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Shakespeare: King Lear

16. Act 4, Scene 1: Edgar and Gloucester

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About this Lecture


In this module, we read through Act 4, Scene 1, in which Edgar (still as ‘Poor Tom’) comforts his now-blinded father, Gloucester, and agrees to take him to Dover. In particular, we think about: (i) the theme of hope (“The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune, | Stands still in esperence”, 3-4); (ii) Edgar’s reflections on the fact the things are going from bad to worse (“I am worse than e’er I was”, 28); (iii) Gloucester’s reflection on the gods’ apparent lack of care for human suffering (“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, | They kill us for their sport”, 38-9); and (iv) the question of why Edgar doesn’t reveal himself to his father at this moment, instead choosing to continue playing the role of ‘Poor Tom’.


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 4, Scene 1: Edgar and Gloucester [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

McRae, J. "Shakespeare: King Lear – Act 4, Scene 1: Edgar and Gloucester." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Feb 2019,

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