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Free Study Guide-King Lear by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes
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ACT IV, SCENE 6

Summary

Edgar brings his father to the cliff at Dover, still not revealing his true identity. The blind Gloucester asks if they are at the top of the cliff. Edgar lies and says that they are at the top, even describing the view. Gloucester blesses the beggar, whom he considers a friend, and kneels to pray, asking God to bless Edgar. Edgar moves away, leaving his father alone. Gloucester then renounces life with all its troubles and leaps forward to throw himself off the cliff; instead, he is thrown to the ground, where he lies quiet and helpless.

Edgar reappears pretending to be a peasant. He acts amazed that Gloucester is still alive after falling from such a great height. Gloucester, too, expresses surprise that he is not dead. He believes he that he has been saved by a miracle; therefore, he decides there is a reason to live out his natural life.

Lear enters the scene wearing flowers on his head. Although his mind seems completely gone, there is still a hint of sanity in his incoherent ravings. He imagines that he is King again. He pretends that he is collecting soldiers for his army in order to take revenge on this rotten world. He then pretends to try various criminals; he judges them not guilty and pardons them all, saying they are not any more guilty than the rest of corrupt humanity. He claims the world is made up of fiends in human form.

The blind Gloucester recognizes the voice of the King and kneels before him. He asks to kiss Lear's hand, but the King is so disgusted with anything connected with humankind that he will not allow it. Edgar is horrified to see the King in such a raving state.

Cordelia's search party approaches. A gentleman in the front attempts to take hold of Lear, saying that his daughter has sent them. Lear, believing the men to be part of Goneril or Regan's army, runs away. He is pursued by the Gentleman and the other members of the search party.


Gloucester and Edgar are left alone once again. Then Oswald enters, on his way to delivering the letter to Edmund. Recognizing Gloucester and knowing there is a reward for his head, Oswald decides to kill him. He draws his sword to accomplish the deed, but Edgar intervenes. In the ensuing fight, Oswald is gravely injured. Before he dies, he gives Goneril's letter to Edgar and asks that it be given to Edmund, Earl of Gloucester.

Edgar reads the letter. In it, Goneril's intentions to kill her husband, Albany, are revealed. Edgar decides to show the message to Albany as proof of Goneril's guilt. The sounds of war-drums interrupt Edgar's thoughts, and he quickly leads his blind father to safety.

Notes

Like the kind Cordelia, the kind Edgar wants to help his father, in spite of the fact that he was banished by Gloucester, just as Cordelia was banished by Lear. He does not bear any resentment for his father who had judged him erroneously. But Gloucester resents himself; he is ashamed of his error in judgement and does not want to bear any more suffering. As a result, he blesses his beggar friend (really Edgar) and prays for Edgar, the son that he banished. He then attempts to leap off the cliff to end his life. Edgar, however, has not placed him on the top of the cliff; therefore, Gloucester simply throws himself on the ground. When he finds that he is still alive, he is convinced that he has been saved by some miracle and has a new will to live and endure his sufferings.

The meeting of the insane Lear and the blinded Gloucester brings together the plot and the sub-plot of the play. Lear enters covered in flowers and herbs. On seeing the pitiful sight of the old King, Edgar exclaims, "O ruin'd piece of nature." Lear is truly a caricature of his former self, and his appearance as a madman suggests that all mankind has gone crazy. Upon seeing Gloucester, Lear remarks: "Ha! Goneril with a white beard!" Fooled by appearances earlier in the play, he no longer trusts his own vision. He knows that the people who claim to be the most virtuous may, in truth, be the most evil.

In his ravings, Lear likens humanity to a Centaur that can be rational or slip into inhuman or beastly depths. He claims that the world is ruled by unequal privilege and that true justice cannot be found. He states that life on "this great stage of fools" is doomed to be filled with suffering.

It is important that Oswald and Edgar fight in this scene. The fact that Oswald is killed reveals that good can overcome evil. The fact that Albany has also aligned himself against the forces of evil is another hopeful sign.

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