King Lear By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 2

Summary

The storm continues on the heath. Lear's mood matches the intensity of nature's turbulence as he rages against his daughters' abusive treatment. The Fool attempts to reason with his king, noting that the shelter of a dry house, even one gained by losing face, is superior to a stay in the storm's fury. But Lear will have no part of submission, especially before his daughters. Kent arrives and points to a nearby hovel, which promises some protection, while he returns to Gloucester's castle to ask that they admit the king. The Fool, alone, remains on stage to proclaim a prophecy.

Analysis

Once again, the audience observes how Lear copes with the swell of problems besieging him. The scene opens on Lear in the midst of wind, rain, and personal despair. As he calls upon the storm to unleash its fury on the world, he also cries out for the destruction of ungrateful man: "Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once / That make ingrateful man!" (III.2.8-9). By destroying the molds that nature uses to create men, the genetic code of life will be lost. In this instance, Lear is without hope; his despondency is so great that it approaches nihilism, a belief in nothing.

Lear continues to wallow in self-pity as he labels himself "A poor, infirm, weak, and despis'd old man" (III.2.20). Lear willingly submits to the strength of the storm rather than seek shelter or fight for his sanity. He has fallen so far from the strong monarch who began the play that he has strength only to wish for utter destruction. And yet, Lear remains a sympathetic character, one who fears for his own mental balance — "My wits begin to turn" (III.2.68) — and one also who can express concern for his companion's comfort — "How dost my boy? Art cold?" (III.2.68).

In spite of his pitiful state, Lear is revealed as a complex man, one whose punishment far exceeds his foolish errors, and thus, Lear is deserving of the audience's sympathy. The Fool's final speech presents a contrast between the reality of the world he and Lear are experiencing and a utopian world, where justice and goodness replace evil.

Glossary

cataracts floodgate (of heaven).

vaunt-couriers a forerunner; precursor.

fire extreme suffering or distress that tries one's endurance; tribulation or ordeal.

punder confusion; excitement.

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