Lear has realized, despite what flatterers have told him and he has believed, that he is as vulnerable to the forces of nature as any human being. He cannot command the rain and thunder and is not immune to colds and fever (the “ague” of 4.6.103). Just as, during the storm, he recognizes that beneath each man’s clothing is “a poor, bare, forked animal” (3.4.99–100), Lear now understands that no amount of flattery and praise can make a king different from anyone else: “Through tattered clothes small vices do appear; / Robes and furred gowns hide all” (4.6.158–159).
Armed with this knowledge, Lear can finally reunite with Cordelia and express his newfound humility and beg repentance. “I am a very foolish fond old man” (4.7.61), he tells her sadly, and he admits that she has “some cause” to hate him (4.7.76). Cordelia’s moving response (“No cause, no, cause”) seals their reconciliation (4.7.77). Love and forgiveness, embodied in Lear’s best daughter, join with humility and repentance, and, for a brief time, happiness prevails. But the forces that Lear’s initial error unleashed—Goneril, Regan, and Edmund, with all their ambition and appetite for destruction—remain at large. We thus turn from happy reconciliation to conflict, as Cordelia leads her troops against the evil that her father’s folly has set loose in Britain.