Speaking to a Gentleman, who is one among the King’s dwindling entourage, Caius affirms the truth of the rumor that the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall are at odds. The resulting internal unrest has allowed France to infiltrate Britain and even gain a foothold at Dover and elsewhere. Producing a ring, Caius asks the Gentleman to deliver it to Cordelia, who is believed to be at Dover, and to convey to her the King’s current predicament. The ring will verify the source of the delivered message, lending credibility to the Gentleman’s words. The Gentleman is anxious to know just who Caius is, but Caius assures the Gentleman that he’ll know by and by, and for now to let it remain a mystery for the sake of the King.
Exposing himself to the storm, Lear exhorts the wind, the rain, the thunder, and the lightening to do its worst and render the earth uninhabitable. At his side, the Fool begs Lear to ask his daughters for forgiveness, protesting that it’s the height of folly to contend with the elements. Lear continues, however, exhorting the storm to heap its abuses upon him. He compares it to his daughters who had done the same though he had given them no cause. Eventually, Caius, who tells the King that he himself will return to Gloucestershire to force his daughters to see the error of their ways if he must, persuades the King to seek shelter in a nearby hovel.
Prohibited by Regan and Cornwall to speak, much less to act, on behalf of the King, Gloucester confides in Edmund as to his--Gloucester’s--resolution to help the King by any means necessary. Gloucester also mentions a letter that he has kept hidden from the Duke and the Duchess, which letter refers to forces currently at work that will aid the King. Needless to say, Edmund licks his chops, presented as he is with a golden opportunity to advance his cause at his step-father’s expense.
At the threshold of the hovel, Lear hesitates to enter, arguing that his mental anguish, which has been kept in check by the distraction posed by the storm, will ironically increase and intensify on account of the hovel’s warmth and comfort. Lear is thus debating with Caius when the Fool, who had gone in at Lear‘s behest, runs out in a panic, claiming that the hovel is haunted by a ghost. Anon, Edgar, disguised as poor Tom (a beggar), appears, intriguing Lear who supposes that poor Tom too was brought to his current, disgraceful state on account of his daughters. Lear is thus occupied in acquainting himself with poor Tom’s circumstances when Gloucester appears with a lighted torch. Gloucester expresses his determination to defy the Duke and the Duchess. Presently, he and Caius prevail upon the King to enter the hovel, and they all go in, including poor Tom with whom the King will not part.
Feigning a stricken conscience, Edmund informs Cornwall of his step-father’s covert activities on behalf of the King, and he shows Cornwall the letter that incriminates his step-father of conspiring with France. Consequently, Cornwall proclaims Edmund the new Earl of Gloucester and vows immediate retribution with respect to Edmund’s step-father.
To secure what additional provisions he can for the King, Gloucester returns to Gloucestershire. Meanwhile, in the relative warmth and comfort of the hovel, poor Tom and the Fool humor the King. They hold a mock trial wherein Goneril and Regan are put on the stand. Caius is asked to join the proceedings. Caius obliges, but after a while he urges Lear to lie down and relax. Anon, Gloucester returns, asking for the King. He is told that the King, at his wit’s end, is in the midst of much needed sleep. Gloucester urges them to hurry and convey the King to Dover for there is a plot to kill the King. Quickly, they bear the King hence.
Poor Tom, a.k.a. Edgar, remains behind. The King’s affliction has made his plight seem benign by comparison. Inspired, he resolves to clear his name and regain his former status by attuning his eyes and ears to the world’s events in order to get to the bottom of the villainy that has made his life a travesty.
It has been decided that Goneril will join Albany whose forces are to be deployed in opposition to the French forces that has recently landed in British soil. She will be escorted home by Edmund who will return to join the forces led by Cornwall and Regan, which forces will coordinate with Albany’s vis-à-vis the French. In the interim, while Edmund is away, Gloucester will be dealt with. By and by, Gloucester, who is bound and restrained, is brought before the Duke and the Duchess despite his protest that Regan and Cornwall are his guests and that a host should not be thus ill treated. Furious, Regan rips out a tuft of Gloucester’s beard. Gloucester is defiant to the charges that he is a traitor, however, denouncing their treatment of the King as inhumane. Irate, Cornwall grinds out one of Gloucester’s eyes with the heel of his boot only to be opposed at knifepoint by one of his own servants who is determined to put an end to the cruel proceedings. A fight ensues wherein Cornwall is wounded and the servant killed. Eventually, deprived of both his eyes, Gloucester is kicked out of his own house and left to wander where he will.