Concerned with Albany’s indecision on the battlefield, Edmund sends out a man to get an idea of the Duke’s intentions. Regan is more concerned, however, with Edmund’s intentions with respect to Goneril. She confronts Edmund about them, and though Edmund avows that his feelings for Goneril are platonic she strongly urges him to keep his distance from Goneril. By and by, they are joined by Albany and Goneril. Albany mentions the King, of how circumstances have pitted the King in opposition to them, and how they should go about this. Though ostensibly agreeing with Albany’s policy of mercy, Edmund has no intention of sparing the lives of Lear and Cordelia. As far as Edmund is concerned, they are dead as is Albany when the battle on the field concludes.
Before joining Edmund, Goneril, and Regan in the warroom, Albany is detained by Edgar who is disguised as a peasant. Albany is handed a letter, the very letter that Goneril had written Edmund and which was never delivered, and is told that if Albany succeeds on the battlefield today and lives, then he--Edgar--will redress the contents of the letter on the Duke’s behalf.
Edgar helps Gloucester settle down in the shade of a tree, promising Gloucester salvation should he--Edgar--manage to return from his mission (vanquishing Edmund). But it isn’t long before Edgar returns to evacuate Gloucester, saying that the French forces have succumbed to the British and that Cordelia and King Lear have been taken captive.
As Lear and Cordelia are led away to prison, Cordelia laments how cruel fortune can be to they who deserve better. She is anxious to face her sisters, the instruments of her fortune. Lear, however, wants nothing to do with them. He is only too happy to be with Cordelia even if they’ll be keeping company in prison. Meanwhile, Edmund, who has signed off on Lear’s and Cordelia’s deaths, authorizing a soldier to kill them in his and Goneril’s name, is about to retire for the day when he is branded a traitor by Albany and is challenged by Albany’s second to defend his honor if he dares. Regan retires, feeling sick all of a sudden. Albany’s second confronts Edmund and they duel. Edmund falls. Goneril objects to the proceedings, citing the insubstantiality of the charges leveled against Edmund. She is silenced when Albany produces the letter she wrote Edmund, the letter exhorting Edmund to kill Albany for the sake of their ambitions to rule Britain. She leaves while Albany’s second reveals his identity. He is Edgar. Presently, Edgar relates his tale of woe and grief. Gloucester has died from the extremities of grief and happiness upon discovering that his son, Edgar, who will fight to restore the family name and honor, had been by his side all along. Edgar has met Kent, who, risking death, has returned from his banishment to serve his King in the guise of Caius. A messenger interposes to report of Regan’s and Goneril’s deaths. Regan has been poisoned by Goneril (which would explain Regan’s earlier sickness) while Goneril has taken her own life. Midst the carnage, Kent appears, asking for the King. The focus on the King rallies Edmund, who hoping to do one good turn before dying, alerts Albany and Edgar of Lear and Cordelia’s imminent danger. Soldiers are dispatched to rescue the prisoners. It is too late, however. Lear emerges, carrying Cordelia’s lifeless body in his arms. She has been murdered by a subordinate answering to Edmund and Goneril. Lear himself has dispatched of the murderer’s life--but all is lost. Lear begs Cordelia to revive to no avail. Lear dies, unable to bear the grief of Cordelia’s death.
Albany proclaims that, hereafter, Edgar and Kent will rule the kingdom. But Kent, overwhelmed by grief, dissents, knowing that he too will soon die.