• Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 16:32

Gloucester can be compared to Lear, they both represent the 'old order' as they conflict with their own children. In that way Gloucester can help us understand Lear and vies versa, as we view other people's reactions to the same situation. However, Gloucester also stands as an important character in his own right as Shakespeare uses him to explore nobility, loyalty and, later on in the play, the issue of human suffering and despair. 

Old order

Gloucester is a powerful Earl in Lear's court and as such is a representative of the older generation, like Kent and Lear, who base their power on birth rights, believe in the gods and superstition and through whom the idea of old age is explored.

Like Kent, Cordelia and the Fool Gloucester is totally loyal to Lear throughout the play but the proactive nature of this loyalty is questionable. Certainly in the latter half of the play, Gloucester is so frail and needs to rely on Edgar/Poor Tom for help that he is unable to aid to aid Lear. This is not necessarily a criticism of him considering that Gloucester has been blinded and it was because of his loyalty that Cornwall and Regan punished him.


Gloucester's experiences highlight the play's focus on what happens when power shifts from one generation to another. After he is blinded, one of Gloucester's old servants kindly guides him out of the palace. Despite his sudden fall from influence, Gloucester's attitude demonstrates that it's hard for someone who's always been on top to adjust to life as someone without power. 'Do as I bid thee' he orders the servant who is helping him.

Then, suddenly realizing his position, Gloucester adds, 'or rather do thy pleasure'. After a lifetime of being in command, Gloucester finally realises what it is like to not have power. His slow transition from having an arrogant attitude to one of consideration for others mirrors Lear's journey through the play and reinforces the play's message that deeper wisdom is earned through suffering.

This transformation is necessary, because the Gloucester we meet at the beginning of the play is self-satisfied and a little hypocritical. Gloucester's weakness is women, and his extramarital affairs produced Edmund. Some people, including Edgar, argue that Gloucester getting blinded is payback for the sin of adultery. Then Gloucester goes on to believe Edmund's story about Edgar betraying him; perhaps because having seen Cordelia turn against Lear he realises how possible betrayal is. He doesn't even try to speak with his other son before he assumes that what Edmund says is true.

Finally, Gloucester seems to recognize neither Kent nor his own son, Edgar, when those men are in disguise. Perhaps, Gloucester pays too much attention to outer appearance and social position and that blinds him from seeing what really matters.

Foil to Lear

Gloucester and the sub-plot…


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