What are some of the lessons learned in King Lear, by Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar?From Act I to the end of Act IV, what are some realizations that Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar make? Please...

What are some of the lessons learned in King Lear, by Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar?

From Act I to the end of Act IV, what are some realizations that Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar make? Please generalize these lessons and name the Act and Scene where I can find them, if possible.


Even your closest loved ones are capable of deceiving you. Gloucester learns this at the time of his blinding, Act 3, Scene 7. Lear learns this in Act 2, Scene 4, when Regan and Goneril try to strip him of his leftover power and dignity. Edgar learns this when he discovers that Edmund was behind his character assassination (Act/Scene unknown).

Emotions can negatively impact your behavior, making you turn your back on your biggest supporter or best friend. Lear learns this in the storm, when he realizes the error of his ways for banishing Kent and Cordelia. Gloucester learns this during his blinding, when he realized that Edmund's plot worked only because it played off his strong feelings of Edgar's supposed betrayal. Leading him to make a rash decision (death warrant).

Appearances and social position affect the way others treat and view us. Lear learns this in Act 4, Scene 6, while raving about the hypocrisy of human beings. Edgar learns and applies this when his death warrant is issued and he decides to disguise himself as a Bedlam Begger; Act 2, Scene 3.

Expert Answers
teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Lear and Gloucester, who are in many way parallel characters deceived by evil children, learn to understand the difference between appearance and reality and to realize that power can blind one to the vulnerabilities and miseries all humans share. Both start the play as powerful figures. They are so used to being catered to that they don't recognize that the people around them are willing to lie to them, manipulate them, and use them for their own ends. They fail to perceive how vulnerable they are, that they too are merely frail human bodies when stripped of the trappings of society.

In Act I, scene iv, as the Fool points out, Lear acts as the real fool when he gives his kingdom over to his lying eldest daughters and rejects Cordelia, who will not flatter him. Lear values words over reality and trusts, wrongly, that he is loved for himself, not his position. By Act III, scene iv, stripped of his power, facing nature unprotected, he understands that he is no different than or better than any other human, stating "Unaccommodated man is no more but ... a poor, bare, forked animal." By Act IV, scene vi, he has fully learned that life is cruel, noting that we enter it at birth crying, and feeling, in his despair, that the suffering is ceaseless. 

Likewise, Gloucester trusts his lying illegitimate son, unable to see the world through his eyes or understand his bitter resentment at being disinherited due to an accident of birth. However, by the time Edmund's treachery is clear, Gloucester, like Lear, gains some understanding of how life looks to the less fortunate, saying in Act IV, scene i:

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to th' gods, / They kill us for their sport."

He too has learned that, at their core, all humans are weak and vulnerable, no matter how powerful they might think themselves.

Edgar learns about the world by observing what has happened to his elders and by disguising himself as a mad, powerless person. He chiefly learns early on what Gloucester and Lear learn too late: greater humility. He is, for example, able to ask for his father's blessing when he meets him, as he explains in Act V, scene iii, with "his [Gloucester's] bleeding rings" (blind eyes), wandering lost. Symbolizing his wisdom, Edgar says he "became his [father's] guide." He is able to see into the heart and love the person, not the position.

shaketeach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the great lesson Lear learns is humility.  In the storm (Act III, scenes 2 & 4), he encounters Edgar aka Poor Tom.  In his madness, he mistakes him for a wise man.  He also realizes that when we are stripped of our trapping of office and status, we are all just poor naked forked beings.  It is in this scene that the old king learns to put someone else's needs ahead of his own.  For the first time, perhaps, he feel compassion for the suffering of others.

Gloucester's arrogance is evident as he brags about how much fun he had in the making of his bastard son to Kent in Act I, scene1.  He is blind to the treachery of Edmund.  His literal blinding by Cornwall and discovery that Edmund is responsible for what has happened to him in Act III, scene 7 opens his eyes.

Of course the meeting between the mad Lear and blind Gloucester in Act IV, scene  5 reinforces the lessons these two old fathers have learned through their pain and suffering.

Edgar learns how to survive the duplicity of his brother.  As the disguised madman he learns many lessons about himself and man in general.  He sees life's cruelty when he encounters his blinded father and finds out his brother's hand in the events.  He grows strong enough to challenge and defeat his brother in the end.  (Act V, scene 3)

It is Edgar who speaks the final words of the play,"The oldest hath borne most.  We that are young/Shall never see so much , nor live so long."


shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A powerful scene that demonstrates what Lear has learned is Act IV, scene vi, when Gloucester and Edgar (as poor Tom) happen upon Lear on the heath.  Lear has been stripped of all his pomp and circumstance, the trappings of royalty and privilege that have defined his life.

Seeing, both the literal act and the figurative sense of seeing the truth, is quite a large theme in the play.  Both Lear and Gloucester learn to see without their eyes, since both learn to discern what is in the heart rather than on the surface.  Lear says to Gloucester:

What, art mad?  A man may see how the world goes with no eyes.  Look with thine ears.  See how yond justice rails upon yond simple thief?  Hark, in thine ear.  Change places, and handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?

Then a bit later, after Lear has acknowledged that he knows Gloucester:

When we are born, we cry that we are come

To this great stage of fools.

In essence, Lear has learned that all his royal pronouncements and crowns and cloaks don't make him any more or less than the "simple thief."  He understands that every one comes to be born in exactly the same way and is subject to exactly the same potential to play the fool.


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King Lear

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