King Lear : Act Five

The Story So Far: With the aim of restoring her wronged and demented father to the throne, Cordelia has returned to Britain at the head of a French army. Having reunited with her father at Dover, she awaits the British army, led by Edmund, who, in the interim, has promised to marry both Goneril and Regan. This has all the ingredients for a really awkward family reunion. 


This is an interesting little scene. For one thing, the romantic rivalry between Goneril and Regan really rears its ugly head here, with both of them fixated on Edmund. Edmund's brother Edgar, meanwhile, is attempting to bring down Edmund by the most circuitous means possible. Why doesn't he just tell Albany to read the letter immediately and arrest Goneril and Edmund before the battle even begins? It would solve a lot of problems. If I've missed a cunning plot trick here, let me know in the comments.

Well.... that was a bit disappointing.

OK, I recognize that the battle isn't the big thing in this play, unlike in Henry V. But still! After all this talk of armies gathering at Dover, all we get is Gloucester sitting around on an empty stage, probably listening to piped-in battle sound effects, waiting for Edgar to run on and tell him he's missed it, it was a great battle, and they lost.

After spending most of the play dithering and hedging his bets, Albany finally starts to show some backbone in this scene. Not a lot, granted, given that he's basically just following Edgar's instructions, but still....

Please don't ask me why Edgar is wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask. I don't have an answer.

Just a reminder... Goneril and Regan's story unfolds like this:

  1. Goneril and Regan divide the kingdom between themselves.
  2. Goneril and Regan join forces to resist will of unstable, domineering father.
  3. Goneril and Regan both fall in love with the same man.
  4. Goneril poisons Regan and stabs herself to death.

As the popular saying goes... "well, that escalated quickly."

I know I didn't do justice to Lear's final scene. That is because (a) I'm jet-lagged, and (b) it's actually so horrible that I have a hard time coming up with jokes for it. A parent losing their child is pretty much as horrible as things can ever get, and Lear's lamentations over the body of Cordelia are heart-breaking, even if you are of the mindset that Lear is a stupid old man who brought all this on himself.

So, Kent goes off, presumably to kill himself, leaving poor old Edgar and Albany standing around, surrounded by bodies. Aaaaaaaand curtain. Yay?

Act Five