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King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play King Lear.

King Lear | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary



Edgar, still disguised, takes the stage and delivers a speech to say that change is good; now that he's at the bottom, any change is welcome. An old man, one of Gloucester's peasants, leads Gloucester, now blind into view. Gloucester asks who is there, and the peasant tells him it is a mad beggar.

When Edgar approaches in his disguise, Gloucester dismisses the old man guiding him, saying the madman can guide him to Dover. After the old man leaves, Gloucester asks Edgar if he knows the way to Dover. When Edgar says he does, Gloucester pays Edgar to guide him to the top of the highest cliff so he can throw himself off.


There are many instances of irony in the play. As soon as Edgar says change is good, he sees his blinded father being led around by an old peasant, an example of situational irony. That sight shows him how wrong he is about his own state; he isn't anywhere near the bottom, as there are many possible changes that would be worse.

Gloucester's actions also emphasize the theme of madness and foolishness. It seems crazy for Gloucester to choose a madman, rather than his trusted peasant, as his guide. However, the world is so insane that madness seems a good guide. In addition, the trusted peasant would likely try to prevent Gloucester from jumping off a cliff, whereas the madman might be easily duped into helping Gloucester achieve his aim.

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