King Lear By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act V: Scene 1

Summary

Regan, Edmund, and members of their army gather in the British camp near Dover. Regan quizzes Edmund about his feelings for Goneril. Edmund promises Regan that he will not be intimate with her sister.

Goneril and Albany enter. Albany states that he intends to defend the kingdom against the French invaders. Goneril asserts that the fight is not a domestic quarrel, but a defense against an outside enemy.

Edgar, still disguised as Poor Tom, appears and hands Albany the letter he removed from Oswald's body, the letter Goneril wrote ordering Edmund to kill her husband. Edgar leaves, and Edmund enters with news that the opposing forces are near.

Analysis

The opening of this scene reveals that Regan remains very concerned about the relationship between Goneril and Edmund. Regan wants to know the truth or says she does, but she wants to know the truth only if it is what she wants to hear. And so, Edmund obliges with his version of the truth. His relationship to Goneril is only an "honour'd love" (V.1.9). Edmund adopts the language of nobility, just as he has since he first hatched his ambitious plot to rule the kingdom.

Edmund's promise to not form a liaison with a married woman is unconvincing. Certainly, adultery is a sin, but that fact would not stop Edmund, who has demonstrated a propensity for far greater sins. When Goneril enters, her aside indicates how infatuated she, too, is with Edmund. Up to this point, having power has been most important to Goneril; now, quite suddenly, she is willing to lose the battle, and thus the kingdom, rather than lose Edmund. How far her infatuation will extend becomes clear in Scene 3.

As soon as Goneril and Albany enter, he seeks to establish his position regarding the coming battle. Albany's lines demonstrate that he is an honest and just man (V.1.24-27). The king and his supporters are not enemies of the kingdom, but the French invasion is of sufficient purpose to lead his men into battle. Albany's intent is not to treat Lear and his defenders as enemies but only to defend the country against an outside invader. The others agree with Albany to appease him and ensure his cooperation.

The rift between Goneril and Regan becomes more evident, and their competition for Edmund more obvious in this scene. Regan does not trust Goneril and will not allow her to be alone with Edmund, even for a moment. Regan's insistence that Goneril not remain behind with Edmund makes clear how far apart the sisters have moved from their earlier relationship.

In Act I, Goneril and Regan acted as one, both voicing agreement in their flattery of Lear. They again were united in Act II, when they joined together to reduce Lear's forces. But with the inclusion of Edmund into their circle in Act III, they are now completely divided, each mistrusting the other. In turn, Edmund is busy with some plotting of his own. Edmund's growing ambition leads to a hope that Goneril will kill Albany, and in turn, be killed by Regan, who will be free to marry Edmund. With Lear and Cordelia dead, Edmund will be left to rule as king. He has come a long way from the bastard son of Act I.

Glossary

alteration change (of mind).

forfended prohibited; forbidden.

convenient appropriate; suitable.

avouched asserted; affirmed.

greet the time hurry; meet the emergency.

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