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The Earl of Kent is a major character in King Lear. He figures prominently in Act I when he defends Cordelia, Lear's youngest daughter, after Lear has disowned her for failing to declare her love for him as passionately as did Goneril and Regan. Kent so angers the King that he banishes him from England. However, Kent is such a faithful subject that he returns in disguise in Act 1, Scene 4 and manages to get Lear to employ him as a servant. (See the beginning of Scene 4 and the stage directions reading "Enter KENT, disguised.")
With Cordelia married and removed to France, Lear is left with only two faithful attendants, Kent, calling himself Caius, and the Fool. Kent does everything he can to protect and provide for Lear. In Act 2, Scene 4, Kent ends up in the stocks for fighting with Oswald, the servant of Goneril, in Act 2, Scene 2.
Kent is loyal to Lear to the very end of the play, although Lear does not recognize him as the banished Earl. In Act 5, Scene 3, the dying Lear finally recognizes him.
Are you not Kent?
Your servant Kent. Where is your servant Caius?
He's a good fellow, I can tell you that,
He'll strike, and quickly too: he's dead and rotten.
No, my good lord; I am the very man--
After Lear dies, Kent decides that he will die too. He tells Albany:
I have a journey, sir, shortly to go;
My master calls me, I must not say no.
Kent is the picture of loyalty in contrast to the villainous Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and Oswald. For instance, Kent has joined the invading French forces and Cordelia in Act 4, Scene 7. There is a beautiful metaphor in this scene, when Lear regains consciousness and finds his one loving daughter Cordelia looking down at him. He says
You do me wrong to take me out o' the grave:
Thou art a soul in bliss, but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead.
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