Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University




Kent hears that Lear continues to wander with his Fool in the storm, "Contending with the fretful elements" (III.i.4), "the impetuous blasts with eyeless rage" (III.i.8). He reports that the King of France knows about Lear's treatment and the enmity between Cornwall and Albany and plans in invading England. Kent sends a gentleman to Dover to inform the people of Lear's plight, and if he meets Cordelia, she will recognize a ring he gives the gentleman to carry, which will reveal whom he really has been speaking with here.


Lear rants in the storm: "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage, blow! / You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout" (III.ii.1-2). He ignores the Fool's advice to find shelter. "No, I will be the pattern of all patience, / I will say nothing" (III.ii.37-38). "Lear is a Job-like character, a man who has everything (family, wealth, honor) and loses everything" (Garber 660). But here, "like the flashes of lightning that momentarily illuminate the landscape for the lost traveler, there is a spiritual lightning that illuminates the lost soul" (Goddard, II 147).

Kent arrives and urges Lear to rest in a hovel. Lear "thinks for the first time of someone else's suffering before his own" (Goddard, II 147): "My wits begin to turn. / Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy. Art cold? / I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow?" (III.ii.67-69). Kent will return to the castle doors "and force / Their scanted courtesy" (III.ii.66-67).

The Fool sings a verse of the rain song from the end of Twelfth Night, and then offers a prophecy about social disorder and chaotic times for Albion: "This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live before his time" (III.ii.95-96). Actually, "The Fool's couplets mock such prophecies by listing four conditions that are always true, and then six that can never come true" (Asimov 30). "Shakespeare probably thought he was parodying Chaucer in the opening lines of the Fool's verses, and directly quoting the same passage (wrongly ascribed to Chaucer) in lines 91-92, yet he goes well beyond parody into an obliquely powerful condemnation of a Jacobean England where priests, brewers, nobles, and tailors all cheerfully are condemned" (Bloom 498).


Gloucester complains to Edmund about Cornwall and Regan. Edmund feigns concern. Gloucester tells him of a letter that tells of help coming for Lear and vengeance against his abusers. Gloucester asks Edmund to cover for him: he's going to find Lear. But Edmund will rat him out to Cornwall. "The younger rises when the old doth fall" (III.iii.25).


Kent brings Lear to the hovel. Lear says that the tempest in his mind is the real problem, and he continues ranting about "filial ingratitude" (III.iv.14), cutting off further tormenting thoughts only when he realizes "that way madness lies" (III.iv.21). But Lear has changed for the better as evidenced by his insistence that Kent and the Fool enjoy the shelter first. "Lear, ... in his madness, vividly expresses the idea that physical suffering can bring mental revelation -- that people will not begin to see until they learn to feel" (Wells 270). Lear feels empathy with the poor who always have to endure foul weather, and he laments, "O, I have ta'en / Too little care of this!" (III.iv.32-33).

The Fool runs from the hovel, fearing that the "Poor Tom" already in there is a spirit. The disguised Edgar emerges, pretending to be a mad religious fanatic. Although Lear insists only ungrateful daughters could have brought about this man's misery, Edgar testifies that he was "A servingman! proud in heart and mind; that curl'd my hair; wore gloves in my cap; serv'd the lust in my mistress' heart, and did the act of darkness with her.... Wine lov'd I deeply, dice dearly; and in woman out-paramour'd the Turk" (III.iv.85-92). "The Turks did not enter history till some sixteen centuries after the supposed time of Lear" (Asimov 33).

Lear is moved and waxes eloquent: "Thou art the thing itself: unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, fork'd animal as thou art" (III.iv.106-108). He tears off his clothes to emulate Edgar's state. Gloucester finds them all and invites them to a farmhouse next to his castle. Gloucester remarks ruefully on the state of matters and Lear agrees to go if Poor Tom the brilliant philosopher will accompany them.


Cornwall, pleased by Edmund's having produced a letter revealing Edgar to be treasonously conspiring with France, awards him the Gloucester title and estate. Edmund's new self-appointed mission is to catch his father aiding Lear, which will mean more trouble for the old men.


Lear, Kent disguised as Caius, the Fool, and Edgar disguised as the lunatic Poor Tom -- all enter a room in the farmhouse while Gloucester goes in search of supplies. Lear insanely establishes a courtroom trial with the others taking the parts of judges and stools as his daughters. Lear suggests, "let them anatomize Regan; see what breeds about her heart" (III.vi.76-77).

Kent persuades Lear to rest. Gloucester returns with news of an assassination plot against Lear: the King must be carried to Dover. Edgar prays for Lear's safety.


Cornwall instructs Goneril to bring his letter to her husband Albany regarding the landing of the army of France. He also wants Gloucester found. Regan wants Gloucester hanged as a traitor; Goneril wants his eyes poked out. Cornwall tells Edmund to accompany Goneril -- he shouldn't be there for his own father's torture. Oswald brings news of Lear's arrival in Dover with knights, followers, and friends. Servants quickly bring in the old Gloucester who reminds them that they are his guests (III.vii.31) and he is their host (III.vii.39). After some insults from the sisters and some questioning, Cornwall puts out one of Gloucester's eyes with his foot. Regan cries for the other eye to be put out, but one of Cornwall's servants can't take it and attacks Cornwall, wounding him before being stabbed in the back by Regan. Cornwall pokes out Gloucester's other eye: "Out, vild jelly! / Where is thy lustre now?" (III.vii.83-84). The old man calls for Edmund and is told that Edmund was the one who turned against him. Gloucester realizes he has maligned Edgar. Regan commands: "Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell / His way to Dover" (III.vii.93-94). The bleeding Cornwall wants the dead servant's body thrown on a dunghill. The other servants secretly agree to help "the old Earl" Gloucester (III.vii.103) and get that lunatic Tom of Bedlam to escort him.

Act IV

Shakespeare Index