Study Guide

King Lear Act 4, Scene 2

By William Shakespeare

Act 4, Scene 2

  • Meanwhile, Shakespeare gives us a peek at what the evil spawn are up to…
  • Edmund, ever the gentleman, escorts Goneril to her castle and Goneril says something like "Gee, I wonder where my husband is."
  • Before Edmund can make out with Goneril on her doorstep, Oswald, Goneril's trusty steward, enters and says that Albany (the husband) is inside the castle and he's defected from "Team Bad Guy." Albany's pleased as punch that the French army has landed in Britain to mop the floor with Lear's good for nothing children.
  • Goneril, hearing about her traitor husband, declares Albany a coward and is unable to go through with the final points of her plan.
  • Goneril promises Edmund that he'll hear from her soon, and they share a lingering kiss good-bye. Clearly, the trip from Gloucester's castle to Goneril's was long enough to jumpstart an affair.
  • Goneril speaks in pretty clear terms—knowing that Edmund is now the new Earl of Gloucester, he seems to have become a lot more attractive. Her husband's cowardice (read: morality) is less attractive than the power she could attain through villainy.
  • As soon as Edmund leaves, Goneril's husband, Albany, comes in and chews her out for the way she has been treating her father. She waves him off for being preachy, and he declares that wisdom and goodness seem "vile" to those who are "vile." (Translation: Goneril is vile.)
  • Goneril glosses over the whole discussion by saying Albany is wasting time moralizing while the kingdom is in danger of invasion.
  • He rails on for a while, accusing Goneril of being a "fiend" disguised in a woman's body. He says he'd hit her, if his manhood didn't stop him from hitting a woman (or rather, a fiend that looks like a woman).
  • Goneril sneers at the idea of Albany's "manhood."
  • A messenger interrupts the domestic brawl with the news that Cornwall, Regan's husband, is dead. The wound he got from his rebellious servant during Gloucester's blinding was fatal.
  • Husband and wife react to the news in different ways. Albany is horrified that Gloucester has been treated so brutally, but he thinks Cornwall's death is a sign that justice will prevail.
  • Goneril is torn. On the one hand, Cornwall's death will make Edmund even more powerful. On the other hand she's horrified that Edmund will be alone with her recently widowed—and thus available—sister.
  • Albany is curious about where on earth Edmund was while Gloucester was being mistreated (and why he didn't stop it). Albany finds out how deep the treachery runs when he learns that Edmund is a) the guy who tattled on his father, and b) the guy that took Goneril back home, thus making it easier for his father's torturers to do their thing.
  • Albany is full of praise for Gloucester's loyalty to the King and declares he'll get revenge on behalf of Gloucester.

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