Fi, fie, fo, fum Introduction
I'm Edgar. I'm Gloucester's legitimate son, and I get framed by my half-brother. I start out kind and naïve, but I quickly turn dark and manipulative. But don't worry, I'm still a good guy at heart. And you know what I think?
Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
His word was still "Fie, foh, and fum,
I smell the blood of a British man." (3.4.177-178)
Who Said It and Where
Out on a heath in the storm, Kent tries to maneuver Lear and the Fool into a little cave he's found, where they can have shelter from the storm. But Lear says he doesn't want to go inside. Why? Because, he says, the violent storm is nothing compared to the "tempest" (storm) in Lear's own mind. Lear laments that his children are total ingrates, but then he decides that it's best not to go there. After all, dwelling on Goneril and Regan will just make him go mad.
He's losing it because he used to be king. Then one day he decided to retire and give his land to his three daughters. What he didn't realize is that two out of the three of them were scheming, rotten women who wanted to take him for all he's worth. So Lear goes off to a heath to escape and, well, mope.
Meanwhile, a guy named Gloucester is in the habit of running around town calling his illegitimate son, Edmund, a "bastard" and cracking dirty jokes about Edmund's unmarried mom. So we can't say we're surprised when Edmund begins to scheme against his dad and his half-brother Edgar, who is Gloucester's "legitimate" son.
Back at the heath, Lear orders his Fool and Kent to seek shelter and then delivers a speech about the plight of homelessness, which he now experiences first hand. Lear realizes he has not done enough for disadvantaged people, and swears he will try to assist them more in the future. That should be real easy now that he's even all his stuff away. Good plan.
But the Fool has bigger worries. He's just gone in the hovel to take a look around, and he emerges with a shriek. The hovel is already occupied by the strange figure of Poor Tom (actually, Edgar in disguise). Edgar certainly deserves an Oscar because he's taken his role to the next level. He begs and wheedles, sings songs, complains about the cold, and generally acts like a madman.
In the presence of Poor Tom's fake madness, Lear begins to lose his grip on sanity. He blames Poor Tom's misery on Poor Tom's "children." Who else could it be? In this play, kids and parents are always feuding. Plus, Lear is projecting his relationship with Goneril and Regan onto Poor Tom. Staring at Poor Tom's nearly naked and shivering body, Lear begins to philosophize.
Still full of his pity for the poor, Lear asks, "Is man no more than this? Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art," he says to Edgar. Hmm…what a sunny philosophy to have on life. Basically, he's saying we're all a bunch of dirty animals. Having concluded that clothing and social conventions are artificial, Lear starts taking off his own clothes. Because, well, why not? At this point, he's got nothing else to lose.
Gloucester enters the scene and is greeted by a strange speech from his own son, Edgar (a.k.a. Poor Tom). Still, Gloucester doesn't recognize Edgar in the disguise, and instead seems worried about the king hanging out with beggars. "What, hath your grace no better company?" he asks. Gee, thanks Gloucester. We are right here, you know.
Gloucester informs us that he's come to bring Lear in from the storm and provide him with food and fire. Lear cannot be moved, even by the promise of a hot meal. Lear talks with Poor Tom, calling him a philosopher. Gloucester hates the fact that Lear actually has good reason to be driven to madness: his own daughters seek his death.
Not only that, but Gloucester can relate to the King's pain, as he recently lost his dearly beloved son (that would be Edgar, who was framed by the evil-genius Edmund to look like he had plotted against Gloucester's life). Gloucester says the madness of all of this is making him crazy. (Irony alert!) He finally convinces Lear to come in from the storm, but Lear will only go if he can take his fellow naked crazy man into the dark cave. (It's not as creepy as it sounds.)