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King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 3

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

King Lear | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary



Kent and a gentleman take the stage, talking about recent developments. The King of France has had to go back home, but he has left his marshal in charge. Cordelia has read Kent's letters, which caused her to weep and struggle to control herself. Kent tells the gentleman that Lear is in town but refuses to see Cordelia because he's ashamed of how he treated her.

The gentleman tells Kent that Cornwall and Albany's forces are marching to battle, and Kent says he'll take the gentleman to the king.


This is another brief scene blending necessary exposition with character development. The audience needs to know Cordelia is in Britain and that her husband has temporarily gone back to France; the first detail heightens the stakes, while the second controls the timeline for the final battle.

This brief scene also advances the audience's understanding of Cordelia. In Act 1, Scene 1, her reasoning seems sound enough, but the audience has little reason to sympathize with her. Now she's returned home, not as Lear's daughter, but as a queen. Her control over her emotions matches her stature: "It seemed she was a queen / Over her passion, who, most rebel-like, / Fought to be king o'er her."

In this scene, the audience can also read King Lear as a fight between characters ruled by their passions (Regan and Goneril) and those who are the master of their passions, such as Cordelia. Remember, this was a turning point between the old and new worlds and between superstition and science. We can see this conflict within society being played out on the stage, with a new morality overriding past tribalism and aggression.

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