King Lear Act V, Scenes 1 and 2: Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

King Lear book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download King Lear Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act V, Scenes 1 and 2: Summary and Analysis

Among the regalia of drum and colors, Regan and Edmund, accompanied by their soldiers, enter the British camp near Dover. Edmund shows concern regarding Albany’s absence. He wonders whether Albany has made a firm decision to fight the French in view of their support of King Lear. Regan is sure Albany has met with some misfortune and Edmund agrees. Jealous of her sister, Regan begins to question Edmund about his relationship with her. Edmund swears that he holds only an “honor’d love” for her and that he has never enjoyed her sexual favors. He assures Regan she need not fear that he will become too “familiar” with Goneril.

Albany and Goneril enter with drum, color, and soldiers. At first sight of Regan and Edmund, Goneril, in an aside, declares that she would go as far as to lose the battle rather than relinquish Edmund to her sister. Albany greets Regan and Edmund formally and politely. He informs them that in view of the fact that the King has many followers who have defected to France because of the cruelties suffered under the new rule, the honorable thing to do would be to fight only the imposing army of France. His quarrel is not with the King and his followers. Edmund commends his statement as nobly spoken, and Goneril agrees that domestic strife is “not the question here.”

Albany then invites Edmund to join him and his most experienced soldiers in his tent to determine the proceedings of the battle. To prevent her sister from spending time alone with Edmund, Regan insists that she go with her. Just as the entire party leaves, Edgar enters with an urgent letter for Albany. Insisting that Albany read it before he goes into battle, Edgar promptly leaves though Albany coaxes him to stay until he has read the letter.

Left alone, Edmund ponders over his dilemma. He has “sworn his love” to both the sisters and agonizes over which one to “enjoy” without offending the other. He reasons that he cannot take Goneril as long as her husband is alive and finally concludes that he will use Albany for the battle and then allow Goneril to devise a method of getting rid of him. With Albany out of the way, Edmund will be in power, and he decides he will never grant mercy to Lear and Cordelia as Albany intends to do.

In Scene 2, the alarum sounds as Cordelia and the King, marching with drum and colors, accompany the French army across the field between the French and English camps. Edgar leads Gloucester to the shade of a nearby tree where he will be comfortable until Edgar returns. He prays that the “right may thrive,” and leaves his father with a blessing. Soon after Edgar leaves, the alarum sounds within and Edgar rushes to his father’s rescue, informing him that King Lear has lost the battle, and Cordelia has been captured. Taking him by the hand, he urges Gloucester to flee from danger. Gloucester balks at Edgar’s demands, insisting that he wishes to go no further but would rather die in the field. Edgar reminds him that he must continue to endure but be ready for death when it finally comes. Gloucester agrees that this is true.

As the scene opens, we are aware of the Duke of Albany’s dilemma in fighting Cordelia’s army. He is “full of alteration and self-reproving.” His decision has become even more crucial after the death of the Duke of Cornwall, for now he is the top official in charge of the state. On the one hand, he does not wish to fight the King and his supporters, but, on the other hand, he must prove his loyalty to Britain. Shakespeare’s audience would not have tolerated Britain’s defeat at the hands of the French even though it would be in the best interests of the King and Cordelia. To resolve his dilemma, Albany justifies his actions against the King by rationalizing it as a separate issue. “For this business,/ It touches us as France invades our land,/ Not bolds the King.” Goneril is quick to agree that “these domestic and particular broils/ Are not the question...

(The entire section is 1,337 words.)