Act 1, Scene 4 Summary and Questions

Kent comes to Goneril’s castle, disguised as a peasant and asks Lear if he can serve him. Lear agrees to allow him to become one of his servants. Despite being one of Lear’s most loyal servants, Kent is forced do disguise himself as a peasant to continue to serve his master.

Lear notices that one of Goneril’s knights does not come back to him when he calls him back. Oswald enters and and refers to Lear as, “my lad’s father,” which infuriates Lear and he strikes Oswald for his insolence.

Lear’s fool enters and in a series of puns and jokes, he tells Lear that he has made a huge mistake in splitting his land between his two daughters and banished a daughter who truly loved him. Lear threatens to whip him and he replies, “They’ll have me whipped for speaking true, thou will have me whipped for lying, and sometime I am whipped for holding my peace. The fool angers Lear when he tells him that he is now without a title. “I am better than thou art, now I am a fool; thou art nothing.” The fool is highlighting that Lear, after giving away his title is now just an ordinary man, as witnessed by Oswald’s attitude towards him.

It should be noted that the fool, who was deemed to be silly and used for entertainment, seems to be the most insightful character in the play and the only one who is able to speak truthfully to Lear.

Goneril eventually comes to speak to Lear and she tells him that because of the behaviour of his soldiers, she is sending some of them away, whether he likes it or not. Lear is shocked at how Goneril speaks to him and he speaks of his regret at handing power over to his daughter. He calls on nature to leave her childless, such is his anger.

Finally, on the verge of tears, he calls for his horses and tells Goneril that he will go to stay with Regan, who he believes will treat him in the correct manner. Goneril’s husband, Albany is upset at the way in which his wife has treated her father and in a prophetic manner, he says, “How far your eyes may pierce I cannot tell. Striving to better aught, we mar what’s well.” He is telling his wife that sometimes when we try to better what we have, we can sometimes ruin what we had in the first place. This line foreshadows later events in the play.

Questions:

  1. What does Lear’s knights notice about things in Goneril’s castle?
  2. How does Oswald disrespect Lear? Why do you think Lear is so furious at this?
  3. How does the fool highlight what is happening to Lear in his rhymes and songs?
  4. Why do you think that Albany is upset with Goneril over her treatment of her father?
  5. What do we learn about the character of Kent in this scene?
  6. What do you think is the fool’s role in the play? Explain your answer.
  7. What does this scene show us about power and people’s attitudes towards power.
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