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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes
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ACT IV, SCENE 2

Summary

Back at the castle, Oswald informs Goneril that her husband, Albany, is behaving strangely. Although earlier he had been too weak to restrain his wife's cruelty, now he is condemning her and Edmund, looking forward to the King of France's arrival in Dover. Goneril is displeased and declares she will take over. She also reveals her passion for Edmund and asks him to be her mate. Edmund, now the Earl of Gloucester, swears his love and loyalty to Goneril. He then leaves with a message for Regan, warning her to mobilize her army.

Albany enters and openly accuses his wife of cruelty and filial ingratitude. He is sure that Goneril's deeds will bring the vengeance of heaven upon her. Although Goneril protests, Albany is unmoved, which greatly angers her. It is clear that husband and wife both detest each other. Their quarrel is interrupted by a messenger, who brings news of Cornwall's death. He has died from the wound he received while fighting one of his own servants. Albany is also shocked to learn that Gloucester has been blinded.

Before departing, the messenger gives Goneril a letter from Regan. She secretly fears that her sister, now a widow, will become her rival for Edmund's love. Her mind filled with dark thoughts as she leaves the stage.

Albany finds out the details of Gloucester's tragedy and the part that Edmund has played in it. His worst suspicions about Goneril and Regan are now confirmed. He is also fearful of Edmund, believing that he is powerful enough to bring even greater disaster on the kingdom. Albany decides his course of action; he will do his duty to avert further evils and to "revenge Gloucester's eyes."


Notes

Previously in the play, Albany has been portrayed as a weak character, unable to stand up to the strength of his evil wife. In this scene, Albany emerges as a strong character, filled with moral courage to do what is right. First he argues with Goneril, accusing her of filial ingratitude and warning her that heaven will send its vengeance upon her. She calls him a coward, showing her contempt for her "mild husband;" she despises the fact that he is compassionate, humane and morally upright. He tells her, "O Goneril! You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face." He finds her cruelty to Lear unforgivable and asserts that the mistreatment of a parent will ensure that the offspring "perforce must wither and come to deadly use."

The news of Gloucester's blinding is a shock to Albany; but Cornwall's death is even more shocking for both Cornwall and his wife. With Cornwall's passing, Albany is now the King of Britain, and Goneril is his queen. In spite of this fact, he is still eager for the arrival of the French forces in England, hoping they will avenge Lear's ill treatment. He personally swears to avenge Gloucester's blinding.

It is not surprising that Goneril, in rejecting her husband, turns her passion towards the evil Edmund, who also declares his love and loyalty for her; since he is an amoral being, it makes no difference to him that Goneril is the wife of Albany, now King of England. At the end of the scene, however, Goneril is troubled; she fears that Regan, her widowed sister, will have an interest in Edmund and win his love.

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