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King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 4

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's play King Lear.

King Lear | Act 3, Scene 4 | Summary



Out in the storm, Kent escorts Lear into the hut. At first Lear sends the Fool inside but refuses to enter the hut himself. Then, there's a voice from inside. It is Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom (a madman). He and the Fool join Kent and Lear in the storm. They talk, and Lear grows sympathetic toward the madman, even trying to give him his clothes. Gloucester joins them and offers shelter, but Lear says he wants to consult with Poor Tom first, whom he calls a "philosopher." While Lear and Edgar speak in private, Kent and Gloucester consult. Gloucester recaps Lear's situation and his own with regard to their respective children. After noting that people say the king is mad, Gloucester says he's afraid he's going crazy himself. They all leave together.


This is one of the bitterest scenes in a bitter tragedy. It is also filled with symbolism and insight. Although the storm and his daughters' betrayal seem to have caused Lear to lose his wits, his "mad" ravings are marked by more self-awareness than his earlier, sane comments revealed. When Lear says, in response to Edgar's ravings, "Have his daughters brought him to this pass? / Couldst thou save nothing? Wouldst thou give 'em / all?" he sounds crazy. While posing as a madman, Edgar's been complaining about the "foul fiend" tormenting him but has never mentioned having daughters. Lear's talk of daughters is a sign of how far he is from reality, for it symbolically equates his own daughters' behavior with demonic action. But his words show how much they have hurt him and how evil he judges their conduct to be.

This scene also shows the relationship between reality and fantasy, madness and sanity. This is a theme often explored in Shakespeare's works. Things that cannot happen in reality often happen in the fantasy world (frequently in woods, storms, or outside cities). This allows the play to lead the audience through a series of steps that reinforce the narrative while simultaneously keeping the audience's attention.

This scene also clusters all of the good characters who are currently in Britain. Events have forced them all together. Their fates are more than related—they are interwoven.

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