'King Lear': Act 3 Analysis

Analysis of 'King Lear', Act 3 (Scenes 1-4)

The Madness of King Lear
The Madness of King Lear. De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

We take a close look at Act 3. Here, we focus on the first four scenes to help you get to grips with this play.

Analysis: King Lear, Act 3, Scene 1

Kent is out on the heath searching for King Lear. He asks the Gentleman where Lear has gone. We learn that Lear is battling the elements in a fury, raging against the world and tearing his hair.

The Fool tries to make light of the situation by making jokes.

Kent explains the recent division between Albany and Cornwall. He tells us that France is about to invade England and has already sequestered some of its army into England in secret. Kent gives the Gentleman a ring telling him to deliver it to Cordelia who is with the French forces at Dover.

Together they continue to search for Lear.

Analysis: King Lear, Act 3, Scene 2

Lear in on the heath; his mood reflecting the storm, he hopes the tempest will obliterate the world.

The King dismisses the Fool who tries to convince him to return to Gloucester’s castle to ask his daughters for shelter. Lear is angered by his daughter’s ingratitude and accuses the storm of being in cahoots with his daughters. Lear wills himself to calm down.

Kent arrives and is shocked by what he sees. Lear does not recognise Kent but talks about what he hopes the storm will uncover. He says that the gods will find out the crimes of sinners.

Lear famously muses that he is a man ‘more sinned against that sinning’.

Kent tries to persuade Lear to take shelter in a hovel he has seen nearby. He intends to return to the castle and beg the sisters to take their father back. Lear shows a more sensitive and caring side when he identifies with the Fool’s suffering.

In his demeaned state, the King recognises how precious shelter is, asking Kent to lead him to the hovel. The Fool is left on stage making predictions about the future of England. Like his master, he talks of sinners and sins and describes a utopian world where evil no longer exists.

Analysis: King Lear, Act 3, Scene 3

Gloucester is fretting about how Goneril, Regan and Cornwall have treated Lear and their warnings against helping him. Gloucester tells his son Edmund, that Albany and Cornwall are going to clash and that France is about to invade in order to restore Lear to the throne.

Believing that Edmund is loyal, Gloucester suggests that they both help the King. He tells Edmund to act as a decoy while he goes to find the king. Alone on stage, Edmund explains that he will betray his father to Cornwall.

Analysis: King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4

Kent tries to encourage Lear to take shelter, but Lear refuses, telling him that the storm cannot touch him because he is suffering inner torment maintaining that men only feel bodily complaints when their minds are free.

Lear compares his mental torment to the storm; he is concerned with his daughter’s ingratitude but now appears resigned to it. Again Kent urges him to take shelter but Lear refuses, saying that he wants isolation to pray in the storm.

Lear speculates on the state of the homeless, identifying with them.

The Fool runs screaming from the hovel; Kent calls out the ‘spirit’ and Edgar as ‘Poor Tom’ comes out. Poor Tom’s state resonates with Lear and he is driven further into madness identifying with this homeless beggar. Lear is convinced that his daughters are responsible for the beggar’s terrible situation. Lear asks ‘Poor Tom’ to recount his history.

Edgar invents a past as an errant servant; he alludes to lechery and the dangers of female sexuality. Lear empathises with the beggar and believes he sees humanity in him. Lear wants to know what it must be like to have nothing and to be nothing.

In an attempt to identify with the beggar further, Lear begins to undress in order to remove the superficial trappings that make him what he is.

Kent and the Fool are alarmed by Lear’s behaviour and try to stop him from stripping.

Gloucester appears and Edgar fears his father will recognise him, so he begins to act in a more exaggerated manner, singing and ranting about a female demon. It is dark and Kent demands to know who Gloucester is and why he has come. Gloucester asks about who is living in the hovel. A nervous Edgar then begins an account of seven years as a mad beggar. Gloucester is unimpressed by the company the King is keeping and tries to persuade him to go with him to a safe place. Lear is more concerned about ‘Poor Tom’ believing him to be some sort of Greek philosopher who can teach him.

Kent encourages Gloucester to leave. Gloucester tells him that he is driven half mad with grief regarding his son’s betrayal. Gloucester also speaks of Goneril and Regan’s plan to kill their father. Lear insists the beggar stays in their company as they all enter the hovel.