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Shakespeare: King Lear

13. Act 3, Scenes 3-4: The Heath

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About this Lecture


In this module, we explore Act 3, Scenes 3-4, most of which involves following Lear, Kent and the Fool – and before long Gloucester and ‘Poor Tom’ as well – as they spend the night on the heath. In particular, we focus on: (i) the concepts of nature and nothingness (“I like not this unnatural dealing”, 2); (ii) the relationship between Gloucester and Edmund, and the idea of a competition between the young and the old (“The younger rises when the old doth fall”, 24); (iii) the potential reading of Lear as suffering from a form of dementia; (iv) the reduction in Lear’s status as he hits rock bottom (“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are”, 28ff.); (v) the figure of ‘Poor Tom’ (= the disguised Edgar) and his relationship with Lear; and (vi) Edgar’s speech about ‘Childe Rowland’ and the idea of Edgar as an apprentice that must complete a quest in order to become a fully-fledged knight.


In this twenty-five part course, Professor John McRae (University of Nottingham) explores Shakespeare’s King Lear. We begin with a broad introduction to the historical, political and intellectual context of early 17th-century England. After that, we go through the play scene by scene, providing close reading and detailed analysis, with commentary on character, plot, themes and motifs, language, symbolism – and more.

We use the Arden (Third Series) edition of the play. Students using a different edition of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John McRae is Special Professor of Language in Literature Studies and Teaching Associate in the School of English at Nottingham University, and holds Visiting Professorships in China, Malaysia, Spain and the USA. He is co-author of The Routledge History of Literature in English with Ron Carter, and also wrote The Language of Poetry, Literature with a Small 'l' and the first critical edition of Teleny by Oscar Wilde and others.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

McRae, J. (2019, February 26). Shakespeare: King Lear - Act 3, Scenes 3-4: The Heath [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Shakespeare: King Lear – Act 3, Scenes 3-4: The Heath." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Feb 2019,

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