Study Guide

King Lear Act 2, Scene 2

By William Shakespeare

Act 2, Scene 2

  • The disguised Kent (Lear's messenger), and the steward, Oswald (Goneril's messenger), both show up at Gloucester's house at the same time. Kent, still angry at Oswald for insulting Lear, tries to pick a fight with Oswald.
  • Oswald, not exactly the fighting kind, shrieks for help and Edmund rushes in.
  • Edmund is followed by Cornwall, Regan, and Gloucester. Cornwall, the most powerful man in the room, demands to know what's going on.
  • Oswald blames the whole thing on Kent/Caius, who can provide only one excuse for starting a fight with Oswald: he found Oswald's face displeasing.
  • Kent answers Cornwall's questions rudely, without sucking up to him. Cornwall, not at all impressed, orders that Kent/Caius be put in the stocks.
  • Gloucester protests this punishment, since Kent/Caius is a representative of King Lear, and thus he should have diplomatic immunity. It would be a direct insult to Lear to put his messenger in the stocks.
  • Regan argues that it would be a direct insult to her sister, Goneril, to not punish the man who attacked Goneril's messenger. The power struggle between Lear and Goneril is clear, and Regan sides with her sister.
  • She orders that Kent be put in the stocks and left there overnight.
  • Gloucester stays behind once everyone has left to apologize to Kent (whom he does not recognize as his old friend and colleague). Gloucester offers to talk to Cornwall on Kent's behalf, but Kent says he doesn't mind the stocks because he's a tough guy.
  • Kent cheerfully tells Gloucester to take it easy and have a pleasant night.
  • Kent, once a powerful lord, is now left alone to endure a humiliating punishment in the cold. He settles down for the night, or actually, prepares to sit awkwardly for the night.
  • Kent comforts himself by reading a letter from Cordelia, who is keeping herself informed about her sisters' treatment of their father.
  • Kent closes the scene by saying, "Fortune, good night; smile once more, turn thy wheel."
  • Brain Snack: Fortune (or Dame Fortuna, goddess of fortune and fate) is often portrayed as a fickle goddess. With the spin of a wheel, Fortune can raise men up to great heights or cast them down at any moment. (Lear, of course, was once at the height of his powers but is now at the very bottom of the "wheel.")

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