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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes
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ACT II, SCENE 1

Summary

At Gloucester Castle, Edmund learns from Curan, a courtier, that the Duke of Cornwall and his Duchess, Regan, will be arriving the same night. When he learns that there is hostility between Goneril, Regan, and their husbands, Edmund is excited. He believes that he can use their hard feelings to help him in his plan to get rid of Edgar. Edmund again tells his half-brother that their father is displeased with him and also that Cornwall thinks he is working with Albany against him. Edmund urges Edgar to flee from the castle. He convinces Edgar that he should pretend to attack him, which Edgar does. When Edmund is sure that Gloucester has seen the attack, he tells Edgar to escape quickly; again the trusting Edgar follows the instructions. As soon as Edgar has left, Edmund slashes his own arm to make it seem that his half-brother has harmed him. He then raises an alarm against Edgar.

When Gloucester enters the room, Edmund presents his wound as an injury inflicted by Edgar. He says that his half-brother was angry over the fact that he had refused to aid Edgar in patricide. Without any questions, Gloucester believes Edmund completely. He decides to disinherit Edgar and proclaim him an outlaw. Through his lies and trickery, Edmund has succeeded in supplanting Edgar as the heir to Gloucester's fortune.

For the first time in the play, the plot and the subplot are interlinked as Cornwall and Regan arrive at Gloucester's castle. They have come for a visit in order to avoid receiving Lear at their own castle. They condemn Edgar's treachery, the news of which has already reached them. Since Edgar is Lear's godson, Regan attributes Edgar's lawlessness to Lear's bad influence. Edmund further adds that Edgar was a part of the riotous behavior of the king's rebellious knights. Cornwall praises Edmund's filial love and loyalty. Edmund humbly replies that he was only acting out of duty. His humble behavior endears him to all, especially Gloucester. He is praised, given honors, and immediately taken into Cornwall's service.


Regan now explains that her visit to Gloucester is to seek his advice. She pretends that she wants help in trying to settle the tensions between her sister and her father. In truth, she has simply come to avoid receiving her father.

Notes

The dissension that characterizes the play is further developed in this scene. Edmund, determined to become heir to his father's estate, cunningly plots to undo Edgar in order to cheat him out of his rightful inheritance. He convinces the trusting Edgar that he must flee the castle because Gloucester is angry with him; but first he should pretend to strike Edmund. Edgar naively follows his brother's directions. Edmund makes certain that Gloucester sees what transpires. Then out of Gloucester's sight, Edmund inflicts a surface wound on his own arm and loudly claims that Edgar has injured him. He tells his father that Edgar was angry because he would not go along with the plot to kill Gloucester. It is obvious that the amoral Edmund is also an opportunist and a good actor. Again Gloucester, like Lear, does not question the evil offspring; instead, he believes Edmund's powerful rhetoric, just as Lear believed Goneril and Regan. As a result, Gloucester disinherits Edgar and claims him to be an outlaw, reflecting Lear's similar punishment of Cordelia.

The plot and the subplot of the play are brought together for the first time in this scene. Regan arrives at Gloucester's castle with her husband, Cornwall. They have come for a visit in order to escape Lear, who is coming to stay at their castle. At Gloucester's, the evil Regan immediately allies herself with the evil Edmund. She openly expresses her horror at the supposed treason of Edgar; her words are so convincing that it almost seems as if she could not commit such a deed herself. She then blames her father for having an evil influence on Edgar since Lear was the young man's godfather. Regan next tries to manipulate Gloucester's good will to her advantage, praising his honor profusely. Her husband joins in the praise and offers Edmund a place in his retinue. When Edmund accepts the offer, it is a foreshadowing of all the villains in the play joining forces. Although Cornwall does not yet project his evil side, his eagerness to take on Edmund is significant.

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