King Lear: Act 1V & V
Act 1V Sc 7
• Cordelia salutes Kent’s loyalty to Lear
• Propitious mood is established by mutual
affection and esteem. Scene of pathos and
renewal. Sleep, music have powerful healing
properties. Sense of restoration is heightened.
• Seeks to waken him with a kiss
• Fairy tale element but no happy endings
• Cordelia greets him as a king
• Kneels humbly before him p354
Act 1V Sc 7
• Reunion between father and daughter
• Sublime, supreme moment p355
• Lear shows awareness of madness
• Fresh garments symbolize his restoration
• Radical change - will even listen to ‘Poison’ if it
comes from Cordelia
• C is nobly generous ‘no cause’
• Discord, chaos to harmony and order
• Cordelia and Lear walk together – reunited
which inspires hope for the King and kingdom
Act V Sc 1
• Edmund in command yet devisiveness evident. Critical
of Albany ‘He’s full of alteration’
• Regan – more concerned with acquiring Edmund. They
are about to face battle but she allows her jealousy to
• Loathing for her sister reaches feverish pitch as her
• Goneril equally skewed in her values ‘I had rather lose
the battle’ line 19
• Albany torn between doing what is right and fighting off
• Regan determined G should not be alone with Edmund
Act V Sc 1
• Edgar still in disguise gives a letter - from
G to Edmund- to Albany
• Implies an affair has been going on
• Edmund’s soliloquy makes it clear that the
sisters have been pawns in his game
• Machiavellian view of Albany – he will
serve a purpose and then be disposed of
• Evil intensifies he will never pardon Lear
and Cordelia. ‘Defend not debate’!
Act V Sc 2
• Edgar contrasts with the cruel malcontent
Edmund. He is steadfast and provides
antidote to evil and pessimism – ‘Give me
• Lear and C have lost the battle and been
• G sinks into another depression but Edgar
rallies him around ‘Men must endure’
Act V Sc 3
• Edmund in control and Lear and Cordelia are his prisoners
• C desperate to console Lear but he longs for prison where they will
• Lear grasps finally how superficial court life is and reassures C –
redeeming himself as a good parent
• Albany wants Justice and asks that L & C be safely delivered to him
• Edmund argues that is not the best action as they will ‘pluck
common bosom on his side’p368
• Albany calls Ed inferior ‘a subject…not a brother’
• R & G squabble over Edmund
• Albany arrests Ed for treason and condemns his wife and sister this
adds new dimension to his character. He sees absurdity of situation
and asserts his control.
Act V Sc 3
• Regan is poisoned by Goneril. Their evil viciousness reaches climax
as they turn on one another. Absurd if it was not for their venom.
• Edmund accepts challenge of duel.
• Regan is taken away ill
• Microcosm of the battle between good/evil that has dominated the
play as Edgar as a masked warrior takes up challenge to fight. ‘draw
thy sword’. P374
• Edgar’s victory as he conquers the ‘toad spotted traitor’
demonstrates the restoration of virtue.
• Edmund confesses and is softened as he recognises wheel of fate
ironic as he initially scorned this.
• Edgar force for justice even if it is ‘rough’ regrets he did not reveal
himself sooner as Glouc dies from joy/grief.
• G & R final act of treachery – G having poisoned R turns the knife
on herself. p382
Act V Sc 3
• Bodies brought on to the stage in a strange tableaux of
death. Usually they are trying to remove them from the
stage! All three daughters will be dead at the end.
• Albany can’t bear to look at them ‘cover their faces’.
• Edmund attempts to save L & C as he and G have given
orders that C should hang and they will say she
committed suicide! Edmund is removed to die. p385
• Lear’s entry is a painful contrast to his regal procession
in Act 1
• Murder of C is a hideous climax to the cruelty that runs
through the play.
• Regeneration is blasted all is bleak and sterile but Lear
has redeemed himself – at what cost?
Act V Sc 3
• Edmund’s death (p389) is ‘but a trifle here’ but his evil influence is
clearly felt as he is responsible for the royal deaths as well as his
father’s fate. His own death is richly deserved even if he does try to
• Albany reasserts moral values that have become so skewed and
rises to lofty height.
• In L’s closing lines we witness the cracking of his heart and mind.
Immense pathos as he fumbles with the absurdity of life and
• Lear dies possibly believing C is alive – reunited at last? ‘look her
• Edgar and Kent have the final words – K’s stoicism is moving as he
anticipates his own death and a reunion with Lear. There is
reassurance in Edgar’s final words as he gives reverence to the old
while showing a humble, self-effacing face of the young. Carrying
C’s mantle perhaps.
Critical Reviews - C17th
• Although King Lear does not seem to have
been as popular as Hamlet or Macbeth we
can assume that the play was well
received as it was performed for James 1.
• It was rewritten by Naham Tate in 1681 as
he felt the ending was far too gloomy. His
version included a happy ending – Lear
does not die and E & C are united
• Joseph Warton 1753 agreed with Tate as he
reckoned Gloucester’s blinding was too horrid
to be exhibited on stage and the daughters
were too savage and diabolical to be credible.
He accepted the way in which ‘ the wicked
prosper and the virtuous miscarry’ because of
• Samuel Johnson 1768 – found C’s death
deeply shocking and took Shakespeare to task
for the lack of justice at the end of the play.
• By the end of the century after mixed
reviews Victorian critics saw a grandeur
and strength in the play it was recognised
as a great literary achievement.
• Brandes believed the play as a whole
portrayed ‘ the titanic tragedy of human
life’. Swinburne was struck by the dark
fatalism of Shakespeare’s vision.
• A.C. Bradley – A Shakespearean tragedy is the
tragedy of an individual who suffers as he comes
to terms with his personality. Bradley made
many criticisms of King Lear however he
conceded that the play was ‘one of the world’s
greatest love poems’.
• Wilson Knight – ‘Mankind is deliberately
tormented by the Gods’. ‘The tragedy is most
poignant in that it is purposeless and