ACT IV – Scene.i
(Back at the heath)
Just when Edgar thinks that matters cannot get any worse, he meets with his
blind father, led by an old servant.
Edgar dismisses Gloucester’s guide, as he will be in danger if he is seen helping ‘a traitor’. Gloucester continues to lament his ill-judged treatment of Edgar who maintains his disguise and uses the voice of Poor Tom. Gloucester remembers meeting Tom on the night of the storm. The old servant provides Edgar with decent clothing before departing. Gloucester asks Tom if he will guide him to Dover where he wishes to cast himself off the cliff.
The scene opens with Edgar comforting himself that he has withstood all that
fortune can throw at him, but this presumption is tested when Gloucester is led in by an old servant. We wonder at this stage why Edgar maintains his pretence and what Shakespeare’s reasoning is for this.
It is merely for dramatic effect, for it is not time for Gloucester to be regenerated. This will happen at the climax of the play. Later on in the play in the middle of Act V, Edgar will admit that he should have disclosed his true identity to his father now.
The two old characters of Lear and Gloucester are to be pushed to the limits
of human endurance, and the results of this on them and those that love them will become evident later on in the story.
We also note a change in Gloucester’s character, similar to that of
Lear. You will remember that Lear only appreciated the hardships faced by his lowliest subjects after he too had been brought low. Now Gloucester is filled with compassion for Poor Tom.
He arranges for the servant to provide him with clothing – a far cry from the man we saw in Act I of the play when he boasted about the good sport he had enjoyed in bringing about Edmund’s conception. By his actions, Gloucester shows that he is sorry for his previous behavior and will try to make amends by sharing what little he has with those he had never previously noticed. Shakespeare deliberately stalls the use of divine justice until the main characters have earned their assistance.