Comments on Act IV, scene ii

As he does in many of his plays, at the beginning of act 4 Shakespeare offers a new twist in the plot to maintain interest: an affair between Goneril and Edmund. With this invention he ties the two plots more closely together and creates division between Goneril and Albany as well as her sister Regan, rival for Edmund's affections.

A. C. Bradley notes that Shakespeare uses more animal imagery in this play than in all his other tragedies (except Timon of Athens). In this scene Albany calls Goneril a tiger and likens her preying on others to "monsters of the deep." In other scenes Goneril is called a kite (bird of prey) and a gilded serpent; her ingratitude has a serpent's tooth, and her look is wolfish; to Gloucester her cruelty has the fangs of a boar. She and Regan are dog-hearted and strike at each other like adders. (Shakespearean Tragedy, 219)

In this scene we see how the differences in the Quarto and the Folio texts affect our understanding of certain characters. Michael Warren notes that in Q the role of Albany is more developed, stronger, appearing more of a match for Goneril than in F. In lines found only in Q, Albany's anger explodes at his wife, calling her a fiend, monster, almost threatening to assault her with his bare hands (text). For the first time he begins to see his wife in her true colors. This vigorous response to Goneril's misdeeds makes his righteous indignation at the news of Gloucester's torture more convincing. 

In Act 5.3 several lines spoken by Albany in Q are assigned to Edgar in F, including the last lines of the play. These final changes give Edgar a more active role in the concluding events and apparently more responsibility for the future of the kingdom.

-- Michael J. Warren, "Quarto and Folio King Lear and the Interpretation of Albany and Edgar." In Shakespeare: Pattern of Excelling Nature, edited by David Bevington and Jay Halio, Associated UP, 1978.


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