Why, Kent, Why?

I don’t understand the Earl of Kent. In the first scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kent is banished from the British kingdom for disagreeing with King Lear’s methods to split up his land among his daughters. He leaves with the line, “He’ll shape his old course in a country new” (I.i), referring to Lear imposing his old ways on a country he is giving away to his daughters.

Kent then returns disguised as Caius, with the sole purpose of serving the King, explaining “If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemn’d, / So may it come, thy master, whom thou lovest, / Shall find thee full of labours” (I.iv). However, he then flips this on its head by challenging Goneril’s servant, Oswald, to a swordfight, when Oswald clearly is not interested in fighting (II.ii). This leads to Cornwall putting Kent in the stocks and the escalating of Lear’s rage. As a whole, Kent seems only to work to the King’s detriment, and in the few opportunities when he could have set the story straight and helped out, he does nothing. One of these such opportunities is when Lear arrives at Gloucester’s castle after the swordfight, Kent does nothing to help calm down Lear’s rage (II.iv).

Kent’s actions also remain completely unjustified. The tragedy still plays out as expected, Lear still goes mad, and while Kent does help reunite the King and Cordelia, it still does not explain what he did earlier in the play.

2 thoughts on “Why, Kent, Why?

  1. Alex G.

    I agree with this analysis. I think that Kent, as Lear’s most loyal servant, was devastated to be banished and wanted to work his way back up. He had opportunities to do so in disguise, but knowing that he couldn’t reveal his true identity caused him to be both a detriment and the loyal servant he used to be at the same time. Unlike Edgar, it is difficult for Kent to establish another identity outside of his own.


  2. Luke G

    Good points, Kent had no life outside of Lear, so even after being cast away, he had nothing to go to other than make his way back to Lear. The disguise and hardly-altered personality gave him an easy way back.


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