King Lear - Character Sketches and Scene Summaries
The aging king of Britain and the protagonist of the play is used to enjoying absolute power and to being flattered, and he does not respond well to being contradicted or challenged, which brings the downfall of his character. At the beginning of the play, his values are hollow, as he prefers his older daughters’ flattery over the devotion of Cordelia. He does not realize his wrongful mistake when unburdening himself of the responsibility of the kingdom. When he is at his most vulnerable, when he is full of self-pity and despair, he turns to the Fool for solace. In act 1, we suspect that his hold on reason is diminishing, and in this scene, he has lost the self control that he was very proud of, which can be seen when he mindlessly talks to nature in the stormy night. We also see that he has failed to recognize the plight of his people and only truly sees what their existence is like when he is brought down to their level, which was when he was thrown out by his daughters, representing his total loss of power and humiliation.
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Oswald is the chief servant of Goneril, who obeys his mistress’s commands and supports her in her conspiracies. This is portrayed in Act 1, when Oswald obeys Goneril’s orders and as she pleases, he makes Lear feel useless and mistreated, whish is where we are introduced to Oswald’s brave character. He later shows his assertiveness towards Kent after losing his calm self, and thus defending his mistress’s order. In this act, Oswald again shows his loyalty towards others when informing them about Lear’s departure to Dover.
Kent, in disguise, is looking for King Lear and in his search he meets a Gentleman, one of Lear’s followers. Kent tells the Gentleman some secret information about Albany and Cornwall and the French forces that are on their way to England. He later continues on with his search to find King Lear.
Dramatic Significance: The political instability takes the audience out of the internal conflicts and also shows the external conflicts that are occurring outside the kingdom.
Kent is leading Lear and the Fool to the hovel. Inside the hovel they find Edgar who is disguised as Tom O’Bedlam. Lear is very interested in knowing Old Tom’s story. Near the end of this scene Gloucester comes looking for Lear and he finds him. Gloucester urges Lear to go back to the castle with him and with the persistence of Gloucester and Kent, Lear agrees.
Dramatic Significance: Lear’s sensitivity towards other people is shown through this scene as his interest is keen interest in Old Tom is quite compassionate of him. Character development is shown through this seen. Lear is quite different from what he was at the beginning of the play and what he is now. Some sympathy can be felt for Lear as his humane and logical side can be seen when he decides to pray and help the more needy instead of just praying for himself.
Edmund betrays his father to Cornwall and gains further favor from the Duke, reason being that he wants revenge for being called the illegitimate son. Cornwall is now aware of the King of France’s plans to aid King Lear, his wife’s father. At the end of the scene, we note that Cornwall addresses Edmund as the Earl of Gloucester.
Dramatic Significance: This scene presents the theme of betrayal of the traditional values and virtues, which will be replaced by chaos and the law of the jungle. Having lost his eyes, Gloucester is able to see and understand the truth.