King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 2

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play King Lear.

King Lear | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



Lear and his Fool wander in the storm. Lear rages against the elements and his daughters. His Fool comments on his complaints and tries to get him to apologize to his daughters so they can go inside. Kent (still in disguise) finds them, and he tries to get Lear into shelter. Lear instead calls for the storm to punish his enemies (his daughters). His mind begins to wander, and he himself says he's going mad. Eventually, he gives in and goes with Kent toward a nearby hut. The Fool is left alone in the storm, where he delivers a prophecy about a time when England will be turned completely upside down.


This legendary scene is one reason why King Lear is considered hard to perform. It presents a complex blend of the literal and the symbolic, and the symbols are layered on each other closely. When Lear says, "Blow winds, and crack your cheeks," he is referring to the literal winds, though he also personifies them as malevolent beings. When he talks about the cataracts and hurricanes having "drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks," he is both describing weathercocks in a deluge and making a sexual reference. Lear is the only male in his family, and he's being soaked by his daughters' actions. They are engaged in an elemental war of the sexes, and he's losing.

The storm is like a punishment that Lear does not deserve. It is also a physical manifestation of his deteriorating mental status. Dementia is often "storm-like" in its onset and ravages the logic centers of the brain. Lear says, "I never gave you kingdom, called you children; / You owe me no subscription." His daughters, in contrast, have received half a kingdom each as a reward, and they owe him everything. Yet here he is, out in the storm.

The storm and his daughters' treatment combine to break Lear's mind, and he starts to go mad. Kent and the Fool know it, but all they can do is force him into a little shelter. The scene ends with the Fool delivering an address on how Britain (metaphorically, an embodiment of the human spirit) is turned completely upside down. The speech, far from foolish, is actually spot on, but because he delivers it alone in the rain, only the audience benefits.

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