ACT III – Scene.vi
(This takes place in a room of a farmhouse adjoining Gloucester’s castle)
Lear, Kent, Fool and Edgar enter the farmhouse and they await Gloucester
bringing them provisions.
The manic Lear seeks vengeance on his daughters for the evil offences they
have committed against him. He decides to set up a mock trial so that he can bring charges against his daughters, and he appoints the Fool and Edgar to be judges of the court.
They use two stools to take the place of Regan and Goneril. They are referred to as “joint-stool”. The Fool relishes his role as judge, but Edgar is reluctant to take part in this farce, and pities the King for his madness. Kent eventually persuades the King to take some rest.
Just then Gloucester enters to say that there is a plot to kill Lear.
In order for him to be safe, the King must be transported to Dover where he
will find protection.
We also note some strange behavior from Edgar in this scene, who babbles on
about wicked fiends.
The whole scene is a perverse comedy. Lear sets up a court in order to
try his daughters in their absence, although they are represented in the court by two stools. Lear intends that for the second time in the play his two daughters should provide testimonies about their
actions. In the first Act of the play, they provided testimonies of their love for their father. In this scene, testimonies will be made concerning the evil deeds they have performed against their
father, which will be evidence of their hate for him.
Lear’s aim in this absurd farce is to establish why his daughters have
treated him so badly. Is he himself to blame for the way they have turned out?
There are many interesting quotations in this scene.
The Fool says to Lear, “Nuncle, tell me whether a madman be a gentleman or a yeoman.” Lear: “A King, a King!” This is Lear admitting to him that he is mad. What he had prayed to the gods to save him from has not been heard.
This is a clever scene, and if the reader can imagine the set and the
appearance of the characters, then it becomes very entertaining and should be studied in some depth, especially in relation to Shakespeare’s genius at stagecraft.
This is the last scene in which the Fool appears and it is not clear what
happens to him. Although Lear says in Act V – Scene.iii, “My poor fool is hanged”, it is highly probable that he is referring to Cordelia.
Fool was also an Elizabeth term of endearment. It is simpler to assume that Shakespeare has merely written the Fool out of the play because he has served his purpose. You will note that the Fool only appeared after Cordelia’s exit, and now that she is to reappear in the play, the Fool exits. As we have said previously some productions omitted the Fool’s part altogether, but this would have made the play very bleak. The Fool’s presence provides a comic relief from the dire happenings endured by the other characters. The Fool only really interacts with Lear. In their dialogues with each other, both characters come alive. We know that the Fool pined for Cordelia when she was banished by Lear, so in some respects the Fool provided an important link between the King and his only true virtuous daughter. It can also be argued that Shakespeare used the Fool not only to introduce comedy, but also to contrast the comedy with the tragedy in the play thus giving it more effect. So what happens to the Fool? Does he predict his own death by saying in his last line, “I’ll go to bed at noon.”? We don’t know. However, his contribution to the play has been significant, and his place will be taken by Cordelia.
There is much going on in this play, and coming to it for the first time
much will be missed, but there are further indications that good is now in the ascendancy.
We also see a subtle indication that Edgar’s prospects are improving.
You will note that in his end of scene soliloquy he seems more lucid. He sees hope if he can help take the King to safety.