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King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scene 4

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 2, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's play King Lear.

King Lear | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary



Lear and his Fool find Kent in the stocks. Lear can't believe this, and he can't get anyone to explain. The Fool, who had been joking about the situation, delivers a long speech on how bad a sign this is. Lear goes inside to look for Regan. While he's gone, the Fool delivers a longer speech about the lessons Kent should have learned about how the world works. Lear returns with Gloucester. The king is raging because his daughter and her husband have refused to see him. Eventually, Regan and Cornwall come out and set Kent free. Lear begins to rage against Goneril. However, instead of taking his side, Regan tells Lear he's likely at fault—that he probably misunderstands Goneril, doesn't appreciate her value, and should apologize. When Regan tells him to go back to Goneril, Lear swears he never will and curses Goneril.

Oswald enters, followed by Goneril. Cornwall admits he put Kent in the stocks but claims that he deserved it. Goneril and Regan speak with Lear, arguing that he doesn't need servants. Lear storms out. He cries out that his heart "shall break into a hundred thousand flaws" before he will weep, and then he exclaims to his Fool that he will go mad. Gloucester, Kent, and the Fool accompany him. Regan and Goneril reach an agreement: they'll host their father, but no servants. They note there's a storm coming, and they go to lock down the house against the weather.


When Lear first sees Kent in the stocks, he is shocked. When he asks who put Kent in the stocks and Kent tells him that it was his "son and daughter," Lear refuses to believe the words. When Lear says, "No," Kent says, "Yea." When Lear says, "No, I say," Kent says, "I say yea." This is funny for a time, until Lear erupts with anger, saying the treatment of his man is "worse than murder."

In Act 1, Scene 1, Lear is able to banish people and ruin them for talking back to him. Here, just one act later, everyone contradicts him, denies him, and rejects him, over and over. It is as if the world is conspiring to show him how his power has declined. This is a representation of his failing mental status. He asks his daughter for answers but doesn't get them. He asks Regan to take his side against Goneril, but she won't. He tells Regan he'll come to her house with his knights, and she denies him. Regan flatly tells him, "O sir, you are old," and goes on to tell Lear that he should now let others take care of him. This reveals the problems with Lear's original plan—he wanted to step down from the duties of king but retain its rights and privileges. This scene shows Lear can't relinquish one without letting go of the other. The audience sees his daughters' coldheartedness when they don't try to stop him him from wandering around in the terrible storm they see coming at the end of the act, another metaphor for the turbulent mind of Lear.

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