Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
mite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!
— King Lear, Act III, scene 2
The storm is upon us!
Welcome Brawlers to Act III of King Lear!
A lot of ground to cover today!
The gates of Gloucester’s castle have been shut by Cornwall and Regan and Lear and his followers have been cast into the stormy wilderness. Edgar has fled into the woods as well, disguised as a a mad beggar. In fact, as act III, scene 1 opens, Kent is presently searching for his king. He enlists the help of a gentleman to find him. It seems that Kent has been able to send a message to Cordelia in France, in which he tells her what her sisters have done to Lear. She and the King of France are preparing an army to march on England and they need to keep Lear safe.
While Kent has yet to find Lear, we see him right from the start of scene 2. He is shouting at the storm, accusing the weather of conspiring with his two daughters, Regan and Goneril, to ruin him. The fool is trying to plead with him to seek out shelter but Lear refuses. Finally Kent arrives and describes the storm as the worse he has ever seen. He mentions that he has found a hovel nearby where they can seek shelter. For his part, Lear seems to have no interest but then, seemingly moved to compassion at the sight of his suffering fool, agrees to take shelter. Then the fool pronounces a prophecy which he mentions comes from Merlin even though Merlin will only show up after Lear’s gone. Strange stuff.
Scene 3 is a short exchange between Edmund and Gloucester. Gloucester complains to Edmund that he does not at all approve of Regan and Cornwall’s exiling of King Lear. He also confides in Edmund – who Gloucester still believes has his best interest at heart – that he has received some news that Cordelia and the king of France are sending troops to England. Conveniently (for Edmund, at least), Gloucester has left this ridiculously incriminating letter in his ‘closet…’ No way anyone will find it, right? Oh, wait – Edmund is a lying scumbag. That won’t end well.
Kent leads Lear and the fool to the nearby hovel but Lear seems hesitant to enter. As he stands in front of the house, he seems to be arguing with himself and trying to keep his madness at bay. He talks about how the tempest which is going on around them is nothing compared to the storm in his mind. While Lear initially refuses to enter, he is again moved by pity for the fool and asks the fool to enter into the house. However, the house is already occupied: Edgar is hiding inside this same house. What an unbelievable coincidence! All of these Good Guys™ in the same place! There’s some discussion between the Fool and Edgar who is clearly interested in showing-up Lear and the Fool in crazy factor. You<ll want to listen to the podcast to get the full effect: Zoey was totally method with Edgar. Many of the brawlers were channelling Stanislavsky, actually.
Anyhow. So, Gloucester seems to have left his totally super-incriminating evidence carefully guarded by Edmund and has managed to find Lear and the other in the hovel. Of course, he does not recognise his son Edgar, who is walking around in his underwear, nor Kent, who is probably only wearing a different coloured shirt. Whatever. He does manage to get Lear indoors.
Edmund brings Gloucester’s letter to Cornwall in scene 5, who pronounces Edmund’s father a traitor. Edmund feigns regret over having to do his duty in this way. I guess the Duke of Cornwall ‘outranks’ the Duke of Gloucester, who is also his father? Cornwall tells him his father’s sa good as gone and that Edmund’s going to be the new Duke of Gloucester soon. Will Cornwall and Regan finally move out of his castle when he does become Gloucester?
Lear and his party have finally all taken shelter in the hovel and a maddened Lear decides to put his daughters on trial in scene 6. He conscripts Edgar, the Fool and a stool and sets up a mock court. While he is playing out his fantasy of justice, Edgar seems about to drop his disguise but manages to hold back his tears. He will have plenty to cry about later, though. Meanwhile, Gloucester tells Kent about Cordelia and France who are sending troops to support Lear. He tells him to make sure to lead Lear to Dover, which is where France’s forces will be landing.
And then, in scene 7, Gloucester makes the mistake of going back his castle where Regan and Cornwall are waiting for him. They are making preparations for war. They learn from Oswald that Lear is headed for Dover. Cornwall and Regan capture Gloucester and accuse him of treason. Of course, Gloucester denies that it is treasonous to help the old king but he does admit to them that Lear is on his way to Dover. They decide that the right penalty is for Cornwall to poke out one of his eyes with his boot!
Regan isn’t satisfied and tells him to take out the other eye as well!
Thankfully, one of the servants seems disgusted and tries to stop them. It doesn’t really amount to much, though: Regan stabs him and kills him.
And as if that was not enough, they then thrown Gloucester out of the castle. Reminder: this is going on in Gloucester’s own castle, and is being done to him by his ‘guests.’ Youch!
On the show, we talked a bit about the source texts for King Lear. Two of the more prominent and likely sources include a section on Leir of Britain from the medieval ‘historian’ Geoffrey of Monmouth. He’s the same guy who wrote about Merlin and who made the claims that the Tudor monarchs were descended from King Arthur and connected to the Roman Empire. Basically, King Arthur is a descendant of Aeneas’s son Brutus who managed to escape the destruction of Troy. Which means that England is like a second Troy. Which means that it is a glorious empire with a manifest destiny just waiting around the corner.
But you wouldn’t be able to guess that from the end of this play.
FYI, the ending of Leir’s story in both Monmouth and the play are nowhere near as bleak as Shakespeare’s ending.
A few more things we mentioned on the show and that you will want to check out:
Make an effort and be sure to check out Stephanie’s show Monstrosities running until March 23, 2013.
Crap. At the end and I didn’t get to the weather. That calls for a special post, right?
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