William Shakespeare – King Lear Act II

Act ii takes place in and around Gloucester’s castle. Edmund completes his plan of framing Edgar, seizing the opportunity brought about by the announced visit of Cornwall and Regan. He asks Edgar whether he has spoken against Cornwall, implying it might be the cause of his visit, then fakes a duel with him and advises him to run away. Then Edmund tells Gloucester that Edgar wanted him to conspire with him to kill their father and drew his sword on him when Edmund refused (Edmund has hurt himself to give credibility to his story.) The angry Gloucester swears to put the ungrateful son to death and orders a countrywide search. Kent, following Regan, meets Oswald at the gates of Gloucester’s castle, abuses him with a series of finest Shakespearean abuses and beats him up when Oswald won’t duel with him. He is put in stocks for that by Cornwall, although Gloucester tries to remonstrate. Edgar, fleeing the pursuit, decides to disguise himself as a mad beggar.

Lear finally arrives and is very angry on seeing his servant in stocks. He demands to see Regan and Cornwall, but is blown off by the excuses of their being tired after the journey and not feeling well. Finally Regan and Cornwall appear, but when Lear complains of his treatment at the hands of Goneril, she advises him to go back to her sister and agree to her terms of reducing his retinue. At this point Goneril arrives; much to Lear’s dismay, Regan greets her cordially and continues that she is not ready to accept more than twenty-five of Lear’s followers. Lear then decides Goneril’s fifty is still better than Regan’s twenty-five, but then Goneril argues he doesn’t need any personal retinue at all – aren’t all her servants at his command? Lear tries to argue that even poorest people have their small luxuries and we need something more in life than just bare necessities – if clothes are just to keep us warm, why does Goneril dress so fine? Finally, in a fit of anger he storms off with his small retinue into the night – and approaching storm. The daughters comment coolly “Well, that’s his choice”. Honestly, the whole discussion seems pointless, since we could learn from the dialogue between Kent and Fool at the beginning of this scene that Lear’s followers have been dropping off, sensing the king’s fortunes have fallen low. But maybe Lear in his distraught state failed to notice that.

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