Summary and Analysis
Act IV: Scene 7
The scene opens in a tent in the French camp. Cordelia is expressing her gratitude to Kent for the services he has tendered. Within moments, a sleeping Lear is brought into the tent, where Cordelia welcomes him with characteristic gentleness. As his senses return, the confused king asks if he is in France, and Kent assures Lear that he is in his own kingdom. Lear, Cordelia, and the doctor exit, leaving Kent and a Gentleman to discuss the most recent military developments.
Cordelia speaks with insight and appreciation when she tells Kent that his goodness is immeasurable. Although Kent's plans are inexplicit and the reason is unclear as to why revealing his identity would interfere with those plans, his devotion to Lear has been evident all along. At the end of this scene, Kent says, "My point and period will be thoroughly wrought / Or well or ill, as this day's battle's fought." (IV.7.96-97).
Kent's destiny is irrevocably connected to that of the king's, with the full meaning of these words manifest in the final scene of the play.
Since his rescue, Lear has been sleeping, and he continues to sleep even as he is brought to Cordelia. When he awakens he thinks he is in hell, having been rescued by an angel:
You do wrong to take me o@th@ grave;
Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead. (IV.7.45-48)
The wheel of fire is a traditional metaphor for hell, deriving from the medieval period. Envisioning hell is not surprising for Lear, since Cordelia has only recently rescued him from a hellish existence on earth.
In the previous scene, Lear related many of the things he has learned during this painful period, but in this brief scene, he clearly shows that he has learned other equally important lessons. In his speech to Cordelia (IV.7.60-69), Lear makes no mention of royalty or of tests to determine the depth of love, as performed in Act I. Lear no longer sees himself as infallible, and he fully expects Cordelia to hate him. When he finally says "I think this lady / To be my child Cordelia" (IV.7.69-70), Lear is finally once again sane.
The music that greets Lear's return to wakefulness signals a return to harmony and replaces the sounds of the storm and the thundering disharmony between Lear and his older daughters. With the inclusion of music, order has returned to Lear's world, as he is reunited with Cordelia. The contrast between Cordelia and her sisters is especially dramatic in this scene. Cordelia has no desire for revenge, nor any need to make her father suffer for having misjudged her. Her virtue and purity make it easy to see why so many critics and scholars described Cordelia as Christ-like or representative of God's goodness.
clipp'd inaccurate through omission.
white flakes white hair.
arbitrement an absolute and final decision.