Fiction > Harvard Classics > William Shakespeare > King Lear
William Shakespeare (1564–1616).  The Tragedy of King Lear.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act IV
Scene I
[The open country near Gloucester’s castle]

  Edg.  Yet better thus, and known to be contemn’d,
Than, still contemn’d and flatter’d, to be worst,
The lowest and most dejected 1 thing of fortune
Stands still in esperance, 2 lives not in fear.        4
The lamentable change is from the best;
The worst returns to laughter. 3 Welcome, then,
Thou unsubstantial air that I embrace!
The wretch that thou hast blown unto the worst        8
Owes nothing to thy blasts.
Enter GLOUCESTER, led by an Old Man

        But who comes here?
My father, poorly led? World, world, O world!
But that thy strange mutations make us hate thee,        12
Life would not yield to age.
  Old Man.  O, my good lord, I have been your tenant, and your father’s tenant, these fourscore years.
  Glou.  Away, get thee away! Good friend, be gone;
Thy comforts can do me no good at all;        16
Thee they may hurt.
  Old Man.  [Alack, sir,] you cannot see your way.
  Glou.  I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;
I stumbled when I saw. Full oft ’tis seen,        20
Our means secure us, 4 and our mere defects
Prove our commodities. 5 O dear son Edgar,
The food of thy abused 6 father’s wrath!
Might I but live to see thee in my touch,        24
I’d say I had eyes again!
  Old Man.        How now! Who’s there?
  Edg.  [Aside.]  O gods! Who is ’t can say, “I am at the worst”?
I am worse than e’er I was.        28
  Old Man.        ’Tis poor mad Tom.
  Edg.  [Aside.]  And worse I may be yet; the worst is not
So long as we can say, “This is the worst.”
  Old Man.  Fellow, where goest?        32
  Glou.        Is it a beggar-man?
  Old Man.  Madman and beggar too.
  Glou.  He has some reason, else he could not beg.
I’ the last night’s storm I such a fellow saw,        36
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I have heard more since.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods,        40
They kill us for their sport.
  Edg.        [Aside.]  How should this be?
Bad is the trade that must play fool to sorrow,
Ang’ring itself and others.—Bless thee, master!        44
  Glou.  Is that the naked fellow?
  Old Man.        Ay, my lord.
  Glou.  [Then, prithee,] get thee away. If, for my sake,
Thou wilt o’ertake us, hence a mile or twain        48
I’ the way toward Dover, do it for ancient love;
And bring some covering for this naked soul,
Which I’ll entreat to lead me.
  Old Man.        Alack, sir, he is mad.        52
  Glou.  ’Tis the time’s plague, when madmen lead the blind.
Do as I bid thee, or rather do thy pleasure;
Above the rest, be gone
  Old Man.  I’ll bring him the best ’parel that I have,        56
Come on ’t what will.
  Glou.  Sirrah, naked fellow,—
  Edg.  Poor Tom’s a-cold. [Aside.] I cannot daub it 7 further.
  Glou.  Come hither, fellow.        60
  Edg.  [Aside.]  And yet I must.—Bless thy sweet eyes, they bleed.
  Glou.  Know’st thou the way to Dover?
  Edg.  Both stile and gate, horse-way and foot-path. Poor Tom hath been scar’d out of his good wits. Bless thee, good man’s son, from the foul fiend! [Five fiends have been in poor Tom at once; of lust, as Obidicut; Hobbididence, prince of dumbness; Mahu, of stealing; Modo, of murder; Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and mowing, 8 who since possesses chambermaids and waiting-women. So, bless thee, master!]
  Glou.  Here, take this purse, thou whom the heavens’ plagues        64
Have humbled to all strokes. That I am wretched
Makes thee the happier; heavens, deal so still!
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,
That slaves your ordinance, 9 that will not see        68
Because he does not feel, feel your power quickly;
So distribution should undo excess,
And each man have enough. Dost thou know Dover?
  Edg.  Ay, master.        72
  Glou.  There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully in the confined 10 deep.
Bring me but to the very brim of it,
And I’ll repair the misery thou dost bear        76
With something rich about me. From that place
I shall no leading need.
  Edg.        Give me thy arm;
Poor Tom shall lead thee.  Exeunt.        80
Note 1. Abased. [back]
Note 2. Hope. [back]
Note 3. A change from the worst must be towards good. [back]
Note 4. Render us careless. [back]
Note 5. Advantages. [back]
Note 6. Deceived. [back]
Note 7. Keep up the disguise. [back]
Note 8. Making grimaces. [back]
Note 9. That subordinates instead of obeying your commands (?). The reference is to the command to give to the needy. [back]
Note 10. Restrained by the cliffs. [back]


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