King Lear

by: William Shakespeare

Act 3, scenes 4–5

Summary: Act 3, scene 4

Kent leads Lear through the storm to the hovel. He tries to get him to go inside, but Lear resists, saying that his own mental anguish makes him hardly feel the storm. He sends his Fool inside to take shelter and then kneels and prays. He reflects that, as king, he took too little care of the wretched and homeless, who have scant protection from storms such as this one.

The Fool runs out of the hovel, claiming that there is a spirit inside. The spirit turns out to be Edgar in his disguise as Tom O’Bedlam. Edgar plays the part of the madman by complaining that he is being chased by a devil. He adds that fiends possess and inhabit his body. Lear, whose grip on reality is loosening, sees nothing strange about these statements. He sympathizes with Edgar, asking him whether bad daughters have been the ruin of him as well.

Lear asks the disguised Edgar what he used to be before he went mad and became a beggar. Edgar replies that he was once a wealthy courtier who spent his days having sex with many women and drinking wine. Observing Edgar’s nakedness, Lear tears off his own clothes in sympathy.

Gloucester, carrying a torch, comes looking for the king. He is unimpressed by Lear’s companions and tries to bring Lear back inside the castle with him, despite the possibility of evoking Regan and Goneril’s anger. Kent and Gloucester finally convince Lear to go with Gloucester, but Lear insists on bringing the disguised Edgar, whom he has begun to like, with him.

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Summary: Act 3, scene 5

Inside Gloucester’s castle, Cornwall vows revenge against Gloucester, whom Edmund has betrayed by showing Cornwall a letter that proves Gloucester’s secret support of a French invasion. Edmund pretends to be horrified at the discovery of his father’s “treason,” but he is actually delighted, since the powerful Cornwall, now his ally, confers upon him the title of earl of Gloucester (3.5.10). Cornwall sends Edmund to find Gloucester, and Edmund reasons to himself that if he can catch his father in the act of helping Lear, Cornwall’s suspicions will be confirmed.

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Analysis: Act 3, scenes 4–5

When Kent asks Lear to enter the hovel at the beginning of Act 3, scene 4, Lear’s reply demonstrates that part of his mind is still lucid and that the symbolic connection between the storm outside and Lear’s own mental disturbance is significant. Lear explains to Kent that although the storm may be very uncomfortable for Kent, Lear himself hardly notices it: “The tempest in my mind / Doth from my senses take all feeling else” (3.4.13–14). Lear’s sensitivity to the storm is blocked out by his mental and emotional anguish and by his obsession with his treacherous daughters. The only thing that he can think of is their “filial ingratitude” (3.4.15).