Act IV - Scene III

The French camp near Dover.

[Enter Kent and a Gentleman]

Why the King of France is so suddenly gone back know you the reason?
Something he left imperfect in the state, which
since his coming forth is thought of; which imports to
the kingdom so much fear and danger, that his personal(5)
return was most required and necessary.
Who hath he left behind him general?
The Marshal of France, Monsieur La Far.
Did your letters pierce the queen to any demonstration of grief?(10)
Ay, sir; she took them, read them in my presence;
And now and then an ample tear trilled down
Her delicate cheek: it seemed she was a queen
Over her passion; who, most rebel-like,
Sought to be king o'er her.(15)
O, then it moved her.
Not to a rage: patience and sorrow strove
Who should express her goodliest. You have seen
Sunshine and rain at once: her smiles and tears
Were like a better way: those happy smilets,(20)
That played on her ripe lip, seemed not to know
What guests were in her eyes; which parted thence,
As pearls from diamonds dropped. In brief,
Sorrow would be a rarity most beloved,
If all could so become it.(25)
Made she no verbal question?
'Faith, once or twice she heaved the name of ‘father’
Pantingly forth, as if it pressed her heart:
Cried 'Sisters! sisters! Shame of ladies! sisters!(30)
Kent! father! sisters! What, i' the storm? i' the night?
Let pity not be believed!' There she shook
The holy water from her heavenly eyes,
And clamor moistened: then away she started
To deal with grief alone.(35)
It is the stars,
The stars above us, govern our conditions;
Else one self mate and mate could not beget
Such different issues. You spoke not with her since?
Was this before the king returned?
No, since.
Well, sir, the poor distressed Lear's i' the town;
Who sometime, in his better tune, remembers
What we are come about, and by no means(45)
Will yield to see his daughter.
Why, good sir?
A sovereign shame so elbows him: his own unkindness,
That stripped her from his benediction, turned her(50)
To foreign casualties, gave her dear rights
To his dog-hearted daughters, these things sting
His mind so venomously, that burning shame
Detains him from Cordelia.
Alack, poor gentleman!(55)
Of Albany's and Cornwall's powers you heard not?
'Tis so, they are afoot.
Well, sir, I'll bring you to our master Lear,
And leave you to attend him: some dear cause
Will in concealment wrap me up awhile;(60)
When I am known aright, you shall not grieve
Lending me this acquaintance. I pray you, go
Along with me.



  1. Kent has revealed that while Lear is experiencing moments of clarity, he refuses to see Cordelia because he is so ashamed of how he treated her. Note the language here and how it represents Lear’s view of his children: Cordelia has “dear rights,” with “dear” not only meaning cherished or beloved, like a father might feel for his daughter, but also “treasured” or “valuable,” like the value of the estate she was owed. In contrast, the other daughters are described with animal imagery, emphasizing their base desires and lack of filial commitment.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Note the religious imagery that the Gentlemen uses to describe Cordelia’s reaction to the letter. Her tears are “holy water” and her eyes are “heavenly.” In comparison to her two sisters, Cordelia is characterized as angelic and saintly, and her compassion elevates her almost to a level of veneration. Furthermore, emphasizing Cordelia’s gentle nature here reminds the viewer of just how monstrous her sisters are.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Like many of the older characters in the play, Kent has faith in fate and the divine power of the heavens. In this scene, he uses this faith to explain the difference between Cordelia and her sisters rather than call for divine retribution. The idea is that the stars were in a different alignment than her sisters when Cordelia was conceived, making her into such a kind-hearted person. Many used to believe that being born under particular signs and constellations in the sky gave people their particular characters.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. What Kent is saying is that the positions of the stars and constellations during a child's conception must determine that child's character. Otherwise one married couple, such as Lear and his wife, could not produce such different children as Goneril and Regan, on the one hand, and Cordelia, on the other. It does seem strange that Goneril and Regan should be such female monsters and Cordelia should be so kind, loving, and gentle. Kent's attributing "such different issues" to the stars may not reflect Shakespeare's own beliefs but only Kent's. 


    — William Delaney
  5. This short scene is a good example of how Shakespeare uses dialogue to convey exposition. Kent and this Gentleman are only talking to each other for the benefit of the audience. The scene is not in the least dramatic. It consists almost entirely of questions and answers. Dialogue has to be used in stage plays to convey necessary information. This leads to the creation of minor characters like this "Gentleman" who exist only because they are someone for a major character to talk to.

    — William Delaney