ACT IV, Scene 2
Back at the castle, Oswald informs Goneril that her husband,
Albany, is behaving strangely. Although earlier he had been too
weak to restrain his wife's cruelty, now he is condemning her and
Edmund, looking forward to the King of France's arrival in Dover.
Goneril is displeased and declares she will take over. She also
reveals her passion for Edmund and asks him to be her mate.
Edmund, now the Earl of Gloucester, swears his love and loyalty
to Goneril. He then leaves with a message for Regan, warning her
to mobilize her army.
Albany enters and openly accuses his wife of cruelty and filial
ingratitude. He is sure that Goneril's deeds will bring the
vengeance of heaven upon her. Although Goneril protests, Albany
is unmoved, which greatly angers her. It is clear that husband and
wife both detest each other. Their quarrel is interrupted by a
messenger, who brings news of Cornwall's death. He has died from
the wound he received while fighting one of his own servants.
Albany is also shocked to learn that Gloucester has been blinded.
Before departing, the messenger gives Goneril a letter from Regan.
She secretly fears that her sister, now a widow, will become her
rival for Edmund's love. Her mind filled with dark thoughts as she
leaves the stage.
Albany finds out the details of Gloucester's tragedy and the part
that Edmund has played in it. His worst suspicions about Goneril
and Regan are now confirmed. He is also fearful of Edmund,
believing that he is powerful enough to bring even greater disaster
on the kingdom. Albany decides his course of action; he will do his
duty to avert further evils and to "revenge Gloucester's eyes."
Previously in the play, Albany has been portrayed as a weak
character, unable to stand up to the strength of his evil wife. In this
scene, Albany emerges as a strong character, filled with moral
courage to do what is right. First he argues with Goneril, accusing
her of filial ingratitude and warning her that heaven will send its
vengeance upon her. She calls him a coward, showing her
contempt for her "mild husband;" she despises the fact that he is
compassionate, humane and morally upright. He tells her, "O
Goneril! You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in
your face." He finds her cruelty to Lear unforgivable and asserts
that the mistreatment of a parent will ensure that the offspring
"perforce must wither and come to deadly use."
The news of Gloucester's blinding is a shock to Albany; but
Cornwall's death is even more shocking for both Cornwall and his
wife. With Cornwall's passing, Albany is now the King of Britain,
and Goneril is his queen. In spite of this fact, he is still eager for
the arrival of the French forces in England, hoping they will
avenge Lear's ill treatment. He personally swears to avenge
It is not surprising that Goneril, in rejecting her husband, turns her
passion towards the evil Edmund, who also declares his love and
loyalty for her; since he is an amoral being, it makes no difference
to him that Goneril is the wife of Albany, now King of England. At
the end of the scene, however, Goneril is troubled; she fears that
Regan, her widowed sister, will have an interest in Edmund and
win his love.