Act V, Scene 3: Summary and Analysis
In military triumph over France, Edmund enters with Lear and Cordelia whom he has taken captive. Cordelia assures the King that they are not the first who have lost their fortunes in spite of good intentions. Her concern is for her father, but he is perfectly content to be confined with Cordelia “like birds i’ th’ cage.” Edmund then instructs his soldiers to take them away to prison where they will be kept until they can be arraigned. He slips the captain a private note, promising him an advancement if he carries out the devious scheme he has outlined for him. The captain quickly agrees to the scheme.
Albany enters with Goneril, Regan, and their soldiers. Formally commending Edmund for his valiant efforts in battle, Albany promptly demands to see the captives that have been taken in the day’s combat. Hesitantly, Edmund delays the Duke by telling him he has seen fit to send the King and Cordelia into confinement. He reasons that the King’s title and influence could tempt Albany’s soldiers to waver in their loyalties and cause them to turn against him. He advises Albany to wait until a more appropriate time and place when the sweat and blood of the battle will no longer be fresh in their minds. They can then settle the question of what will be done with the captives. Albany promptly questions Edmund’s audacity in making such major decisions, thereby considering himself an equal to the Duke. Regan immediately speaks up in Edmund’s defense, claiming that Edmund had been commissioned to take her place in the battle. Goneril rebukes her sister, maintaining that Edmund has noble qualities by his own merit. The sisters throw insults at each other and an argument ensues.
Regan complains that she is not well which keeps her from airing her full-blown anger. She makes it known, however, that Edmund is her proposed “lord and master.” Goneril objects, but Albany tells her there is nothing she can do to prevent it. As Edmund enters into the argument, Albany promptly arrests him, along with Goneril, on charges of “capital treason.” With bitter satire, Albany informs Regan that Edmund is betrothed to Goneril, Albany’s own wife, and if Regan wants to marry, she will need to regard him as a possible mate.
Albany calls for the trumpet to sound, challenging any man of quality or degree to declare that Edmund is a traitor. Dropping his glove, Albany is ready to fight in case no man appears at the sound of the third trumpet. Accepting the challenge, Edmund drops his glove in the same fashion, swearing to defend his “truth and honor firmly.” In the midst of it all, Regan, who has been poisoned by Goneril, becomes increasingly ill and must be led away.
The first trumpet sounds and the Herald reads the legal document calling for any man in the army of quality or degree to appear, declaring Edmund a traitor. At the sound of the third trumpet, Edgar arrives. In reply to the Herald’s questioning, Edgar informs him that his name has been lost but swears he is of noble birth. He testifies that Edmund is his adversary and a false traitor to the gods, his father, and his brother. Calling him a toad-spotted traitor, Edgar lifts his sword ready for action. Edmund resists Edgar’s accusations and challenges him to fight. There is a skirmish and Edmund is immediately wounded. Goneril protests that Edmund has been duped with trickery, but Albany sternly reprimands her, showing her the letter she has written to Edmund in which she plots the Duke’s murder. Defiantly, she challenges Albany to arraign her, knowing full well she is immune to the law. She leaves in a fit of anger, and Albany, concerned about her desperate state of mind, sends his soldiers after her. Aware that he is dying, Edmund confesses his guilt to Albany. Turning to Edgar, he forgives him for slaying him if he is, indeed, noble. Edgar then reveals his true identity to Edmund. Agreeing with Edgar that the gods are just, Edmund declares that the wheel has come...
(The entire section is 2,263 words.)