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King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 2

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

King Lear | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary



Goneril and Edmund enter, followed by Oswald. Oswald reports that Albany seems changed and is responding to news inappropriately. When he was told foreign troops had landed and that Gloucester had betrayed the rebels, Albany smiled, but when told of Edmund's loyalty, he frowned. Goneril says her husband is too meek and so she'll have to take the male part and Albany the female. She kisses Edmund. Once he leaves, she comments on how Edmund, not her husband, deserves her loyalty. Albany then enters; he tells her she is "not worth the dust which the rude wind / Blows in [her] face" and that her betrayal of her family is unspeakable. Goneril dismisses his words, but Albany insists that the sins Goneril and Regan have committed deserve divine punishment. Goneril rejects both his words and his status as a man.

A servant arrives and tells them the Duke of Cornwall is dead, killed by a servant for blinding Gloucester. He delivers a letter from Regan to Goneril (another letter reference). Albany quizzes the servant, asking if Edmund knows his father has been blinded. The answer is yes; Edmund is the one who betrayed Gloucester. Albany praises Gloucester for his loyalty, and everyone leaves.


This scene conveys some key information: the troops are arriving in Britain, and Cornwall has died from his wounds. The reaction of the characters to this news shows that the forces of evil in the play are beginning to disintegrate. Cornwall is dead; Goneril and Albany, who once functioned as a team, are now in conflict with each other. Goneril has rejected her husband as a man, pledging herself to Edmund.

Goneril's shift in affection also signals that neither she nor Edmund have the focus needed to reshape a kingdom. Edmund has displaced Edgar and his father, but instead of taking up their duties, he starts an affair. Likewise, Goneril has inherited half a kingdom and disowned her father, but she too commits to an affair. Because both of them should be preparing to fight the foreign troops that have just landed, this means that they aren't fit to rule and that they are destined to lose badly.

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