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Unconditional love and loyalty are displayed at a number of points in Act 2 of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Perhaps the best examples of these traits appear in Act 2, scenes 2 and 3, in the person of Lear’s loyal follower, Kent, although the Earl of Gloucester also displays real love and loyalty in these scenes.
Kent, sent by Lear to deliver a message to Regan, one of Lear’s daughters, roundly abuses Oswald, one of Regan’s servants. When Regan and appears with her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, Kent demonstrates his unconditional love and loyalty to the old king by refusing to curry favor with these newly powerful people. He even manages to suggest his contempt for Regan and Cornwall – a contempt rooted in his continuing love and loyalty to Lear. Thus when Cornwall suggests that Kent may consider Cornwall and Regan physically ugly, Kent bluntly replies,
Sir, ’tis my occupation to be plain:
I have seen better faces in my time
Than stands on any shoulder that I see
Before me at this instant. (2.2.94-97)
Such a statement is certainly impolitic, but it implies Kent’s devotion to the ruler he truly loves and respects: Lear. As he later tells Cornwall, “I serve the king, . . . my master” (2.2.130, 133). Gloucester also shows love and loyalty toward Lear by referring to the latter as “the good king” (2.2.143). Gloucester additionally shows love toward Kent by asking Cornwall not to punish him. Inevitably, however, Kent is punished for his conduct by being placed in the stocks, but he doesn’t really seem to be overly bothered this outcome. Nevertheless, Gloucester continues to show concern for him: “I’ll entreat for thee” (2.2.157).
When Lear himself appears on the scene, Kent salutes him from the stocks: “Hail to thee, noble master” (2.3.4). He shows his love and loyalty to Lear by speaking honestly to the king about the conduct of Regan and Cornwall, even though Lear does not at first believe him (2.3.11-21). In their ensuing conversation, Kent calls Lear “My Lord” (2.3.26) and “your highness” (2.3.27) and later worries about the king’s small number of attendants (2.3.61). Gloucester also shows his own continuing devotion to Lear by addressing him as “My dear lord” (2.3.89) and “my good lord” (2.3.95, 97). It is true, of course, that Cornwall later addresses Lear as “your grace” (2.3.124), but for Cornwall this is a mere conventional formality. Kent and Gloucester, on the other hand, are truly loving and loyal toward their king, as Kent especially has proved during his time in the stocks.
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