King Lear Act 5 brings this classic play to its tragic conclusion. Discover the finale of Shakespeare’s King Lear here.
Analysis: King Lear, Act 5, Scene 1
Preparations for the battle between the British and French armies are taking place. Edmund complains to Regan that Albany keeps changing his strategy. Regan is worried that something has happened to Oswald. Regan asks Edmund if he loves Goneril. Albany and Goneril arrive. Goneril muses that she would rather lose the battle than Edmund on seeing her sister with him. Albany is sympathetic to the French cause but Goneril insists that they must unite against the enemy.
Goneril knows that Regan does not want her to be alone with Edmund. Edgar arrives (in disguise) and asks to speak with Albany. He gives Albany the letter he got from Oswald, telling him to open it before he goes into battle. He tells Albany to sound a trumpet if the British win the battle in order that someone may appear to prove that the content of the letter is true.
Edmund announces the impending arrival of the French army and left alone on stage considers his predicament. He cannot decide which sister to take having told both of them that he loves them. He resolves to see what happens after the battle but knows that one will not allow the other to have him without fighting to the death for him. He tells us that Albany intends to treat Lear and Cordelia kindly if the British win but Edmund believes they must die.
Analysis: King Lear, Act 5, Scene 2
King Lear, Cordelia and the French forces march on, while Gloucester is led on stage by Edgar. Gloucester is taken to a safe place while the battle ensues. Edgar leaves and then returns announcing that the French have lost and that Lear and Cordelia have been captured. Gloucester becomes depressed and refuses to leave, deciding to sit and rot; Edgar encourages him to go with him reminding him that it is not his choice to give up on life. Gloucester and Edgar leave the stage.
Analysis: King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3
Edmund leads the prisoners; Lear and Cordelia on stage. Cordelia is upset that she has been captured but her compassion remains for her father. Cordelia asks if she will see her sisters again. Lear is disturbed by the idea and would rather be in prison with Cordelia away from the superficiality of the court. Cordelia is crying and Lear wants her to wipe away her tears so as not to let the enemy feel they have defeated her. They are taken to prison.
Edmund gives the orders to the captain to follow the prisoners and gives him a death warrant. Albany arrives demanding to see the prisoners, Edmund is dumbfounded. Albany reminds Edmund that he is in charge and that Edmund is his subject. Regan steps in to defend Edmund, this annoys Goneril; the sisters start to quarrel. Regan tells Goneril that she intends to marry Edmund. Albany calls Edmund ‘half-blooded’ reminding him of his illegitimate status and has him arrested for treason.
Albany sounds the trumpet as instructed by Edgar. Goneril has poisoned Regan and she is carried away very unwell. Edgar appears and accuses Edmund of betraying Albany. Edmund agrees the fight Edgar who is still in disguise. Edmund is badly wounded. Albany confronts Goneril with her letter to Edmund. Goneril tries to tear the letter up and vehemently protests before running off.
Edmund confesses his wrongdoings as he lies dying. Edmund says he will forgive the man who wounded him if he is a nobleman. Edgar takes off his disguise and reveals himself. He judges Edmund and his father very harshly. Edmund accepts his death as just and Albany embraces Edgar. Edgar recounts his movements since leaving the court and talks about how he tried to keep Gloucester’s spirits up regretting that he did not reveal his identity to him earlier. He describes Gloucester’s death, he had revealed his identity just before and Gloucester was torn between grief and joy but his heart couldn’t take it.
On hearing Edgar’s story, Edmund is moved and believes it will do good and possibly be a tale of redemption.
The Gentleman enters with a knife covered in blood. Goneril has killed herself and Regan is also dead. Their bodies are brought on stage. Albany realises that he has forgotten about Lear and Cordelia and asks Edmund where he sent them. Albany and Edmund are panicking about repealing the death warrant but it is too late.
Edmund is carried off to die. Lear arrives; carrying Cordelia’s body. In a last act of heroism Lear has killed her hangman but calls out to the traitors and murderers responsible for her death. He degenerates into a mad state of grief stricken lunacy; his eyesight is gone as his other senses fail him. He is told of Regan and Goneril’s deaths but he is already in a terrible state and does not appear to register what he has been told. A messenger announces that Edmund is dead.
Albany explains that he will defer his power to Lear. He announces that Edgar and Kent will be reinstated as Earls. Lear is choking and asks someone to undo his top button as Edgar runs to his aid, Kent tells him to let Lear be, that death would be a welcome relief for him. Those left behind hope that in his madness Lear still believed that Cordelia survived. Edgar he is uninterested in the ruling power offered to him by Albany and says that everyone who has survived this will be damaged and shattered by the events that have taken place. The survivors; ‘Shall never see so much nor live so long’.