King Lear Act 5 Summary

     Act five scene one opens with Regan trying to ask Edmund if he has ever been with her sister. He admits he loves her, but he has not acted on that love. Edgar arrives with the letter that he is supposed to give to Edmund, but instead he gives it to Albany as proof of Goneril's infidelity. When everyone leaves except for Edmund he secretly hopes that one of the sisters will kill the other one so that he does not have to choose between them, and then after getting rid of Lear and Cordelia, he can take over as king.

     In scene two the disguised Edgar leaves Gloucester beneath a tree to go help with the battle. In scene three a Captain has caught Cordelia and Lear and plans to take them to prison. Lear is willing to go as long as he can be with Cordelia, which is a sign of his madness returning. Edmund then steps in and gives the Captain a note with instructions on what to do with Lear and Cordelia once they reach the prison. Goneril and Regan show up with Regan complaining that her stomach hurts. Albany proceeds to insult Edmund for having an affair with Goneril; then he throws down his glove and challenges Edmund to a duel unless someone else is willing to fight Edmund for him. Edgar, still disguised, arrives and offers to fight Edmund. The battle of the brothers represents good versus evil. Edgar stabs Edmund then reveals his identity. Edgar tells the tale of what he has experienced with their father and says that after he revealed his identity to Gloucester, Gloucester died. A gentleman runs in with a bloody knife announcing that Goneril poisoned Regan, who died, so then Goneril killed herself. Kent returns, no longer in disguise, looking for Lear and Cordelia. Edmund admits that he gave orders to have Cordelia hanged in jail to make it look like a suicide, so they must hurry if they are going to stop the order. Lear walks in moments later with the dead Cordelia in his arms. He confesses to having killed the man who killed Cordelia. When he sees Kent, Kent explains how he had posed as his new friend Caius, so Lear pardons his prior sentence of banishment. A messenger runs in to announce that Edmund has died from the wound he received during the duel. Lear cries out about the nothingness of the world; then he too collapses by Cordelia and dies. Albany looks to Edgar and Kent to help him rule the kingdom. Kent declines the offer, saying he must follow his master, perhaps implying he also must die as Lear did. Then in the First Folio version Edgar ends the play by saying he will attempt to serve the kingdom for as long as he survives. However, in the Quatro text, Shakespeare gives Albany the last lines. Generally, the last lines of Shakespeare's tragedies are said by the highest ranking person to survive. Edgar and Albany seem to have about equal claim to power as neither is directly related to the King. King Lear, a noble man, died a tragic hero because his flaw of pride led to his changing fortunes, which helped him gain knowledge of the truth but ultimately ended in a punishment that exceeded his crime.

Related Links:

King Lear Act 5 Quiz
King Lear Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2 Summary
King Lear Act 1 Scenes 3-5 Summary
King Lear Summary
King Lear Quotes
King Lear Important Characters
King Lear Quiz
Literature Summaries
William Shakespeare Facts

To link to this King Lear Act 5 Summary page, copy the following code to your site: