ACT IV – Scene.ii
(This scene takes place outside the Duke of Albany’s palace)
The scene opens with Goneril and Edmund and they are joined by Oswald who
has news that Albany is a changed man.
The steward informs Goneril that Albany seems pleased at the impending invasion by France and showed disappointment that Edmund has replaced his father as Earl of Gloucester. As a result, Goneril takes command of her forces and orders Edmund to return to Cornwall while she deals with her husband. Goneril has been flirting with Edmund and she gives him a favor of affection and a kiss. Goneril is impressed by the vibrant Edmund compared with her own weakling husband.
Albany enters scolding his wife for her inhuman treatment of King Lear.
A messenger arrives to relay the news that the Duke of Cornwall has died
from the wound he received from his servant. Albany declares that this act represents retribution from the gods for Cornwall’s treatment of Gloucester.
Albany vows revenge against Edmund for leaving his father at the mercy of Cornwall. In the evil mind of Goneril, she seeks to gain advantage from these circumstances and form an alliance with Edmund. However, she is concerned that her widowed sister may also seek Edmund’s love.
There are the first indications in this scene that Albany does not wish to
ally him with the other three evil characters. He is becoming more critical of his wife’s behavior and welcomes the developments in Dover where the French army is expected.
The evil Goneril recognizes similar traits in Edmund and is consequently
attracted to him. She regards her husband’s virtuous behavior as a sign of weakness. She admires Edmund because he is driven to better himself, no matter what the consequences.
Another indication here of loss of values is that it does not matter to
Goneril that she is already married when she flirts with Edmund.
The bold Albany compares Goneril and her sister to beasts. He says,
“Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile;
Filths savor but themselves. What have you done?
Tigers, not daughters, what have you perform’d?
A father, and a gracious aged man,
Most barbarous, most degenerate! Have you madded?”
Albany’s true nature is at last revealed to the audience. All
Goneril can say to him is that he is “A moral fool”. Albany responds to her by saying, “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face.”
Albany laments the fact that the bonds that tie families and society together have been broken and that chaos will descend on them all.
Again we remember Cordelia’s statement at the start of the play that she
loved her father in accordance with the bond between parent and child. The acts that Goneril and Regan and Edmund have performed have broken the bonds between parent and child.
We will see later that Cornwall’s death will place Albany in a
dilemma. He could quite easily have left the other three, but with Cornwall dead, there is no-one left with experience to lead the English army against the invading French.
A further complication is introduced into the plot through Goneril’s lust
for Edmund. This will put a strain on her relationship with her sister, should the recently widowed Regan now too desire Edmund. Edmund has the attributes that would attract both sisters.