King Lear Act 2, Scenes 3–4 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scenes 3–4 Summary and Analysis

Scene 3

This scene consists entirely of a soliloquy by Edgar. He is fleeing through the woods from his father's men pursuing him and manages to hide inside “the hollow of a tree.” There he muses on his situation and resolves to escape detection by disguising himself as a lunatic beggar, hoping to become the recipient of people's charity. His predicament, he appears to believe, is utterly hopeless.

Scene 4

Kent is still in the stocks before Gloucester’s castle, and Lear, the Fool, and a Gentleman enter. Lear questions why Regan and Cornwall have not sent back his messenger and are not at their home, and the Gentleman informs him that so far as he knows, as of the night before last they had no intention of leaving their palace.

When Lear sees Kent in the stocks, he is outraged that a man who has served him is being so treated. He still does not recognize Kent, apart from knowing him as the supposed stranger who appeared at Goneril's palace and helped him. Lear refuses to believe that his daughter Regan and his son-in-law are the ones who ordered such a punishment for Kent. Kent now explains that when he first went to the home of Cornwall and Regan, a messenger from Goneril simultaneously appeared, and as a result of the letters this man delivered to them, they immediately left their castle and ordered him to follow them to Gloucester's. The subsequent action, Kent's encounter with Oswald, is what took place earlier in act 2. Lear asks Kent where Regan is, and Kent informs him that she is with Gloucester. Lear then exits, leaving the Fool to converse with Kent.

When Kent asks the Fool why Lear is traveling with only a small retinue, the Fool responds with his usual riddles and veiled sarcasm. Lear returns with Gloucester, having found that Regan and Cornwall are refusing to speak to him. Lear is furious that he is not being treated with the respect he still believes is due to him as a king. From his confused and exaggerated speech, it's obvious that Lear is indeed falling into an even worse phase of dementia than has afflicted him to this point. Gloucester exits and shortly returns with Cornwall and Regan, and Kent is released from the stocks.

Lear now realistically tells Regan of his mistreatment at the hands of Goneril. Regan shows no sympathy but at least speaks somewhat politely to her father, telling him that Goneril must have had good reason to complain about the behavior of his knights. She urges him to return to Goneril and ask her forgiveness, making it clear that she herself does not want to take her father in. Lear humiliates himself by kneeling before Regan and begging that she allow him to stay with her, telling her that he believes her to be kindhearted, unlike Goneril. His speech falls on deaf ears, as Regan insists that he return to Goneril. Lear changes the subject and begins asking, again, who put Kent in the stocks.

Oswald and Goneril arrive. Lear pathetically asks Goneril if she isn't ashamed of how she has acted toward him and repeatedly returns to the question of who is responsible for ordering Kent’s punishment. Cornwall admits that he was the one who gave the order and that Kent's actions were so unruly that he deserved worse. Regan then suggests that Lear go back to Goneril after dismissing half of his retinue, stay with Goneril for a month, and then come to live with her. Lear refuses, telling her he would rather be a “slave” like Oswald than humiliate himself by returning to Goneril under such conditions.

Lear's responses and pleadings take on an increasingly desperate and pitiful tone as he again begs Regan to be able to stay with her, retaining all of his men. Regan refuses, saying she is not prepared to accommodate him and asking why he needs so many knights to accompany him, while Goneril similarly suggests that Lear can be just as well served by her own men or Regan's. Finally, Regan proposes allowing him to stay with her so long as only twenty-five of his men accompany him. Lear rejects the...

(The entire section is 1,307 words.)