King Lear | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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King Lear | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary



Edgar and Regan enter. Edgar asks if anyone knows whether Albany's decision remains the same or if he has changed his mind, and he sends a gentleman to find out. As soon as he leaves, Regan pumps Edgar for gossip, asking if he has slept with Goneril yet. Edmund refuses to answer, saying the question is beneath her, and Regan tries to convince him she's asking because she is concerned about their political plans.

Albany and Goneril enter, and Regan reflects to herself that she'd rather lose the battle than lose Edmund to Goneril. Albany is concerned about the French invasion. Edgar enters, still disguised, and begs to speak to Albany. Everyone else leaves, and Edgar shows Albany the letter carried by Oswald, which alludes to the affair between Goneril and Edmund. Edgar says he'll provide a champion to prove by combat what the letter says is true. Edgar leaves, and Edmund enters to tell Albany about troop movements. After Albany departs to ready his forces, Edmund is alone. He talks to himself about how he's promised himself to both sisters—and how both are like poisonous snakes. Edmund plans to use Albany's authority to win the battle and then kill Lear and Cordelia.


In King Lear, good is associated with order and evil with disorder. Edmund refers to Regan and Goneril as different kinds of poisonous snakes; there is no way his affairs with the sisters can end well.

The ability of the evil characters to lie is breaking down. In Act 1, Edmund delivers subtle lies to mislead his father. In Act 5, when Regan claims she cares about Edmund's relationship with Goneril only because of what it means for their rebellion, she is clearly not being truthful.

This scene also demonstrates Edgar's rising stature. His offer to prove the truth through a trial by combat is heroic. Like so many other characters in King Lear, good or bad, Edgar uses a letter as a signal of transformation.

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