Act 3, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis
As a terrible storm is raging, Kent speaks with a Gentleman (or Knight) who tells him Lear is alone in the open with the Fool. Kent informs the man that Albany and Cornwall are at odds with each other—that there is “division” between them. He also says that the conflict and disorder in Britain have become known in France and that agents have been sent from France as a vanguard, apparently of a military force that will intervene in the situation in Britain. Kent gives the Gentleman money and a ring and instructs him to go to the port of Dover and to show the ring to Cordelia if he encounters her. He also says they should first try to find Lear in order to help him in the midst of the storm.
Lear is in a wild state of anger and distress on the heath in the midst of the violent storm. He addresses the gods and the elements, seeing them as a natural reflection of the cruelty that people inflict upon one another. The Fool tries to distract him with his usual series of riddles and jokes, but Lear is in an uncontrollable rage, obsessed with his treatment by Goneril and Regan. Kent appears and says that in his lifetime he's never seen such a horrifying storm. Lear apostrophizes the elements, wishing for them to carry out retribution against human evil and saying,
the great gods
That keep this dreadful pother o'er our heads,
Should find out their enemies now.
Kent directs Lear to a hovel where he can be sheltered against the wind and rain, but the Fool remains in the open, soliloquizing about the storm and uttering what he describes as a prophecy. He mentions a series of anomalous events, things which presumably will never happen, and declares that if these things ever do occur, then “Albion [Britain] shall come to confusion.” The irony of the Fool's speech, of course, is that there already is great confusion in Britain.
At his castle, Gloucester confers with Edmund and expresses his regret over the way Lear has been treated, as well as anger over the fact that Cornwall, Goneril, and Regan have essentially taken over his own house and ordered him not to help Lear under any circumstance. Like Kent, Gloucester observes that there is “division between the Dukes.” Gloucester has also received a letter indicating that a military force has arrived from France that will help Lear against his enemies. Gloucester instructs Edmund to say nothing about this; he has resolved to help the king even if doing so will lead to his own death.
When Gloucester exits, Edmund unsurprisingly announces that he will do the exact opposite of what his father has charged him with. He intends to inform Cornwall immediately of the news about the imminent help the king is to receive and to side with Cornwall, Goneril, and Regan against his father and Lear.
These scenes depict Lear's complete descent into violent “madness” but imply the even greater cruelty of Goneril and Regan against him in deliberately allowing him to remain outside in the storm. They also have, as the entire drama does to an extent, a fantasy-like element. In reality it probably wouldn't be possible for men to declaim long and complex sentences to one another in the midst of a raging storm. It is a sort of mental theater Shakespeare creates for the spectator, just as Byron over two hundred years later said he intended in his own Manfred. Before the advent of the cinema, stage directors could only use their limited means of depicting the natural horrors of the scenes on the heath. But the human horrors of the situation are even worse. For all his unreasonableness and the injustice he has perpetrated on his own,...
(The entire section is 959 words.)