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ACT III, SCENE 6
Gloucester leaves the King and his companions in safety at a farmhouse close to the castle and departs to find provisions. Left to his agony, Lear dwells on his mistreatment. He conjures up a mock trial of Goneril and Regan, where he sits in judgment and tries his older daughters for their cruelty towards their father. This imagined trial takes place amid the lunatic ravings of Tom and the Fool's half-witted pieces of song. The alternating dialogues of Tom and the Fool are acutely perceptive, but Kent interrupts. He cannot bear to see Lear in such a state of torment and dementia. Lear, however, continues with the imaginary trial and charges Goneril for kicking her father. He fancies Goneril trying to escape and cries that she be stopped. Kent is moved by the pathetic nature of the King's ravings, and Edgar, still in disguise, is deeply pained. Kent steps forward and pleads with Lear to rest so that he may recover. He assents, but almost immediately, Gloucester hastily returns with bad news.
Gloucester informs the group about a plot to murder Lear and insists that the King leave for Dover immediately. Kent laments that the sleep, which might have soothed the King's broken nerves, is not to be. As a dazed Lear is led out to make the journey, Gloucester returns to his castle. The scene ends with a soliloquy by Edgar, in which he feels that his own misfortunes pale in comparison with the tragedies suffered by Lear. He further declares that he will remain in the disguise of a lunatic beggar until his honesty is proven, his outlaw repealed, and his position restored.
This is the last scene in the play with comic elements, and the Fool is not seen again. His main function, in addition to providing comic relief, has been to act as Lear's conscience and instructor. The Fool brought to light the King's foibles by using his seemingly inane chatter and absurd phrases to act as an objective commentator on Lear's mistakes. The Fool is no longer needed, for Lear has accepted the error of his ways and now wants to right the wrongs.
Although there is humor and absurdity throughout the scene, there is also a great seriousness about it. Lear's state of mind borders on insanity, and his life is in danger. Additionally, the scene underscores the serious theme of justice. Lear's imaginary trial, with him in the seat of judgement, is a flashback to the beginning of the play when he judged his three daughters and found Cordelia lacking. Now he is attempting to rectify his actions in his own mind by bringing Goneril and Regan, the ones he trusted, to justice for their misdeeds. Lear, in his search for understanding, wants to know, "Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?" Edgar, still in disguise, is very touched by Lear's ramblings and realizes the King's plight is even worse than his own. Unable to hide his sorrow for Lear, he fears that "my tears begin to take his part so much, They mar my counterfeiting."
Gloucester is also touched by the King's situation. To protect the King, he has hidden Lear away in a farmhouse close to his castle and gone to find provisions for him and his companions. When Gloucester returns, he brings the bad news that there is a plot to kill Lear. He encourages the King to go immediately to Dover for his own safety. At the end of the scene, Lear and his party depart, Gloucester heads for his own castle, and Edgar is left to give his emotional soliloquy.