King Lear Act 5, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 5, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis

Scene 1

Edmund and Regan, with their entourage of attendants and soldiers, are in the British camp near Dover. Regan is questioning Edmund about his interest in her and asks if he has already been with her sister Goneril. He claims he hasn't, and she warns him to stay away from Goneril. When Albany and Goneril arrive, Goneril, in an aside, states that she would rather lose the coming battle than allow Regan to separate her from Edmund.

Albany indicates that he will put aside his differences with Edmund and fight alongside him to defeat the invasion by France. Edmund and Regan go to Albany's tent to confer on battle plans; Goneril at first declines to accompany them but then changes her mind.

Edgar appears and gives a letter to Albany, telling him that if the battle is won, a “champion” will appear who will prove the information set forth in the letter. Albany, as is the case with the other characters, does not recognize the disguised Edgar, who is dressed as a peasant. Edmund reenters and reminds Albany that the time for battle is now, but Albany delays going with him until he has read the letter from Edgar.

When Albany has left the scene momentarily, Edmund soliloquizes about his position in being fought over by the two sisters. He plans to cooperate with Albany until the battle is won and then to stand by while Goneril, as he thinks she will do, kills her husband. Edmund also intends to prevent any sort of mercy Albany might grant Lear and Cordelia.

Scene 2

In the midst of battle, Lear and Cordelia appear with their soldiers and then exit, falling back before the advance of the opposing forces. Edgar and Gloucester enter, and Edgar, now no longer in disguise, tells his father to take refuge while he joins the battle. Gloucester declines to stay and hide, saying that a man “may rot even here.” Edgar then tells his father to come with him.

Scene 3

The result of the battle is that Lear, Cordelia, and the forces of France have been defeated. Edmund orders Lear and Cordelia to be escorted away to prison. Cordelia tells her father that she has fought for his sake and lost, and she now wishes to confer with her sisters, who have defeated her. Lear, however, welcomes being in prison with Cordelia, as if being with her there will make up for the wrongs he has inflicted upon her. The two are led away.

Edmund now privately gives a note to a captain, who will follow the guards escorting Lear and Cordelia, with Edmund saying that if he obeys the instructions in it, promotion awaits him. The officer agrees to do as Edmund says.

When Albany, Goneril, and Regan return, Albany states that Lear and Cordelia should be brought in to be examined and, he implies, so it can be determined whether or not they might be released without any danger to the victors. Edmund replies that this can be done tomorrow and that for the time being the two must be kept in custody. But Albany's attitude is that Edmund is not an equal, a “brother” to him in this war, but rather a mere subject, below him in authority. An argument breaks out between Goneril and Regan over Edmund's status, with their jealousy over him the obvious cause. Regan begins to feel increasingly ill. She exits, led by a herald, while Albany declares Edmund a traitor. Another herald enters, reading a declaration that anyone who can prove Edmund's treachery is welcome to show himself after three trumpet calls are made.

At the third sound of the trumpet, Edgar enters in armor, with his visor down, and declares himself the adversary of Edmund. The two draw swords and fight, and Edmund falls. Goneril attempts to declare that the combat has been illegal, but Albany overrules her and produces the letter Goneril had written showing her intent to have Albany killed. Goneril flees the scene, and Edmund confesses his treachery as he lies mortally wounded. He admits, as well, that “the wheel [of fate] has come full circle,” and now he, who thought to vanquish Edgar and gain power, has been defeated....

(The entire section is 1,521 words.)