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Act IV, Scene 3: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Gentleman: brings news to Kent of Cordelia and the King of France

This scene takes place in the French encampment near Dover. Explaining the reason for the King of France’s sudden departure from the camp, a Gentleman tells Kent that the King was called back to France on urgent business that, in his absence, could prove dangerous to the state. He has left Monsieur La Far, his marshal, in charge while he is away. Kent inquires about the letters he has written to Cordelia concerning Goneril and Regan’s cruel treatment of their father. The Gentleman explains that often a tear would trickle down her cheeks as she fought to control her passion while she was reading the letters. He describes her queenly dignity and patience, and the way she covered her tears with smiles. Musing about the contrast between Cordelia and her sisters, Kent wonders how one parent could produce such different offspring. He concludes it is “The stars above us, that govern our conditions.”

Kent informs the Gentleman that Lear is in town, but, when in his right mind, has refused to speak to Cordelia out of guilt and shame for what he has done to her. Kent tells of the things that sting the King’s mind. He has stripped Cordelia of his blessing, given her rights to her “dog-hearted” sisters, and turned her out to foreigners. His shame detains him from seeing her.

Kent then tells the Gentleman that Albany and Cornwall have raised an army, but he has already heard. Apprising the Gentleman of some secret business, Kent invites him to come with him to see the King to whom the Gentleman will attend until Kent returns.

In this scene, Cordelia stands in juxtaposition to Goneril, who in the previous scene, according to her husband, is “not worth the dust which the rude wind/ Blows” in her face. Cordelia, by contrast, is “queen/ Over her passion.” This is reminiscent of the first scene in which Cordelia, by calmly telling her father that she loves him “according to my bond” refuses to resort to the flattery in which Goneril engages. We again meet Cordelia in the next scene, 20 scenes after her last appearance. The conversation between Kent and the Gentleman portrays Cordelia...

(The entire section is 751 words.)