King Lear Act 3, scene 7 Summary & Analysis
New! Understand every line of King Lear.Read our modern English translation of this scene.
Cornwall enters with Regan, Goneril, Edmund and servants. Handing Goneril the letter with news that the army of France has landed, and telling her to send it to her husband Albany, he sends servants to find Gloucester. Then Cornwall tells Edmund to leave, as the revenge he plans to take on the traitorous Gloucester is far too brutal for a son to behold. Oswald arrives to report that, thanks to Gloucester, Lear has been carried away to Dover.
Cornwall and Regan's decision to turn on Gloucester, who is their host, highlights the destruction of custom and order in Britain. Cornwall's comment about how brutal his violence against Gloucester is a further expression of lawlessness and chaos.
Just then, Gloucester enters. Immediately Cornwall and Regan accuse him as a traitor. Regan even plucks a hair from his "white beard." Gloucester reproaches them, saying that they are breaking the laws of hospitality by turning on their host. As they keep haranguing him, he gives up, noting that he, like a bear in a bear-baiting show, is "tied to th' stake" and "must stand the course" (67). Gloucester tells Regan that he helped Lear escape because he could not bear to see how she and Goneril treated him.
Once caught, and as helpless as a show animal, Gloucester acknowledges that he has acted out of an inward sense of justice—of how both familial relations and political order should work. He could not bear to watch what was taking place. Plucking his white beard, Regan disrespects his age (whereas in 2.1 she had asked him for wise counsel).
Cornwall interjects, saying that Gloucester never will see such a thing. Cornwall ties Gloucester down and pulls out one of Gloucester's eyes. He is preparing to pull out the second eye when one of his servants interjects. The servant pleads that Cornwall to stop this course of action. Cornwall, angered that the servant would dare to interrupt him, draws his sword. The two fight. Cornwall is seriously wounded. However, Regan takes a sword from a second servant and stabs the first in the back, killing him. Cornwall forces out Gloucester's other eye, crying "out, vile jelly!" (101).
Turning the language of vision and blindness that has been metaphorical up until this point brutally literal, Cornwall will transform Gloucester, who failed to see his son's true character, into a walking symbol of blindness. Cornwall's servant, however, still viscerally responds to an inward sense of order and balks at this injustice.
Blinded, Gloucester calls out to Edmund for help: "enkindle all sparks of nature/ to quit this horrid act" (105-6). Regan informs Gloucester that Edmund hates him, that it was Edmund himself who betrayed his father. Devastated, Gloucester realizes that he was misled regarding Edgar. He calls upon the gods to forgive him and to help Edgar prosper.
Ironically, only when he is literally blinded is Gloucester able to see the truth about his sons. His call to the gods to let Edgar prosper reflects his residual belief that the heavens are capable of guarding order and justice.
Wounded Cornwall and Regan leave Gloucester with the second and third servants, instructing them to throw him out of his house. The servants discuss among themselves how horrible they find Cornwall and Regan's actions. Resolving to find "the Bedlam" (125), i.e. the disguised Edgar, to lead Gloucester to safety, they first fetch flax and egg whites to help stop the bleeding from Gloucester's face.
Throwing Gloucester out of his own house, Cornwall and Regan not only violate the laws of hospitality but continue the process of using their authority to disarrange the usual order of the kingdom. Yet the servants still understand what is right and just, and help their former lord.