King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 2

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play King Lear.

King Lear | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary



Gloucester's son Edmund enters, ranting about his status as a bastard and how he plans to displace his legitimate brother, Edgar. Gloucester enters, and Edmund uses a letter, supposedly written by Edgar, to manipulate his father into thinking Edgar plans to betray him. Gloucester explodes, saying he'll arrest Edgar, but Edmund cautions against moving without proof and makes plans to get more evidence of Edgar's plans.

Once Gloucester leaves, Edmund reflects on how people create their own destinies and then find excuses for their actions in the heavens. Edmund is mainly focused on people's weaknesses of character, particularly that of a sexual nature, and their tendency to blame their mistakes on the gods. Edgar enters, and Edmund manipulates his brother, making him think their father is angry with him. Edmund tells Edgar he should arm himself.


Act 1, Scene 2 sketches the subplot by indicating Gloucester has an illegitimate son; this scene shows what this means to the characters. While Gloucester might joke about the details of Edmund's conception, the absence of a marriage between Gloucester and this woman has effectively ruined Edmund's life. His illegitimacy drives him and defines him.

Edmund is able to manipulate his father quite easily, and this scene reveals the nature of their relationship to the audience. On the surface, Gloucester loves his son and trusts him implicitly. Darker interpretations are that Gloucester doesn't know or understand either of his sons, and, as a result, he can't know how to act in relation to them.

This scene is thematically linked to the first scene through the disruption of social order and dysfunctional family relationships. Finally, this scene introduces a plot device that will quickly become symbolic: the letter.

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