King Lear: Act 2, Scene 4

Lear along with his fool arrive at Gloucester’s castle , where he sees Kent in the stocks and is outraged that his daughter and son-in-law would treat one of his servants in this manner, clearly an insult to Lear himself. ‘Tis worse than murder, to do upon respect such violent outrage.’

Lear demands to speak to Regan at once but she refuses, saying that she is tired from travelling. ‘Deny to speak to me? They’re sick, they’re weary?’ Lear refuses to accept this insolence and demands to speak to them. ‘Bid them come forth and hear me, Or at their chamber door I’ll beat the drum Till it cry sleep to death.’

When Cornwall and Regan finally appear, Lear tells Regan how Goneril has treated him, her ‘Sharp-toothed unkindness’ towards him. Regan responds by saying that Gonerial may have been right to treat him this way as he has become old and unreasonable and that he should return to Goneril and ask for forgiveness. ‘You should be ruled and led….Therefore I pray that to our sister you do make return; Say you have wronged her, sir.’

Lear is horrified at the thought of asking for forgiveness. In a moment, where we see how far Lear has fallen, he kneels before his daughter and begs for food and shelter, to which Regan refuses, telling him to go back to Goneril.

Goneril arrives in the middle of the scene and Lear asks her if she’s ashamed to look at him after the way she has treated him. He can’t believe it when Regan takes her hand, a symbol that have formed an alliance against Lear. This is very symbolic, as Lear is now helpless, with the two daughters he bestowed his kingdom upon now treating him like a peasant..

They play on Lear’s mind by calling him a senile old man, who is taking offence, where none exists. Lear, heartbroken at this point again asks why his servant is in the stocks, to which Cornwall replies that he put him there.

Regan tells Lear to get rid of half his knights and go back with Goneril as she does not have time for him. Lear says that he would rather be a slave. He says that he’d sooner go to the King of France and beg for a tiny pension that go back to Goneril. The reference to the King of France is important as it makes Lear think about his youngest daughter Cordelia. But he continues to beg Regan to take him in and says to her, ‘Now I prithee, daughter, do not make me go mad.’ It is clear that Lear thinks that he will lose his mind if he continues to be treated in this way by his daughters.

Goneril and Regan team up on Lear and question his need for knights and ask why he can’t just use their servants. Dumbfounded, he says, ‘I gave you all–‘ highlighting how absurd it is that he gave away his kingdom to two daughters who do not appreciate it.

Lear tells Goneril that he will go back with her if he can have his fifty knights, as Regan is only allowing him twenty-five. Goneril interrupts and again questions why he needs any knights at all. Lear replies, ‘Even the poorest beggars have some meager possessions they don’t really need. If you allow people no more than what they absolutely need to survive, then a human life is no better than an animals.’

Lear leaves but threatens revenge on both his daughters, ‘I’ll get revenge on both that will make the whole world…I will do such things-I don’t know what…but it’ll be devastating.’

At this point a storm breaks out. Shakespeare makes use of pathetic fallacy in this scene with a storm breaking out at the exact moment Lear storms off and is at the point of losing his mind. It is also at the point where the suspense in the play begins to rise and events are set in motion that can’t be undone.

Gloucester comes in and tells the daughters that Lear has called for his horse and they tell him not to call him back showing how ungrateful they are to their father. This scene is important in relation to the theme of filial ingratitude. When Gloucester says that he will have no shelter, Regan replies, ‘O Sir, to wilful men, the injuries that they themselves procure Must be their schoolmasters,’ meaning he’ll learn not to do it again.

Questions:

  1. How does Lear reach when Kent tells him he was put there by Regan and Cornwall?
  2. Why does Lear kneel before Regan? What reasons does he give?
  3. How does Lear describe Goneril’s treatment of him?
  4. What is Regan’s reaction? What does she tell him to do?
  5. What are the ‘women’s weapons’ that Lear refers to in this scene?
  6. How do we see the theme of filial ingratitude in this scene?
  7. Do you feel sorry for Lear? Explain your answer.
  8. What does Lear do at the end of the scene?
  9. How does Shakespeare use pathetic fallacy in this scene?

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