King Lear Act II, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

King Lear book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download King Lear Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act II, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Curan: a courtier at Gloucester’s castle

Curan, the courtier, informs Edmund that the Duke of Cornwall and Regan will be coming to Gloucester’s castle shortly. He also gives Edmund inside information about the likelihood of war between Cornwall and Albany. Seizing the opportunity to use the Duke of Cornwall’s visit to his own advantage, Edmund immediately sets his plan into action. Calling his brother Edgar from his hiding place, he warns him to flee in haste before his father can capture him. He tells Edgar that Cornwall’s unexpected visit might prove dangerous to him. In an attempt to stage a convincing escape, Edmund draws his sword and urges his brother to do the same, pretending to defend himself against Edmund. He is supposedly trying to capture Edgar and bring him to his father. After Edgar’s escape, Edmund, aware that Gloucester has been watching from a distance, secretly wounds himself in the arm. The sight of blood, he thinks, will impress upon his father that he has, indeed, fought a hard fight.

Gloucester approaches, demanding to know the whereabouts of Edgar. He calls for the pursuit of the villain. Edmund tells his father that Edgar tried to persuade him of “the murther of your lordship.” Ironically, Edmund has supposedly warned his brother that the revenging gods are opposed to parricide, and the child is “bound to th’ father.” Edmund continues his deceitful tirade, declaring how “loathly opposite” he stood to Edgar’s opinion and “unnatural purpose.” For all this Edmund received a wound from the fleeing Edgar. Gloucester reacts with rage, calling Edgar a “murderous coward” and declaring that he will catch him and bring him “to the stake.” He will use the authority of the Duke of Cornwall to bring him to justice. Edmund also accuses Edgar of calling him an “unpossessing bastard” whose word would not stand up against his if he denied writing the letter. According to Edmund’s account, Edgar told him that he could, in fact, easily blame the murder plot on Edmund. More determined than ever to find Edgar, Gloucester prepares to publish his picture throughout the kingdom. Calling Edmund his “loyal and natural boy,” he promises to arrange to have him acknowledged as his legal heir.

Cornwall and Regan enter, having heard the shocking news about Edgar. Quick to accept Edmund’s deceitful story, Regan promptly blames Edgar’s behavior on his association with Lear’s “riotous knights.” Having been informed by Goneril of Lear’s arrival, Cornwall and Regan have decided not to stay and wait for him. Cornwall invites Edmund into his service, commending him for his virtue and obedience. Explaining why they have come, Regan asks for Gloucester’s counsel concerning Goneril’s “differences” with her father.

This scene, involving the subplot, is analogous to the first scene of the play. In the main plot, King Lear is duped by his older daughters into believing they love him “more than words can wield the matter.” In the subplot, Edmund deceives Gloucester about his own devotion toward his father, “by no means he could...Persuade me to the murther of your lordship.” Edmund’s gain is necessarily Edgar’s loss. In both cases, Lear and Gloucester, through their own lack of insight, must bear the loss of one of their children. W. R. Elton sees the double plot as a “developing metaphor ” in which the action in these two parts “mirror each other.” (W....

(The entire section is 889 words.)