Act IV, Scene 7: Summary and Analysis
Kent has divulged his true identity to Cordelia though he is still dressed as Caius. With heartfelt gratitude, Cordelia tells Kent she will not live long enough to adequately repay him for what he has done for her father, the King. Kent assures her that acknowledgment of his services is, in fact, an overpayment. She asks him to change his attire so they can put behind them, all reminders of the “worser hours” he has spent with the King on the heath. But Kent tells her he is not ready to reveal his identity yet. To do so would cut his purpose short. She promptly concedes, turning to the doctor to inquire about the King. He tells her the King is still asleep. Calling upon the “kind gods,” she asks them to cure the “great breach” in his nature and tune up the discord in his life brought about by his children.
The doctor then asks permission to awaken the King, and Cordelia leaves it up to his better judgment. She is assured by the Gentleman that they have dressed her father in fresh garments. Certain that the King will maintain his self-control, the doctor asks Cordelia to stay nearby when her father awakes. Lear is brought in on a chair carried by servants as soft music plays in the background. Cordelia kisses her father with the hope of repairing the harm done to the King by her sisters. With compassion, she gazes at his face, reflecting on the suffering forced upon him in the storm. She agonizes over his necessity of finding shelter with the swine and lowly rogues.
When the King stirs, Cordelia is the first to speak with him. Thinking he has died, Lear sees her as a “soul in bliss.” He imagines being bound to a “wheel of fire,” however. Cordelia asks him whether he knows her and he replies that she is a spirit.
Confused, he does not know where he is now, nor where he spent the night. Cordelia asks him for his benediction, but he kneels to her instead. Realizing he is not in his “perfect mind,” he begs them not to mock him. Cordelia is overcome with joy when he finally recognizes her as his child. He acknowledges the fact that she does not love him, adding that she has some cause, but her sisters have none. In a forgiving spirit, Cordelia declares she has “no cause.” Questioning his whereabouts, Lear asks whether he is in France and is told he is in his own country. Observing that the “great rage is kill’d” in the King, the doctor suggests that he be left alone to avoid the danger of too much exertion.
After the King and his party leave, Kent informs the Gentleman that Cornwall has been slain, and Edmund has stepped in to take his place as the leader of his people. Unaware that he is speaking to the disguised Kent, the Gentleman apprises him of the latest news of Edgar and Kent who are rumored to be in Germany together. Left alone, Kent decides that the upcoming battle will determine his fate.
When Lear awakens from his drugged sleep, “the great rage” has died in him, and he enters a world of awareness and insight he has never experienced before. Confused at first, his mind revives the mental sensibility of the suffering mad King. But he soon recognizes his “child Cordelia” and calls her by name. He has gained knowledge through his suffering and admits he is a “very foolish fond old man.” There is no longer any need for hypocritical expressions of love from Cordelia as there had been when they last met in the first scene of the play. Through suffering, Lear has cast off that illusory world. L. C. Knights sees the action in this scene as “a moment of truth...the painful knowledge that has been won will reject anything that swerves a hair’s breadth from absolute integrity” (L. C. Knights, Shakespearean Themes, 1960, p. 115). This truth has been arrived at through Lear’s new capacity to feel. Like Gloucester, he now sees the world “feelingly.” When he first sees Cordelia, he no longer makes demands on her.
I know you do not love me, for your sisters
Have (as I do...
(The entire section is 1,105 words.)