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Act II, Scene 4: Summary and Analysis

Lear, his Fool, and his Gentleman arrive at Gloucester’s castle. The King finds it puzzling that Cornwall and Regan have left their house on the night of his expected arrival without sending a message to explain. Kent who is still in the stocks, greets his master. Shocked to see his courier in this shameful condition, the King thinks it must be a joke. Kent tells Lear it was Regan and Cornwall who placed him there. In disbelief, Lear argues with Kent, bandying back and forth until the King finally faces the truth. He insists that they would not dare engage in such an act of disrespect toward the King through his messenger. Incensed by Cornwall and Regan’s actions, Lear calls it a “violent outrage” that is “worse than murther.” When asked for a reason by the King, Kent truthfully admits that he demonstrated “more man than wit,” when he drew his sword on Oswald.

Commenting on the action, the Fool recites fanciful rhymes about Lear’s problems with his daughters, observing that poor fathers “make their children blind” while rich fathers “see their children kind.” Asking for his daughter’s whereabouts, Lear is told she is within. Determined to rectify the situation with Kent, Lear presently enters the castle, asking the others to stay behind. Kent inquires about the King’s decreased train of followers. The Fool tells him that it is a question deserving time in the stocks. When Kent asks why, the Fool answers in prose and verse alluding to the stormy times ahead.

Lear and Gloucester enter with the news that Cornwall and Regan refuse to speak to Lear, giving the excuse that they are sick and weary from traveling all night. Lear requests a better answer from Gloucester, who discreetly reminds the King that the “fiery quality” of the Duke is at the heart of the problem. Lear’s explosive reply calls for vengeance and death. He demands to speak with the Duke of Cornwall and Regan immediately, but Gloucester simply states that he has already informed them. The King’s fury increases as he excoriates the “fiery Duke.” His mood suddenly changes, however, when he considers that the Duke may not be well. When he is reminded of Kent’s humiliation in the stocks, however, he is sure this act is a symbol of the death of his royal power as king. He again calls for the Duke and Regan to “come forth and hear me.”

Gloucester enters with Cornwall and Regan. They both greet him with proper decorum, addressing him as “your Grace” and telling him they are glad to see him. Kent is set free. The King promptly begins his diatribe complaining about Goneril’s depravity and her “Sharp-toothed unkindness,” but Regan steps in to defend her sister. She asks him to return to Goneril and apologize for having “wrong’d her.” Lear falls on his knees begging Regan to take him in. Annoyed, Regan tells him to stop his unsightly tricks and go back to Goneril’s house. Cursing Goneril and swearing never to live with her again, he promises Regan that she will never have his curse.

The King asks Regan who put his man in the stocks, but is interrupted by Oswald’s arrival. Recognizing him as Goneril’s steward, Lear orders him out of his sight and again demands to know who stocked his servant. This time he is interrupted by Goneril’s arrival. Seeing her, the King invokes the heavens to come down and take his part. Lear admonishes her for daring to face him, but she feigns innocence and justifies her past behavior. Cornwall finally admits having put Lear’s man in the stocks.

Regan approaches Lear, trying to persuade him to return to her sister’s for the remainder of the month, dismiss half his train, and then return to her after she has had time to make provisions for his arrival. Infuriated, Lear declares that he would rather “abjure all roofs” than give up 50 of his men. Goneril casually tells him it is his choice. Rebuffing her with contempt, he reminds her he can stay with Regan and keep his 100...

(The entire section is 1,516 words.)