by her. Edmund remarks that all three of them (Regan, Edmund and Goneril) "Now marry in an instant" (we are now all married or joined together instantly by our deaths), (Line 230).

Kent enters to bid his King and master good night. Albany now realizes that they have forgotten someone: "Great thing of us forgot! Speak, Edmund, where's the king? and where's Cordelia?" (Lines 238-239).

The bodies of Goneril and Regan are brought in. Edmund remarks on the fact that one killed the other for him. Edmund now near death, decides to do some good though he knows it's against his nature.

He tells Albany, Edgar and Kent to "Quickly send, / Be brief in it, to the castle; for my writ / Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia" (go to the castle with this sword as proof of his identity, to stop Lear and Cordelia being killed), (Line 248). Edmund explains that an officer has the commission from both himself and his wife to hang Cordelia in prison, and to lay the blame for this on Cordelia's own despair since it will look like suicide. Edgar leaves at once with Edmund's sword before it is too late... Edmund is borne off or carried away.

Lear enters with the dead Cordelia in his arms. Howling with pain, he wishes his daughter alive to no avail. He makes it clear that he is not completely mad, knowing when one is dead or not. "She's dead as earth" he says (Line 263).

Lear explains that he "kill'd the slave" that was hanging Cordelia (Lines 276-290).

Lear recognizes Kent and welcomes him, finally realizing Kent's true loyalty. An Officer enters announcing Edmund's death. Albany remarks that this news is "but a trifle here" (Line 298), and Albany acknowledges Lear as the true ruler of his kingdom, pledging his service to him. Those who supported Lear, namely Edgar and Kent will be rewarded, Albany explains.

Devastated and now completely broken, the long suffering Lear finally breathes his last breaths and dies, still hoping to find life in his beloved Cordelia.

Albany, Kent and Edgar remain. Albany explains that they must now restore order to their land. Kent explains that he cannot help in this task, for "I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; / My master calls me, I must not say no" (Line 324).

Albany ends this tragedy with insight:

"The weight of this sad time we must obey; / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath [has] borne [suffered] most: we that are young, / Shall never see so much, nor live so long" (Line 328).

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