Act IV, Scene 3: Summary and Analysis
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 as Lear’s ideal daughter.
The First Folio, published in 1620, does not include this scene. It was, perhaps, thought to be unessential for moving the action along. For the most part, the scene functions to inform. Expounding on the moral goodness of Cordelia, it signals her return to the play in the next scene. The Gentleman discloses the news of the return of the King of France called back to attend to urgent business. This scene also provides information about King Lear’s condition and his feelings toward Cordelia since he has arrived in Dover.
In his effort to understand how Lear could have fathered the virtuous and loyal Cordelia and her self-seeking sisters as well, Kent attributes the mystery to...
(The entire section is 751 words.)