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King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 5

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare's play King Lear.

King Lear | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary



Regan and Oswald take the stage, talking about how Albany's forces have arrived. Regan says that blinding Gloucester and leaving him alive was a terrible mistake because everyone who sees him feels pity for him. Edmund, she thinks, has gone searching for his father to kill him. Regan tells Oswald to stay with her, but he can't, as Goneril has ordered Oswald to carry a letter to Edmund. Regan tries to persuade Oswald to take her letter to Edmund instead. They part, headed in opposite directions.


The evil characters continue to fight amongst themselves. In this scene, the audience learns how out of balance they are; a man should always be the "better soldier," yet Goneril is a fiercer fighter than her husband is. Oswald is Goneril's sworn servant, yet Regan tries to turn his errand to her own purpose, showing that she acts only in her own self-interest. Her regret for blinding Gloucester because it garners pity for him shows her gross immorality. This is also an indication of changing gender roles, even if they are being shown to be subversive or unwelcome. The fact that they are played out on stage for the public shows a larger shifting attitude which would ebb and flow through the following centuries.

The audience also gets another reminder of the danger inherent in communicating through messengers. One party can always persuade, bribe, or trick a messenger, causing the message to go astray. Once again, Shakespeare uses the letter motif to build tension and increase the stakes.

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