King Lear By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 5

Summary

The setting for this brief scene is outside Goneril's palace. Lear instructs Kent to go at once to Regan's palace and deliver a letter. As Kent leaves, the Fool attempts to distract the king with silly remarks, but their content points ironically to Lear's actions. The torment of the king is obvious as he laments his treatment of Cordelia.

Lear expresses his first concerns, a premonition, for his sanity. Soon the horses are ready, and the king begins his journey to his second daughter's palace.

Analysis

In Scene 5, the king is clearly frightened and apprehensive for his future, although he continues to hope that Regan can be counted upon to provide him with sanctuary. Lear also expresses fear for his sanity: "O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! I would not be mad. Keep me in temper, I would not be mad" (I.5.43-44).

This appeal foreshadows events that will occur later in the play. This brief plea also contains a prayer to a divinity. Although the setting of King Lear predates Christianity, Lear still relies upon a god to guide and protect him. The Fool does not give Lear any respite in this scene, as he continues to remind the king of the mistakes he has made and the precarious position in which he has placed himself. The Fool appears cruel once again, but Lear finally begins to understand that his foolishness has led to this current state of affairs.

The king's thoughts once again turn to remorse for his behavior toward Cordelia: "I did her wrong" (I.5.24). Because this comment is offered without context, it reveals that Lear has noted a flash of insight into his own conduct, actions that he has come to regret. This brief mention of Cordelia also reminds the audience that she continues to have an important role in the play, although she will not reappear for some time.

Glossary

kibes a chapped or ulcerated chilblain especially on the heel.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How did the original audience respond to the ending of King Lear?




Quiz