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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes
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Outside the outer walls of Gloucester Castle, Kent (Lear's messenger) and Oswald (Goneril's messenger) arrive with their communications. Oswald, not recognizing Kent, greets him; Kent, wanting a quarrel, replies offensively. Oswald is startled by the stranger's rudeness and tells Kent that he does not know him. Kent replies that he knows him as a contemptuous person and delivers a scathing list of epithets that prove too much for Oswald. Eventually, a fight breaks out between the two of them. Kent thrashes Oswald, whose cries bring Edmund, Cornwall, Regan, Gloucester, and others rushing to the scene.

Cornwall inquires about the cause of this extraordinary exhibition of violence. Kent answers by unleashing another torrent of abuse on Oswald, even threatening to tread him "into mortar." Kent calls him a rogue and further states his hatred for all rogues. When he cannot give a valid reason for his unacceptable behavior, everyone simply thinks he has gone mad.

Cornwall orders Kent to be put in stocks despite Kent's protests that he is the king's messenger. He is led away in spite of Gloucester's entreaty that a king's messenger should not be treated so. When Cornwall, Regan, Edmund. and others leave the scene, Gloucester pleads helplessness. He tells Kent that the Duke's wishes cannot be disobeyed. The scene draws to an end with Kent's soliloquy on his master's sad situation, saying the king has left "heaven's benediction" to go into the hot sun. He removes and reads a message he is carrying from Cordelia. Her words seem to cheer Kent.


In this scene, two loyal messengers come into conflict. Kent, the messenger from Lear, is incensed that Oswald carries a message from the impudent Goneril to her sister, Regan. With anger, he insults Oswald by calling him, "A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited." Oswald, not recognizing Kent in his disguise, has no wish to pick a fight with a stranger, but Kent proceeds to hit Goneril's messenger. Oswald, seeming cowardly, refuses to fight. On being questioned about his violence, Kent speaks boldly and bluntly. He does not conceal his distrust of either Regan or Goneril and gives no other reason for the fight than "his countenance likes me not."

Cornwall, in ordering Kent to be put in stocks, shows his contempt and disdain for Lear. He and Regan state that Lear is no longer the king and cannot command their respect. They also demean Kent, referring to him as "this ancient ruffian" and "old fellow." Gloucester is very uneasy about the situation. He knows that Regan and Cornwall have committed intentional errors by disrespecting age, undermining the King's authority, and placing the king's messenger in the stocks. But Gloucester makes an error as well by refusing to stand up to Regan and Cornwall.

While in the stocks, Kent receives a letter from Cordelia, inquiring about her father's well being. Although the letter is not logical because of its timing, it serves the dramatic purpose of cheering Kent and reminding the audience that Cordelia is still very much concerned about Lear.

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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Synopsis


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