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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes
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ACT III, SCENE 7

Summary

At Gloucester Castle, Cornwall is concerned about the French invasion. He is going to send Goneril and Edmund with a letter to Albany, explaining that the French Army is about to attack Britain. He has also ordered Gloucester's arrest for "treachery." Goneril suggests plucking out Gloucester's eye after his capture, and Regan wants him hanged. Oswald enters into the conversation and informs Cornwall about Gloucester's part in sending Lear to safety at Dover.

Soon the arrested Gloucester is brought in. Cornwall and Regan treat him savagely. Gloucester begs for mercy and reminds them that they are his guests. Cornwall ignores his pleas and orders him to be tied. Regan calls him a foul traitor and pulls at his beard. When Gloucester is questioned about his helping to send Lear to Dover, he replies with dignity that he is trying to see that justice is done. In reaction, he is bound to a chair and one of his eyes is gouged out. Cornwall, in a barbaric manner, crushes it with his foot.

Unable to endure the sight of an old man suffering, one of Cornwall's servants intervenes and challenges his master to stop his cruelty. In response, Cornwall stabs the servant, who is then killed by Regan. In retaliation to the servant's support of Gloucester, Cornwall gouges out his other eye. Blinded, bleeding, and pathetic, Gloucester is further tortured by Regan. She tells him that Edmund, the son whom he calls for in his pain, has betrayed his father and hates him fully. Her words cause Gloucester's heart more pain than that being felt by his body. Like Lear, he is fully pained by the misjudgment of his children.


At the close of the scene, Cornwall, fatally wounded in the foray, is led away by Regan. After their departure, a brief conversation occurs among several of Cornwall's servants; they condemn the acts of Cornwall and Regan and judge them to be totally evil.

Notes

This scene is one of the cruelest in all of drama as Regan and Cornwall inflict their torture upon Gloucester. Although the old man has been blind to the morality of the world, misjudging the virtue of Edgar and the evil of Edmund, he does not deserve to have his eyes gouged into physical blindness. The physical torture, however, is not as bad as the torture of the truth. Regan cruelly tells Gloucester that it was Edmund who turned him in and that his son truly hates him. Without trying to offer any excuses for his misjudgment, he assumes the burden of guilt and prays for Edgar's well being. He still has faith in the morality of the world and believes that evil will be punished.

There is one element of redemption in the scene. Cornwall's own servant lashes out against his master for his cruelty to Gloucester. Even though Cornwall is a repugnant and immoral soul, his servants have not conformed to his warped view of humanity. Unfortunately, the evil ones still have the upper hand, and the kind servant is cruelly killed for his support of Gloucester; but Cornwall is wounded in the foray as well.

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