As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.
Edgar talks to himself on the heath, reflecting that his situation is not as bad as it could be. He is immediately presented with the horrifying sight of his blinded father. Gloucester is led by an old man who has been a tenant of both Gloucester and Gloucester’s father for eighty years. Edgar hears Gloucester tell the old man that if he could only touch his son Edgar again, it would be worth more to him than his lost eyesight. But Edgar chooses to remain disguised as Poor Tom rather than reveal himself to his father. Gloucester asks the old man to bring some clothing to cover Tom, and he asks Tom to lead him to Dover. Edgar agrees. Specifically, Gloucester asks to be led to the top of the highest cliff.Read a translation of Act 4, scene 1 →
Goneril and Edmund arrive outside of her palace, and Goneril expresses surprise that Albany did not meet them on the way. Oswald tells her that Albany is displeased with Goneril’s and Regan’s actions, glad to hear that the French army had landed, and sorry to hear that Goneril is returning home.
Goneril realizes that Albany is no longer her ally and criticizes his cowardice, resolving to assert greater control over her husband’s military forces. She directs Edmund to return to Cornwall’s house and raise Cornwall’s troops for the fight against the French. She informs him that she will likewise take over power from her husband. She promises to send Oswald with messages. She bids Edmund goodbye with a kiss, strongly hinting that she wants to become his mistress.
As Edmund leaves, Albany enters. He harshly criticizes Goneril. He has not yet learned about Gloucester’s blinding, but he is outraged at the news that Lear has been driven mad by Goneril and Regan’s abuse. Goneril angrily insults Albany, accusing him of being a coward. She tells him that he ought to be preparing to fight against the French invaders. Albany retorts by calling her monstrous and condemns the evil that she has done to Lear.
A messenger arrives and delivers the news that Cornwall has died from the wound that he received while putting out Gloucester’s eyes. Albany reacts with horror to the report of Gloucester’s blinding and interprets Cornwall’s death as divine retribution. Meanwhile, Goneril displays mixed feelings about Cornwall’s death: on the one hand, it makes her sister Regan less powerful; on the other hand, it leaves Regan free to pursue Edmund herself. Goneril leaves to answer her sister’s letters.
Albany demands to know where Edmund was when his father was being blinded. When he hears that it was Edmund who betrayed Gloucester and that Edmund left the house specifically so that Cornwall could punish Gloucester, Albany resolves to take revenge upon Edmund and help Gloucester.