Fiction > Harvard Classics > William Shakespeare > King Lear
William Shakespeare (1564–1616).  The Tragedy of King Lear.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act I
Scene IV
[A hall in the same]
Enter KENT [disguised]

  Kent.  If but as well I other accents borrow,
That can my speech defuse, 1 my good intent
May carry through itself to that full issue
For which I raz’d my likeness. 2 Now, banish’d Kent,        4
If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemn’d,
So may it come, thy master, whom thou lov’st,
Shall find thee full of labours.
Horns within. Enter LEAR, [Knights] and Attendants

  Lear.  Let me not stay a jot for dinner; go get it ready. [Exit an attendant.] How now! what art thou?
  Kent.  A man, sir.
  Lear.  What dost thou profess? What wouldst thou with us?
  Kent.  I do profess to be no less than I seem; to serve him truly that will put me in trust; to love him that is honest; to converse with him that is wise and says little; to fear judgement; to fight when I cannot choose; and to eat no fish.
  Lear.  What art thou?        12
  Kent.  A very honest-hearted fellow, and as poor as the King.
  Lear.  If thou be’st as poor for a subject as he’s for a king, thou art poor enough. What wouldst thou?
  Kent.  Service.
  Lear.  Who wouldst thou serve?        16
  Kent.  You.
  Lear.  Dost thou know me, fellow?
  Kent.  No, sir; but you have that in your countenance which I would fain call master.
  Lear.  What’s that?        20
  Kent.  Authority.
  Lear.  What services canst thou do?
  Kent.  I can keep honest counsel, ride, run, mar a curious 3 tale in telling it, and deliver a plain message bluntly. That which ordinary men are fit for, I am qualified in; and the best of me is diligence.
  Lear.  How old art thou?        24
  Kent.  Not so young, sir, to love a woman for singing, nor so old to dote on her for anything. I have years on my back forty-eight.
  Lear.  Follow me; thou shalt serve me. If I like thee no worse after dinner, I will not part from thee yet. Dinner, ho, dinner! Where’s my knave, my Fool? Go you, and call my Fool hither.  Exit an Attendant.
Enter Steward [OSWALD]

You, you, sirrah, where’s my daughter?
  Osw.  So please you,—  Exit.
  Lear.  What says the fellow there? Call the clotpoll 4 back.  [Exit a knight.] Where’s my Fool, ho? I think the world’s asleep.        28
[Re-enter Knight]

How now! where’s that mongrel?
  Knight.  He says, my lord, your daughter is not well.
  Lear.  Why came not the slave back to me when I call’d him?
  Knight.  Sir, he answered me in the roundest 5 manner, he would not.        32
  Lear.  He would not!
  Knight.  My lord, I know not what the matter is; but, to my judgement, your Highness is not entertain’d with that ceremonious affection as you were wont. There’s a great abatement of kindness appears as well in the general dependants as in the Duke himself also and your daughter.
  Lear.  Ha! say’st thou so?
  Knight.  I beseech you, pardon me, my lord, if I be mistaken; for my duty cannot be silent when I think your Highness wrong’d.        36
  Lear.  Thou but rememb’rest me of mine own conception. I have perceived a most faint neglect of late, which I have rather blamed as mine own jealous curiosity 6 than as a very pretence 7 and purpose of unkindness. I will look further into ’t. But where’s my Fool? I have not seen him this two days.
  Knight.  Since my young lady’s going into France, sir, the Fool hath much pined away.
  Lear.  No more of that; I have noted it well. Go you, and tell my daughter I would speak with her. [Exit an Attendant.] Go you, call hither my Fool.  [Exit an Attendant.]
Re-enter Steward [OSWALD]

O, you sir, you, come you hither, sir. Who am I, sir?
  Osw.  My lady’s father.
  Lear.  “My lady’s father”! My lord’s knave! You whoreson dog! you slave! you cur!
  Osw.  I am none of these, my lord; I beseech your pardon.
  Lear.  Do you bandy looks with me, you rascal?  [Striking him.]        44
  Osw.  I’ll not be struck, my lord.
  Kent.  Nor tripp’d neither, you base foot-ball player.  [Tripping up his heels.]
  Lear.  I thank thee, fellow. Thou serv’st me, and I’ll love thee.
  Kent.  Come, sir, arise, away! I’ll teach you differences. 8 Away, away! If you will measure your lubber’s length again, tarry; but away! go to. Have you wisdom? So.  [Pushes OSWALD out.]        48
  Lear.  Now, my friendly knave, I thank thee. There’s earnest of thy service.  [Giving KENT money.]
Enter FOOL

  Fool.  Let me hire him too; here’s my coxcomb.  [Offering KENT his cap.]
  Lear.  How now, my pretty knave! how dost thou?
  Fool.  Sirrah, you were best take my coxcomb.        52
  [Kent.  Why, Fool?]
  Fool.  Why? For taking one’s part that’s out of favour. Nay, an thou canst not smile as the wind sits, thou’lt catch cold shortly. There, take my coxcomb. Why, this fellow has banish’d two on ’s daughters, and did the third a blessing against his will; if thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.—How now, nuncle! Would I had two coxcombs and two daughters!
  Lear.  Why, my boy?
  Fool.  If I gave them all my living, I’d keep my coxcombs myself. There’s mine; beg another of thy daughters.        56
  Lear.  Take heed, sirrah; the whip.
  Fool.  Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipp’d out, when Lady the brach 9 may stand by the fire and stink.
  Lear.  A pestilent gall to me!
  Fool.  Sirrah, I’ll teach thee a speech.        60
  Lear.  Do.
  Fool.  Mark it, nuncle:
        “Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest, 10
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens to a score.”
  Kent.  This is nothing, Fool.
  Fool.  Then ’tis like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer; you gave me nothing for ’t. Can you make no use of nothing, nuncle?        64
  Lear.  Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.
  Fool.  [To KENT.]  Prithee, tell him so much the rent of his land comes to. He will not believe a fool.
  Lear.  A bitter fool!
  Fool.  Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet one?        68
  Lear.  No, lad; teach me.
        “That lord that counsell’d thee
  To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me,
  Do thou for him stand:
The sweet and bitter fool
  Will presently appear;
The one in motley here,
  The other found out there.”
  Lear.  Dost thou call me fool, boy?
  Fool.  All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with.        72
  Kent.  This is not altogether fool, my lord.
  Fool.  No, faith, lords and great men will not let me; if I had a monopoly out, they would have part on ’t. And ladies, too, they will not let me have all the fool to myself; they’ll be snatching.] Nuncle, give me an egg, and I’ll give thee two crowns.
  Lear.  What two crowns shall they be?
  Fool.  Why, after I have cut the egg i’ the middle, and eat up the meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou clovest thy crown i’ the middle, and gav’st away both parts, thou bor’st thine ass on thy back o’er the dirt. Thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown, when thou gav’st thy golden one away. If I speak like myself in this, let him be whipp’d that first finds it so.
        “Fools had ne’er less grace in a year;
  For wise men are grown foppish,
And know not how their wits to wear,
  Their manners are so apish.”
  Lear.  When were you wont to be so full of songs, sirrah?
  Fool.  I have used it, nuncle, e’er since thou mad’st thy daughters thy mothers; for when thou gav’st them the rod, and puttest down thine own breeches,
        “Then they for sudden joy did weep,
  And I for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep,
  And go the fools among.”
Prithee, nuncle, keep a schoolmaster that can teach thy Fool to lie. I would fain learn to lie.
  Lear.  An you lie, sirrah, we’ll have you whipp’d.
  Fool.  I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They’ll have me whipp’d for speaking true, thou’lt have me whipp’d for lying; and sometimes I am whipp’d for holding my peace. I had rather be any kind o’ thing than a Fool; and yet I would not be thee, nuncle; thou hast pared thy wit o’ both sides, and left nothing i’ the middle. Here comes one o’ the parings.        80

  Lear.  How now, daughter! what makes that frontlet 11 on? [Methinks] you are too much of late i’ the frown.
  Fool.  Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou hadst no need to care for her frowning; now thou art an O without a figure. I am better than thou art now; I am a Fool, thou art nothing. [To GON.] Yes, forsooth, I will hold my tongue; so your face bids me, though you say nothing. Mum, mum,
        “He that keeps nor crust nor crumb,
Weary of all, shall want some.”
[Pointing to LEAR.] That’s a sheal’d 12 peascod.
  Gon.  Not only, sir, this your all-licens’d Fool,
But other of your insolent retinue        84
Do hourly carp 13 and quarrel, breaking forth
In rank and not-to-be-endured riots. Sir,
I had thought, by making this well known unto you,
To have found a safe redress; but now grow fearful,        88
By what yourself, too, late have spoke and done,
That you protect this course, and put it on 14
By your allowance; which if you should, the fault
Would not scape censure, nor the redresses sleep,        92
Which, in the tender 15 of a wholesome weal,
Might in their working do you that offence,
Which else were shame, that then necessity
Will call discreet proceeding.        96
  Fool.  For, you know, nuncle,
        “The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
That it had it head bit off by it young.”
So, out went the candle, and we were left darkling. 16
  Lear.  Are you our daughter?
  Gon.  [Come, sir,]        100
I would you would make use of your good wisdom,
Whereof I know you are fraught, 17 and put away
These dispositions, which of late transport you
From what you rightly are.        104
  Fool.  May not an ass know when the cart draws the horse? “Whoop, Jug! I love thee.”
  Lear.  Doth any here know me? This is not Lear.
Doth Lear walk thus? speak thus? Where are his eyes?
Either his notion weakens, his discernings        108
Are lethargied—Ha! waking? ’Tis not so.
Who is it that can tell me who I am?
  Fool.  Lear’s shadow.
  [Lear.  I would learn that; for, by the marks of sovereignty, knowledge, and reason, I should be false persuaded I had daughters.        112
  Fool.  Which they will make an obedient father.]
  Lear.  Your name, fair gentlewoman?
  Gon.  This admiration, 18 sir, is much o’ the savour
Of other your new pranks. I do beseech you        116
To understand my purposes aright.
As you are old and reverend, you should be wise.
Here do you keep a hundred knights and squires;
Men so disorder’d, so debosh’d 19 and bold,        120
That this our court, infected with their manners,
Shows like a riotous inn. Epicurism 20 and lust
Makes it more like a tavern or a brothel
Than a grac’d palace. The shame itself doth speak        124
For instant remedy. Be then desir’d
By her, that else will take the thing she begs,
A little to disquantity 21 your train;
And the remainders, that shall still depend,        128
To be such men as may besort 22 your age,
Which know themselves and you.
  Lear.        Darkness and devils!
Saddle my horses; call my train together!        132
Degenerate bastard! I’ll not trouble thee;
Yet have I left a daughter.
  Gon.  You strike my people; and your disorder’d rabble
Make servants of their betters.        136

  Lear.  Woe, that too late repents!—[O, sir, are you come?]
Is it your will? Speak, sir.—Prepare my horses.—
Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous when thou show’st thee in a child        140
Than the sea-monster!
  Alb.        Pray, sir, be patient.
  Lear.  [To GON.]  Detested kite! thou liest.
My train are men of choice and rarest parts,        144
That all particulars of duty know,
And in the most exact regard support
The worships 23 of their name. O most small fault,
How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show!        148
Which, like an engine, 24 wrench’d my frame of nature
From the fix’d place; drew from my heart all love,
And added to the gall. O Lear, Lear, Lear!
Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in,  [Striking his head.]        152
And thy dear judgement out! Go, go, my people.
  Alb.  My lord, I am guiltless as I am ignorant
Of what hath moved you.
  Lear.        It may be so, my lord.        156
Hear, Nature! hear, dear goddess, hear!
Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend
To make this creature fruitful!
Into her womb convey sterility!        160
Dry up in her the organs of increase,
And from her derogate 25 body never spring
A babe to honour her! If she must teem, 26
Create her child of spleen, that it may live        164
And be a thwart 27 disnatur’d torment to her!
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent 28 tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits        168
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!—Away, away!  Exit.
  Alb.  Now, gods that we adore, whereof comes this?        172
  Gon.  Never afflict yourself to know more of it;
But let his disposition have that scope
As dotage gives it.
Re-enter LEAR

  Lear.  What, fifty of my followers at a clap!
Within a fortnight!
  Alb.        What’s the matter, sir?
  Lear.  I’ll tell thee. [To GON.] Life and death! I am asham’d
That thou hast power to shake my manhood thus;        180
That these hot tears, which break from me perforce,
Should make thee worth them. Blasts and fogs upon thee!
The untented 29 woundings of a father’s curse
Pierce every sense about thee! Old fond 30 eyes,        184
Beweep this cause again, I’ll pluck ye out,
And cast you, with the waters that you loose,
To temper clay. Ha! [is it come to this?]
Let it be so: I have another daughter,        188
Who, I am sure, is kind and comfortable.
When she shall hear this of thee, with her nails
She’ll flay thy wolvish visage. Thou shalt find
That I’ll resume the shape which thou dost think        192
I have cast off for ever. [Thou shalt, I warrant thee.]  [Exeunt LEAR, KENT, and Attendants.]
  Gon.  Do you mark that?
  Alb.  I cannot be so partial, Goneril,
To the great love I bear you,—        196
  Gon.  Pray you, content.—What, Oswald, ho!
[To the Fool.] You, sir, more knave than fool, after your master.
  Fool.  Nuncle Lear, nuncle Lear, tarry! Take the Fool with thee.
        A fox, when one has caught her,
And such a daughter,
Should sure to the slaughter,
If my cap would buy a halter.
So the Fool follows after.
  Gon.  This man hath had good counsel,—a hundred knights!        200
’Tis politic and safe to let him keep
At point 31 a hundred knights; yes, that, on every dream,
Each buzz, 32 each fancy, each complaint, dislike,
He may enguard his dotage with their powers,        204
And hold our lives in mercy. Oswald, I say!
  Alb.  Well, you may fear too far.
  Gon.        Safer than trust too far.
Let me still take away the harms I fear,        208
Not fear still to be taken. I know his heart.
What he hath utter’d I have writ my sister.
If she sustain him and his hundred knights,
When I have show’d the unfitness,—        212
Re-enter Steward [OSWALD]

How now, Oswald!
What, have you writ that letter to my sister?
  Osw.  Ay, madam.
  Gon.  Take you some company, and away to horse.        216
Inform her full of my particular fear;
And thereto add such reasons of your own
As may compact 33 it more. Get you gone;
And hasten your return.  [Exit OSWALD.] No, no, my lord,        220
This milky gentleness and course of yours
Though I condemn not, yet, under pardon,
You are much more at task 34 for want of wisdom
Than prais’d for harmful mildness.        224
  Alb.  How far your eyes may pierce I cannot tell.
Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.
  Gon.  Nay, then—
  Alb.  Well, well; the event.  Exeunt.        228
Note 1. Confuse, disguise. [back]
Note 2. Changed my appearance. [back]
Note 3. Elaborate. [back]
Note 4. Blockhead. [back]
Note 5. Bluntest. [back]
Note 6. Punctiliousness. [back]
Note 7. Real plan. [back]
Note 8. I. e. of rank. [back]
Note 9. Hound. [back]
Note 10. Walkest. [back]
Note 11. The scowl on her brow. [back]
Note 12. Empty. [back]
Note 13. Find fault. [back]
Note 14. Encourage it. [back]
Note 15. Regard, care. [back]
Note 16. In the dark. [back]
Note 17. Endowed. [back]
Note 18. Pretended wonder. [back]
Note 19. Debauched. [back]
Note 20. Gluttony. [back]
Note 21. Reduce. [back]
Note 22. Suit. [back]
Note 23. Honor. [back]
Note 24. Rack. [back]
Note 25. Degraded. [back]
Note 26. Have children. [back]
Note 27. Twisted in disposition. [back]
Note 28. Falling. [back]
Note 29. Too deep to be probed. [back]
Note 30. Foolish. [back]
Note 31. Fully armed. [back]
Note 32. Idle rumor. [back]
Note 33. Confirm. [back]
Note 34. To be blamed. [back]


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