King Lear

by: William Shakespeare

Act 3, scenes 6–7

Summary Act 3, scenes 6–7

Indeed, it is hard to overestimate the sheer cruelty that Regan and Cornwall perpetrate, in ways both obvious and subtle, against Gloucester. From Cornwall’s order to “pinion him like a thief” (3.7.23) and Regan’s exhortation to tie his arms “hard, hard” (3.7.32)—a disgraceful way to handle a nobleman—to Regan’s astonishing rudeness in yanking on Gloucester’s white beard after he is tied down, the two seem intent on hurting and humiliating Gloucester. Once again, the social order is inverted: the young are cruel to the old; loyalty to the old king is punished as treachery to the new rulers; Regan and Cornwall, guests within Gloucester’s house, thoroughly violate the age-old conventions of respect and politeness. Cornwall does not have the authority to kill or punish Gloucester without a trial, but he decides to ignore that rule because he can: “Our power / Shall do a courtesy to our wrath, which men / May blame, but not control” (3.7.25–27).

This violence is mitigated slightly by the unexpected display of humanity on the part of Cornwall’s servants. Just as Cornwall and Regan violate a range of social norms, so too do the servants, by challenging their masters. One servant gives his life trying to save Gloucester; others help the injured Gloucester and bring him to the disguised Edgar. Even amid the increasing chaos, some human compassion remains.