Download King Lear Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act IV, Scene 5: Summary and Analysis

Back in Gloucester’s castle, Oswald informs Regan that Albany, after much fretting (“much ado”), has reluctantly agreed to raise an army against France. He adds that Goneril is a better soldier than her husband, Albany. Oswald has come to deliver Goneril’s letter to Edmund. Referring to him as “Lord Edmund,” Regan questions the contents of the letter, but Oswald claims he does not know. Expressing regret about letting the blinded Gloucester live, Regan is sure that sympathy for the old man will turn people against them. She thinks Edmund is on a mission to murder his father and, thereby, strengthen their cause.

Oswald is determined to find Edmund, but Regan urges him to go with the troops the next day since the way is dangerous. Oswald apprises her of his duty to his mistress, Goneril. Suspicious of her sister, Regan questions her secrecy, wondering why she is not sending her message by word-of-mouth instead of by a letter. Promising to make it worth his while, she asks Oswald’s permission to unseal the letter. Oswald protests, but Regan tells him that she has observed her sister approach Edmund with amorous looks, and she knows Oswald is in Goneril’s confidence. Oswald feigns innocence, but Regan confidently reaffirms her belief that he knows the truth. She tells him that she and Edmund have already agreed that she would be a more convenient wife for him than Goneril since she is now a widow. She promises a reward if Oswald will find Edmund and present him with a token from her. She tells Oswald to warn her sister about their conversation concerning Edmund. Promising Oswald a promotion, she asks him to find the blind Gloucester and kill him. He agrees to do what she asks and, in this way, prove what political party he favors.

Only a few scenes earlier, Albany predicts what will happen if Regan and Goneril’s “vile offenses” are not tamed (Act IV, Scene 2). His prophetic words have come to fruition in this scene where evil is beginning to “prey on itself.” In their sinister attempts to satisfy their appetites for power, the sisters have worked well together. They have turned their father out in the storm, stripping him of all dignity and title, and have blinded Gloucester, who stood by the King in his time of need. But now we finally see the evil results of their licentious behavior turn in on themselves. Goneril has already apprised us of her fear of Regan’s competition for Edmund’s attentions at the time of Cornwall’s death. Now Regan makes it clear that, as a widow, she is the logical woman for Edmund’s hand in marriage. Edmund is an opportunist who cares for neither of the...

(The entire section is 712 words.)