King Lear : Act Four
The Story So Far: While ranting and raving in the midst of a huge storm, the slighty-bonkers King Lear joins up with Edgar, who is disguised as a mad beggar called Poor Tom. Along with the Fool and the long-suffering Earl of Kent, this merry band of half-wits rants and raves all over the place, until the Earl of Gloucester, disgusted at the behavior of Lear's daughters, helps Lear escape to Dover, where Cordelia is landing with the French army. Unfortunately for him, Regan and her husband, the sadistic Earl of Cornwall, find out about this and subsequently gouge out his eyes.
I know what you're probably thinking: as soon as Edgar hears that his father knows he was falsely accused, why doesn't he speak up and tell his father that he's there? Why does he persist in acting like a mud-covered madman? There are many explanations - Edgar wants to remain in disguise in case Cornwall's men come looking for him, Edgar is understandably wary after his father tried to have him arrested on trumped-up charges, Edgar is using his disguise to help cure his father of suicidal despair, Edgar has come to really enjoy the freedom that being a half-naked madman affords him, etc. However, I can't help thinking that things would have been easier all around if he'd just said "Hey dad, I forgive you for trying to have me arrested. Let's go find King Lear."
Goneril's sudden desire for Edmund kind of comes out of nowhere, although it shouldn't be that surprising. As the new Earl of Gloucester, he is now a nobleman, and he clearly has plenty of personal charm. And, let's face it, the Duke of Albany is kind of bland. Well-meaning, but incredibly bland.
Oswald gets a letter to deliver! If you're playing the "Oswald Drinking Game", take a drink.
Cordelia is one of these character who, despite not actually being in the play very much, casts a long shadow. She goes off to France at the end of the very first scene and doesn't reappear until now, but everyone is constantly talking and thinking about her. Mostly they're thinking "If only Cordelia hadn't been so flaming honest, everyone would have been happy and we could have skipped an entire act of mad storm ravings and eye-gougings."
Or is that just me?
Oswald tries to deliver a letter, but fails. If you're playing the "Oswald Drinking Game", take a drink. Oswald likes his letters.
Regan, meanwhile, has also fallen prey to Edmund's apparently irresistible sex appeal, and is planning to marry him even before her dead husband, the ex-Duke of Cornwall, is cold in the ground. This is not going to end well.
Edgar is either the world's worst psychotherapist or the world's best psychotherapist. On the one hand, I'm pretty sure that tricking your patient into thinking he's jumping off the Cliffs of Dover isn't a widely-accepted form of treating depression. On the other hand, it does seem to cure Gloucester's suicidal desire, so who am I to criticize?
Gloucester falling off the cliff presents a real staging dilemma. The sight of someone falling flat on his face is inherently amusing, but the pathos of Gloucester's suicide attempt is anything but. I tend to laugh at this part, but your mileage may vary.
Lear is full-on nuts in this scene. To Freud's presumed delight, he spends a good part of this scene raving about sex and female genitalia. However, Gloucester's heart-breaking reaction to Lear's ravings should, if done properly, really highlight the awful transformation that Lear has undergone.
That said, Lear says some pretty funny things in this scene, mostly at poor old Gloucester's expense.
Poor old Oswald. If you're playing the "Oswald Drinking Game", take two drinks: one for his attempted letter delivery and one for his getting beaten up a final time. Note Oswald's fanatical devotion to his duty. Even when mortally wounded, his first thought is "Someone has to deliver this letter! The mail must get through!" Unfortunately he gives the letter to the one person in the world most likely not to deliver the letter.
So, it turns out all that King Lear needed to recover from his madness was a good sleep. He wakes up in a much more rational frame of mind, and even acknowledges that he was a total ass to Cordelia in the first scene. Cordelia, being the perfect little goody-two-shoes that she is, insists he has nothing to apologize for.
He totally does, though.
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