Download King Lear Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act III, Scene 6: Summary and Analysis

Summary
In an outbuilding near his castle, Gloucester shelters Lear from the raging storm on the heath. Kent thanks Gloucester for his kindness, afraid that the King’s “wits have given way to impatience.” Promising his quick return, Gloucester leaves Kent, Edgar, and the Fool with Lear to find the necessary supplies for their comfort. Edgar, still disguised as Tom o’ Bedlam, continues his chatter about the foul fiends that are plaguing him. Alluding to Chaucer’s “Monk’s Tale,” he says that Frateretto tells him “Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness.” He implores the Fool to pray and beware of the “foul fiend.” The Fool continues his lighthearted humor, asking whether a madman is a yeoman or a gentleman, to which Lear quickly replies, “A king, a king.”

Breaking into the middle of the Fool’s continued jesting, the King suddenly decides to conduct a mock trial. Edgar will be his “learned justicer” and his wise Fool will assist him. He appoints Kent as one of the judges. His daughters, Goneril and Regan, are the “she-foxes” who are brought to trial, taking the form of joint stools.

Kent urges Lear to lie down and rest, but Lear ignores his pleas and decides that Goneril will be the first to be arraigned. Lear testifies that she “kick’d the poor king her father.” Turning his thoughts to Regan, he rails at her for the corruption she has brought and censures the “false justicer” for letting her escape. Feeling deep sympathy for the King in his madness, Kent realizes Lear’s wits are failing. Edgar also tells us that his tears for the King make his disguise and buffoonery difficult to maintain. Kent finally convinces the King to lie down and rest.

Gloucester enters, asking for Lear but is told by Kent that his “wits are gone.” Gloucester instructs Kent to put him in a litter and quickly drive him to Dover because his life is in danger. He warns Kent that within a half hour the King and everyone associated with him will be killed if they stay in this place. Making sure the Fool is not left behind, Kent orders him to help lift his master, who is now asleep.

Left alone, Edgar, again speaking in verse, drops his disguise as Tom o’ Bedlam and decides he will disclose his true identity and get involved in the recent events of the kingdom. After seeing the King’s suffering, he decides that his pain is light by contrast. He ends by wishing the King a safe escape.

Analysis
Lear’s mock trial of his daughters, the “she-foxes,” is closely associated with grotesque comedy. Bordering on the absurd, Lear, in his madness, appoints Tom o’ Bedlam as his “robed man of justice” which is, of course, a pun on his sole article of clothing, a blanket. The incongruity of the Fool acting as a “yoke-fellow of equity,” a legal partner of Tom o’ Bedlam, is utterly preposterous. Two joint-stools are set up representing Lear’s daughters, the defendants. The Fool immediately mistakes Goneril for a joint-stool and all the while Edgar is muttering about the foul fiend who persecutes him. Goneril has committed the crime of kicking “the poor king her father,” and even the household dogs bark at him. Lear has, in his madness, turned his tragedy into an undignified farce, arousing our pity, but not our reverence and awe.

Kent’s deep concern for the King’s welfare, consistent throughout the scene and the play as a whole, lends dignity to Lear. “O pity! Sir, where is the patience now/ That you so oft have boasted to retain?” Edgar, too, breaks down, almost unable...

(The entire section is 944 words.)