ACT IV – Scene.vi
(In the countryside outside Dover)
Gloucester and Edgar (who is now dressed like a peasant) are on top of a
Edgar persuades the blind Gloucester that they are in fact on top of the cliffs and he describes the view to Gloucester. Gloucester thanks Edgar for bringing him to this place and gives him a jewel as a reward. He falls forward and loses consciousness. When he awakes Edgar tells him that the gods have ordained that he should survive the fall. Gloucester accepts this explanation and vows to be more accepting of the trials that are set him.
Lear enters and Gloucester recognizes his voice.
For a time they talk lucidly to one another, but Lear soon relapses into madness.
Cordelia’s attendants arrive, but Lear, frightened, runs away from the
rescuers. One of the attendants tells Edgar that the battle is imminent so Edgar decides to lead Gloucester away to safety.
Oswald appears on the scene and attempts to kill Gloucester, but Edgar
intervenes and slays the steward. Oswald makes a dying request to Edgar to take the letters in his possession to Edmund.
Although Edgar is now better dressed, he is still disguised as Poor Tom.
We note through his behavior towards his father that he fully forgives him
and only wishes to bring him back to health.
His father is determined to commit suicide, but Edgar has a plan to use this
to his advantage and save the life of his father. The plan works and Gloucester is renewed with purpose to suffer his misfortunes, and Edgar’s plan to revive his father is starting to have effect.
Edgar’s description of the scene from the cliff top mirrors an experience
that Shakespeare had in 1606 when he visited Dover. Clearly this had an impact and it is safe to assume that what Shakespeare saw is contained in Edgar’s description.
When Gloucester regains consciousness, Edgar still does not tell him the
truth. His son may think that his father’s ignorance may be necessary for him to continue his journey of self-discovery.
Lear is clearly delighted to be reunited with his old friend Gloucester.
Before his madness returns we notice that Lear fully understands the deception that flattery can bring. He has learnt this the hard way and it has cost him his status and his Kingdom.
You will note that there is a long monologue in this scene from Lear where
he covers such subjects as adultery, sexuality and justice.
There is clear reference to the sexual excesses and adultery of his oldest two daughters who have fallen victim to excessive passions. So far as justice is concerned, Lear has learned that those that profess to be honest and respectable often hide dishonesty and evil intent. Lear also believes that he is not entirely innocent himself, and has brought about some of the torments upon himself because he has not cared sufficiently for his subjects. In order to be favorable in the eyes of the gods he must change and be more compassionate.
Gloucester is also learning this lesson.
The attendant, after Lear has run away, tells Gloucester and Edgar that
redemption through Cornelia is available to Lear if he accepts his daughter’s help.
Gloucester now sees why he was spared death by the gods.
He feels his task is also to support Lear.
The misguided Oswald meets his death because he would not abandon the orders
he had received to murder Gloucester.
Oswald clearly misjudges the situation. He views Edgar as merely a peasant and someone who will bow to his command. He fails to see through the disguise and this mistake has fatal consequences. This is yet another example of someone not seeing the full picture which results in dire consequences.
At the last, Oswald is still governed by his sense of obedience as he
requests the man who killed him to deliver Goneril’s letter to Edmund.