Gloucester on the cliff

Act 4 Scene 5 – Key Scene

In this scene Edgar, still in disguise as ‘Poor Tom’, has led his father to Dover. He lies to Gloucester that they are climbing a hill and then pretends they are at the top of a cliff. He gives Gloucester an imagined description of looking down to the beach below. Gloucester believes that ‘Poor Tom’ has led him right to the edge of the cliff. He sends ‘Poor Tom’ away and Edgar pretends to leave him. When Gloucester falls, Edgar pretends to be someone on the beach who has seen Gloucester fall from the top of the cliff.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Let go my hand.
    Here, friend’s another purse: in it a jewel
    Well worth a poor man’s taking: fairies and gods
    Prosper it with thee! Go thou further off:
    Bid me farewell, and let me hear thee going.
    Now fare ye well, good sir.
    With all my heart.
    Why I do trifle thus with his despair
    Is done to cure it.

    I play along with his attempts to kill himself in order to try and help him overcome his depression.

    O you mighty gods!
    This world I do renounce, and in your sights
    Shake patiently my great affliction off:
    If I could bear it longer, and not fall
    To quarrel with your great opposeless wills,
    My snuff and loathe`d part of nature should
    Burn itself out.
    If Edgar live, O, bless him!—
    Now, fellow, fare thee well.

    What do you think Gloucester feels is so unbearable about his life?

    And not start arguing with the will of the gods, I could let the snuffed candle of my life and the hated remains of what life is left to me fade away.

    Gone, sir: farewell.—
    And yet I know not how conceit may rob
    The treasury of life, when life itself
    Yields to the theft:
    had he been where he thought,
    By this had thought been past. Alive or dead?—
    Ho, you sir! Friend! Hear you, sir! Speak!—
    Thus might he pass indeed: yet he revives.—
    What are you, sir?

    I’m concerned that his imagination might steal away his life, given that he is so willing to die.

    Away, and let me die.
    Hadst thou been aught but gossamer, feathers, air —
    So many fathom down precipitating
    Thou’dst shivered like an egg: but thou dost breathe,
    Hast heavy substance, bleed’st not, speak’st, art sound.
    Ten masts at each make not the altitude
    Which thou hast perpendicularly fell:
    Thy life’s a miracle. Speak yet again.


    Falling headlong.


    How do you think Edgar hopes his father’s despair will be cured by believing he has miraculously survived the fall from the cliff top?

    But have I fall’n or no?
    From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.

    Boundary between sea and land.

  • Listen

    Read the scene aloud, trying it in different ways. Are there any words or lines that really stand out?

  • Watch

    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?

  • Imagine

    Explore some images from past versions of King Lear at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the scene feel right to you?