Study Guide

King Lear Act 2, Scene 3

By William Shakespeare

Act 2, Scene 3

  • Meanwhile, Fortune has not been kind to Edgar, who has survived the manhunt by hiding in a tree.
  • Desperate to escape, he decides to disguise himself as "Poor Tom," an inmate of Bedlam hospital and the kind of guy who roams about the country "roaring" like a madman, driving sharp objects into the flesh of his arms, and begging for charity from his cruel and abusive countrymen.
  • History Snack: By the time Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Bedlam (a.k.a. Bethlehem Hospital) was an asylum notorious for its appalling conditions and brutal treatment of its patients, some of whom were given licenses to beg outside the hospital.
  • Edgar strips himself down to the skin with only a "blanket" to cover his naughty bits, ties his hair in knots, and smears his face with mud so that he cannot be recognized. He ends by saying at least people will pity him as Tom. As Edgar, he's nothing.

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