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King Lear | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Goneril consults with her steward, Oswald, complaining about how her father and his men have been acting. Oswald reports that Lear recently hit one of Goneril's servants because the servant scolded Lear's fool. Goneril says Lear complains about everything and his knights are out of hand. She tells Oswald to tell her father she's sick, if he asks, and that Oswald and the other servants should be less attentive to Lear and his knights.

Analysis

This scene documents the process of social disintegration that continues throughout King Lear. Either Lear's men have been misbehaving, or they've been behaving as they always have and this is the first time Goneril has had to deal with it. In either case, her irritation shows how little slack she's willing to cut her supposedly beloved father.

Goneril's discussion with Oswald also shows how readily she turns to lies. Rather than speaking with her father directly, Goneril's first instinct is to lie and be rude. She also shows a casual disregard for the social order, telling her servant to show less respect for the king—a serious offense.

Finally, this scene is the first in which a pivotal event takes place offstage, a device Shakespeare uses throughout King Lear. This shifts the audience's focus; they cannot simply watch Lear's knights and conclude for themselves that they are being rude. Instead, the scene becomes one about character and judging character.

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