Outside Gloucester's castle, Kent and Oswald run into each other, waiting for responses to the letters that they brought Regan (from Lear and Goneril, respectively). Kent picks a fight with Oswald, calling him a "son and heir of a mongrel bitch" (2.2.22) and reminding him who he is: two days ago, Kent says, he tripped Oswald at Goneril's castle.
Continuing to demonstrate his loyalty to Lear, insulting Oswald as an animal, Kent further shows how the discord brewing at the highest level of government carries down to the level of bickering servants.
Hearing the ruckus, Edmund, Cornwall, Regan, Gloucester, and his servants, enter, and demand to know what is going on. Oswald explains that Kent, an "ancient ruffian" (2.2.63), started the quarrel and that he has spared him only because of "his gray beard" (64). Continuing to abuse Oswald, Kent further insults Regan, Cornwall, and Gloucester by adding that he has "seen better faces in [his] time than [those] before [him] at this instant" (97-9).
Echoing the abuse that Goneril and Regan used against Lear, and which Edmund cited to upset Gloucester, Oswald shows that old age can be a liability for commoners or servants as well as royals and aristocrats. Kent stresses that he is able to see through Cornwall and Regan to the corruption in their hearts.
Cornwall orders that Kent be put in the stocks until noon, in order to learn some manners. Kent replies that he is "too old to learn" (2.2.138). Regan lengthens his sentence from noon until the following morning. Kent is shocked: he says, if he were Lear's dog, Regan would be wrong to abuse him in this way. However, Cornwall and Regan are firm. Gloucester, too, is perturbed and seeks to console Kent; but both know that Cornwall will not reverse his command.
As Gloucester knows, Cornwall and Regan are breaking the rules of hospitality as well as the respect they should show to Lear as a father and former kin by punishing his messenger in this way.
Left alone on stage, Kent takes out a letter, which, he explains to the audience, is from Cordelia. "Nothing almost sees miracles but misery" (180-1). The letter says that Cordelia has been informed of the steps Kent has taken, disguising himself, and will in time return to remedy the trouble in Lear's England.
Cordelia's letter to Kent provides the first sign that there are forces working to restore justice and order in England—and particularly that not all family-feeling between children and parents is lost.