Act IV, Scene 1
While reflecting on his sorry state, Edgar sees his father being led by an old man. It quickly becomes clear that Gloucester has no eyes. The old man is one of Gloucester’s tenant farmers. Gloucester doesn’t want his help for fear that they would punish the old man.
They notice “Poor Tom” is nearby. Gloucester recalls seeing him during the storm and for some reason being reminded of his son Edgar…weird. He decides that Tom can lead him to Dover because what does a crazy, naked beggar really have to lose? The old man goes to get Tom some clothes. Edgar has heard that his father regrets what happened between them, but decides to keep up the charade.
After some ramblings about the various fiends that possessed Tom at one time or another, he agrees to lead Gloucester to the edge of the cliffs in Dover.
Act IV, Scene 2
Goneril arrives at home and quickly learns that her husband, the Duke of Albany, thinks they were foolish at pretty much every point. He believes that trusting Edmund was a particularly bad call.
Goneril isn’t surprised that her weak-willed husband isn’t on their side. She sends Edmund back to Cornwall with her favor and a kiss. She promises to send Oswald as a messenger between them. Once Edmund is gone, she comments on the fact that he is a “real” man.
Albany tears into Goneril for being a horrible person and especially a horrible daughter. She unleashes all her resentments toward him not being as bold (and cruel) as Cornwall or other men. He shuns this notion because reason and good seem bad to those that thrive on cruelty. Goneril can’t believe he won’t even man up to go fight France. Albany makes it clear that he no longer has any feelings of affection towards her and practically wants to kill her.
A messenger informs Albany that Cornwall died of his wounds after fighting his servant – the servant who tried to stop him from pulling out Gloucester’s other eye. Albany is appalled at Gloucester’s fate. Goneril receives a letter from her sister, but she’s more worried that Edmund and Regan will end up together.
Act IV, Scene 3
Kent meets back up with the Gentleman he sent with a message to Cordelia. Cordelia was quite broken up about the news of her father. She cried and cursed her sisters when she read Kent’s letter. Lear is close by and could see her, but his guilt makes him afraid to do so. Kent asks the Gentleman to sit with Lear, so he can run a secret errand.
Act IV, Scene 4
Cordelia sends soldiers out to find her father, who is wandering the wilderness wearing a bunch of flowers. She consults a doctor to see if there is any hope for Lear. The doctor is optimistic that they can return him to a good mental state. Cordelia is informed that her sisters’ army is coming. She’s aware. She came from France to fight for her father.
Act IV, Scene 5
Regan is getting all the hot gossip from Oswald. She wonders if Albany is accompanying his troops to battle. Oswald asserts that Goneril is the better one to fill that role. Regan worries that the blinded Gloucester will turn people against them. They probably should have killed him.
Oswald lets it slip that he has a letter to deliver to Edmund. Regan wants to see it, but he won’t let her. Regan knows that Goneril wants to marry Edmund, but it makes much more sense for Regan, whose husband is dead, to do it. She suggests Oswald sway Goneril to that way of thinking.
Act IV, Scene 6
Edgar pretends to lead Gloucester to the edge of a cliff. He convinces Gloucester that if he takes a step forward, he will fall off the cliff. Gloucester gives Edgar (Tom) his purse and falls forward. Edgar is surprised that his father actually meant to kill himself.
Edgar pretends to be someone else and makes up a story that Gloucester did fall from the cliff but survived. He survived because he wasn’t with a beggar, but with an ancient god who must have saved him. Gloucester apparently believes this story because why not?
Lear walks in, rambling. Gloucester finally recognizes Lear’s voice. Occasionally, Lear will hit on a nugget of truth during his ramblings. He, of course, goes on about his daughters and their treachery. He remarks that adultery should not be punished because his lawfully gotten daughters are more treacherous than Gloucester’s bastard son (lol not). He tells Gloucester to get glass eyes, so he can pretend he sees the things he doesn’t. Lear eventually recognizes Gloucester and the lament their sad state of affairs.
A Gentleman approaches Lear to try and bring him to his daughter. Lear seems to accept that he will be killed, but then runs off. Edgar gets news of the battle from the Gentleman. Finally, he starts to lead Gloucester off, pretending to be another peasant.
Oswald busts in ready to kill Gloucester. Edgar intervenes and kills Oswald. Oswald asks Edgar to give the letter in his pocket to Edmund. Edgar reads the letter and find out that Goneril is planning to kill her husband and marry Edmund. He wants to do something, but must find a safe space for his father first.
Act IV, Scene 7
Cordelia thanks Kent for keeping her father safe. The Doctor informs Cordelia that Lear is still sleeping, but they should probably wake him. She kisses him and cries over his circumstance. When he does wake, he’s confused. He assumes he’s dead. After some time he recognizes Cordelia and assumes she wants to kill him. She assures him that she doesn’t. Lear asks if he is in France and starts to get distressed when Cordelia says they are in his kingdom. Under the Doctor’s advice, they go for a walk.
Kent speaks with the Gentleman and finds out that Edmund is leading Cornwall’s army. The Gentleman heard that Edgar is in Germany with Kent. Kent (still in disguise apparently) tells him not to believe everything he hears.
Act V, Scene 1
Edmund sends a man to find out what Albany intends to do. Regan needs Edmund to reassure her that he does not love Goneril. He assures her that he doesn’t and that he has never shown any affection towards her. Regan is thankful because she will not tolerate that from her sister.
Goneril and Albany enter. Goneril is immediately worried that Regan will steal Edmund away from her. Albany has received word that Lear made it to Cordelia and has, quite rightly, rallied the people to the cause. Albany has apparently become convinced to fight because France invaded. Edmund agrees to meet Albany at his tent later. Regan asks Goneril to come with her. Goneril doesn’t want to until she is convinced she knows what game Regan is playing.
Once everyone else leaves, a disguised Edgar hands Albany the letter Oswald was carrying. Edgar explains that it may convince Albany to change his course, but he doesn’t stay to watch Albany read the letter. Edgar tells Albany that he will be there when the heralds cry three time.
Edmund returns alone to the stage to question which sister he should choose. He’s aware that if both are alive he can’t enjoy either of them. Regan obviously makes sense since her husband is dead, but he still needs Goneril. He decides to keep stringing them along until he gets his way and takes out Lear and Cordelia.
Act V, Scene 2
Edgar leaves Gloucester to rest under a tree while he goes and fights. The fighting doesn’t last long. Edgar returns with the news that Lear has lost and Cordelia has been taken. Gloucester wants to give up, but Edgar encourages him to pass on.
Act V, Scene 3
Edmund has captured Lear and Cordelia. Cordelia demands to see her sisters, but that’s not going to happen. Lear tells her to go peacefully to prison and they can enjoy each other’s company.
Edmund gives a man a mysterious written order. (That can’t be good.)
Albany commends Edmund for his valiant service and asks for Lear and Cordelia. Edmund assures him that he can have the prisoners tomorrow. Albany does not like that Edmund is treating him as an equal. Regan stands up for her future husband, but Goneril is not about that life. Regan starts to feel sick, but before she is led away Albany charges Edmund with treason. Albany explains that Edmund intended to kill him and challenges him to a fight. Regan starts to feel worse and Goneril makes it clear to the audience that she poisoned Regan. Edmund agrees to fight.
The Herald is summoned to call three times for any man that would accuse Edmund of being a traitor. Edgar comes forward. He charges Edmund with all sorts of crimes. They fight and Edmund falls. Goneril is very upset. Albany reveals the letter. Goneril runs off. Edmund admits that he committed all of the crimes and Edgar reveals who he is.
Albany and Edgar share a warm welcome. Edgar gives him the abridged version of everything that happened to him during the play. (Shakespeare loved his repetition!) Even Edmund is swayed by Edgar’s tale. Edgar informs them that Kent had disguised himself to serve Lear.
A Gentleman comes in with a bloody knife. Goneril successfully poisoned Regan and then killed herself. Edmund admits to agreeing to marry both of them. Kent comes in looking for Lear. Edmund confesses that he ordered Lear and Cordelia to be killed. Albany sends Edgar to intervene.
Edgar was too late. Lear enters with Cordelia dead in his arms. He hopes for some breath of life in her, but she is gone. He killed the man that was hanging her. Kent reveals himself to Lear as Kent and his servant, Caius. Lear at least somewhat understands, but is losing touch with reality.
Edmund is dead. Albany decides to rule the kingdom and restore Edgar and Kent to their deserved titles. Lear cries over Cordelia, calling her his Fool, before finally dying. The surviving men go to take care of the dead.