Kent’s description fits: mongrel, whoreson dog, cur, goose, rat, toad, spotted traitor.
He has a swagger and bows often, to the right people. He is a new-fangled fellow, neither a gentleman nor a plain servant. He mimics the manner of one (the gentleman), does the dirtiest work of servants. Lear and Kent size him up accurately. He carries a dishonorable sword -- a traitor’s sword to be used for pay or promotion.
He is overdressed, over aware of clothes. In the Renaissance he would have been effete. In Lear’s era he is too physically strong to achieve effeteness. He epitomizes the well-heeled being who is naked morally. He presents the problem: what kind of appearance or dress really saves the human being? (See Goneril and Regan) He is a coward, completely without moral conscience: rat, toad -- spotted traitor.
KING OF FRANCE
He is a powerful king; he must lodge in our minds; we must sense his presence, his valor, his integrity, devotion in the last act even though he is not present. He has sent troops, not to conquer England but to save Lear. he does not take part in the military action because such action might be interpreted as invasion of Britain; but he is actively supporting Cordelia in her loyalty, love and devotion to Lear.
Like Kent and Albany he represents the man who is capable of great leadership. Mind and heart are in perfect balance. Soldier, kind, devoted husband, man of action.
DUKE OF BURGUNDY
Outwardly he is what France is: every inch a fit husband for Cordelia in appearance, in property, in power. In inner qualities he is a contrast to France; lacks understanding of human values; judges by material values, makes decisions swiftly in terms of the best bargain. He is the rational business man, the rational politician. Love, sentiment, have no place in a worldly deal. A kingdom is a kingdom, land is land with no human attachments or responsibilities.
THE OLD MAN
He is nameless, but in his service we have a symbol of order at the cosmic level of the continued sustaining power of the old order which seems to be going to pieces. He is an old man leading a blind man; he is natural devotion to age. He is the courage of the man of integrity. He is used only to present the clash between the two others; the new which respects age only if there is material advantage to be gained. The old order which puts stress on age and its due as a way of reinforcing our sense of the nature of things -- the human values against the material values.
A man of reason whose emotions are fatally close to the surface; little control. he gives a brilliant description of Kent (an intellectual one) but fails to understand his conduct, altruistic conduct, from the heart, is beyond his comprehension.
He falls in with the usurping sisters. When pressure is applied he is all emotion full of vengeful fury. His abuse of Gloucester is insane; he reaches a hyperbole of emotion which excites a servant to attack him as he would attack a wild animal. His impulses equal sadism; a passion for the infliction of suffering. He shows no awareness of god. He symbolizes the appetite for Evil. He has a mature, cynical humor; he asserts himself against his wife as Albany does not. He can speak up to Lear but is slow to do it; he keeps his head even in his vindictiveness. He does his own dirty work; he enjoys blinding Gloucester. Taste of blood lets loose the wild beast in him. He has a certain physical attractiveness; strong, lithe, virile body, brilliant eyes; flashing, cynical, amused, bold, cruel.
Cornwall’s opposite. He prefers a quiet life even at cost of self respect. He loves Goneril until realization comes of what she is. Wrath gathers slowly but deeply under his seeming placidity. “Milky gentleness.” “Harmful mildness”: these are the labels Goneril places on his restrained behavior. His first stern clash with Goneril gives him authority. She is doomed from that moment. He is directly pitted against Edmund as aristocrat against upstart.
Once in action he is as distinguished as anyone in the play; he is eminently fitted for the kingship.
He has a keen sense of irony. He makes cool preparation for the stroke, once he has realized where the current is going. When it is time to strike, his action is clear, incisive. He is in command of the plays’ action to the end. He has the capacity in the end to propose Kent and Edgar as rules of the kingdom and it is no mere courteous offer. He epitomizes the man fit for leadership: reason, intellect, social conscience, heart, body, mind in balance.
THE GENTLEMAN, ACT IV, Scene 3
Embodies the compassion theme. Compassion has the value of a precious stone in this callow world. Insight is the highest value: the gentleman has this insight into Lear’s behavior, into Cordelia’s. The audience will see and understand with him and through him.