King Lear Act 4, Scenes 6–7 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scenes 6–7 Summary and Analysis

Scene 6

Edgar is leading his blind father to Dover Cliff, from which Gloucester intends to hurl himself to his death. It is clear that Gloucester is beginning to recognize his son's voice, which Edgar is not disguising as thoroughly as before.

Although they are on level ground, Edgar convinces his father that they are climbing up toward the summit of the cliff. He says that they are only a foot from the top, then moves aside. Gloucester throws himself forward but simply falls harmlessly upon the ground on which he has been standing. Edgar then reappears and speaks to him, claiming that Gloucester has actually fallen from a great height, as he had intended, but has miraculously survived without injury. He also convinces Gloucester that he, Edgar, is not the same person who had been conducting him, but that the other was some sort of monster whom he took for a man.

Lear appears on the scene, raving and talking nonsense interspersed with realistic observations about his own fate. Gloucester recognizes Lear's voice, but Lear imagines Gloucester to be Goneril with a white beard, or Regan. Lear nevertheless seems to know who Gloucester is and compares their situations, saying that Gloucester’s “bastard son” was kinder to his father than Lear’s daughters were to him. Lear's further ravings seem to be focused upon a general loathing of women and sexuality. Both Gloucester and Edgar are astounded and heartbroken over Lear's mental state, but Edgar observes that even in the midst of his madness, much of what Lear is saying is based on reality: that there is “reason in madness.”

The Gentleman sent by Cordelia arrives with two others to help Lear. When the Gentleman mentions Lear's daughter, Lear misunderstands and thinks the men have come from Regan or Goneril to take him prisoner. After further nonsense talk which strangely includes witty punning about sexuality and death, Lear flees the scene, and the other two gentlemen run after him.

The remaining man tells Edgar that a battle will occur soon; the opposing forces are within an hour's march of each other. Though Edgar had seemed on the verge of revealing his identity to his father, he still refuses to answer Gloucester's direct question about it. Oswald appears and asks Edgar (not knowing Edgar is Gloucestor's son) how he dares to protect a “traitor” such as Gloucestor. They fight, and Edgar kills Oswald and removes from his pocket the letter he was to deliver from Goneril to Edmund. In it Goneril encourages Edmund to kill her husband, Albany, when he has the chance so that he can take Albany's place as her lover. Gloucester continues to lament the king's condition, and drums are heard in the distance, indicating the imminence of a battle.

Scene 7

Lear has been found and brought to Cordelia's quarters, where he is now sleeping as Cordelia confers with Kent and the Doctor. Cordelia thanks Kent for giving her a report of all that has transpired in her absence. He warns her not to reveal his identity to others yet. The Gentleman asks if it will be all right to awaken Lear now, who is brought in on a chair by servants. A scene of reconciliation between Cordelia and Lear occurs in which the latter now speaks rationally and says he doesn't deserve to live, given the enormous wrong he perpetrated against her and the misfortune with which he has been afflicted. Lear asks if he is now in France, to which Cordelia answers that he is in his own kingdom. The Gentleman observes that although Lear no longer is consumed by his previous “rage,” he needs rest, and therefore Cordelia should allow him to sleep again.

Kent and the Gentleman confer, and Kent confirms the report that Cornwall has been killed, indicating that Edmund is now leading Cornwall's forces. Kent also tells him not to believe the report he has heard that Edgar is together with Kent in Germany. Both await the impending battle.

Analysis

In a play replete with unexpected and bizarre happenings, act 4, scene 6, seems...

(The entire section is 1,101 words.)