King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King Lear | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary



At Gloucester's castle, Gloucester complains to Edmund about the state of affairs: earlier, when he complained about how the king was being treated, he was kicked out of his own house. As Edmund encourages his father, Gloucester tells him he has received a letter telling him armed forces have landed in England. Once his father leaves and Edmund is alone on the stage, he announces he'll take this news directly to Cornwall. Edmund plans to speed up his inheritance by betraying his father. He will tell Cornwall that his father is going to see Lear, which is forbidden. Edmund says that he will be rewarded by receiving all of Gloucester's lands.


The audience watches Edmund's duplicity in horror, while Gloucester is oblivious to it. Gloucester's figurative blindness foreshadows horrific events to come.

Previously, the audience might have had sympathy for Edmund. Gloucester did father him out of wedlock, and in Act 1, he jokes about it. It is admirable to try to shape one's own destiny, as Edmund plans, rather than accept fate. But by this scene, roughly in the middle of the play, Edmund's villainy is becoming more evident as events unfold.

Here again, Shakespeare uses a letter as a critical form of communication. While this is a common method of increasing drama, it also illustrates the fragmentation in the kingdom. When King Lear starts, all of the major players in the kingdom talk to one another directly. Now they are scattered and must communicate at a distance via messages that can easily go astray.

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