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King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 6

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 6 of William Shakespeare's play King Lear.

King Lear | Act 4, Scene 6 | Summary



Gloucester follows the disguised Edgar, who claims he's leading Gloucester up a steep hill to the cliffs of Dover so that Gloucester can kill himself. When they reach what Edgar claims is the highest cliff, Gloucester jumps and falls to the ground, unconscious.

Edgar wakes his father and spins a story about how high the cliff was and how he saw some devil or spirit beside Gloucester at the top of the cliff. Lear enters, and Gloucester recognizes the king by his voice. Lear continues to rant, complaining about women. At last, Lear recognizes Gloucester and offers him his eyes so Gloucester can cry over Lear's situation. Some of Cordelia's servants enter, hoping to take Lear to Cordelia, but Lear runs away.

Edgar quizzes the servants for news of the battle, and then they leave. Oswald enters, intending to kill Gloucester for a reward. Gloucester would welcome it, but Edgar intervenes. He kills Oswald, but before Oswald dies, he tells Edgar he's carrying letters for Edmund. Edgar reads the letters. One is a love letter from Goneril to Edmund. Drums sound, signaling the battle is near, and Edgar leads his father to safety.


After three short scenes that are filled with information, Shakespeare gives his audience drama in the form of deception, reversal, reunion, and violence. The deception comes as a disguised Edgar tricks his father into thinking they've gone up to a cliff. Here, Gloucester takes what might be called a leap of trust. He is helpless, unable to kill himself the way he wants to, and so he must depend on others. He is a pathetic character but also a brave one, as he thinks he's at the top of the cliffs of Dover when he leaps. When he falls only a few feet to the grass, he believes he has fallen a great distance and expects to die.

By spontaneously helping his father without a clear sense of what will happen next, Edgar shows his goodness. The evil characters in King Lear act on their own behalf and try to consciously reshape events. The good ones act for others and do not try to control outcomes as forcefully.

Oswald's death at Edgar's hands eliminates another bad character. It also shows that Edgar is no longer hiding to protect himself but acting to try to right some of the kingdom's wrongs.

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