Fiction > Harvard Classics > William Shakespeare > King Lear
William Shakespeare (1564–1616).  The Tragedy of King Lear.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act IV
Scene II
[Before the Duke of Albany’s palace]
Enter GONERIL, Bastard [EDMUND], and Steward [OSWALD]

  Gon.  Welcome, my lord! I marvel our mild husband
Not met us on the way.—Now, where’s your master?
  Osw.  Madam, within; but never man so chang’d.
I told him of the army that was landed;        4
He smil’d at it. I told him you were coming;
His answer was, “The worse.” Of Gloucester’s treachery,
And of the loyal service of his son,
When I inform’d him, then he call’d me sot,        8
And told me I had turn’d the wrong side out.
What most he should dislike seems pleasant to him;
What like, offensive.
  Gon.  [To EDM.]  Then shall you go no further.        12
It is the cowish 1 terror of his spirit,
That dares not undertake; he’ll not feel wrongs
Which tie him to an answer. 2 Our wishes on the way
May prove effects. 3 Back, Edmund, to my brother;        16
Hasten his musters and conduct his powers.
I must change names at home, and give the distaff
Into my husband’s hands. This trusty servant
Shall pass between us. Ere long you are like to hear,        20
If you dare venture in your own behalf,
A mistress’s command. Wear this; spare speech;
Decline your head. This kiss, if it durst speak,
Would stretch thy spirits up into the air.        24
Conceive, and fare thee well.
  Edm.  Yours in the ranks of death.  Exit.
  Gon.        My most dear Gloucester!
O, the difference of man and man!        28
To thee a woman’s services are due;
My Fool usurps my body.
  Osw.        Madam, here comes my lord.  Exit.

  Gon.  I have been worth the whistle. 4
  Alb.        O Goneril!
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face. [I fear your disposition.
That nature which contemns its origin        36
Cannot be bordered certain in itself. 5
She that herself will sliver 6 and disbranch
From her material 7 sap, perforce must wither
And come to deadly use. 8        40
  Gon.  No more; the text is foolish.
  Alb.  Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile;
Filths savour but themselves. What have you done?
Tigers, not daughters, what have you perform’d?        44
A father, and a gracious aged man,
Whose reverence even the head-lugg’d 9 bear would lick,
Most barbarous, most degenerate! have you madded. 10
Could my good brother suffer you to do it?        48
A man, a prince, by him so benefited!
If that the heavens do not their visible spirits
Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
It will come,        52
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.]
  Gon.        Milk-liver’d 11 man!
That bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs,        56
Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning
Thine honour from thy suffering, [that not know’st
Fools do those villains pity who are punish’d
Ere they have done their mischief, where’s thy drum?        60
France spreads his banners in our noiseless 12 land,
With plumed helm thy state begins to threat;
Whiles thou, a moral fool, sits still, and cries,
“Alack, why does he so?”]        64
  Alb.        See thyself, devil!
Proper 13 deformity seems not in the fiend
So horrid as in woman.
  Gon.        O vain fool!        68
  [Alb.  Thou changed and self-cover’d 14 thing, for shame!
Be-monster not thy feature. Were ’t my fitness
To let these hands obey my blood,
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear        72
Thy flesh and bones. Howe’er thou art a fiend
A woman’s shape doth shield thee.
  Gon.  Marry, your manhood—Mew!
Enter a Messenger

  Alb.  What news?]
  Mess.  O, my good lord, the Duke of Cornwall’s dead;
Slain by his servant, going to put out
The other eye of Gloucester.
  Alb.        Gloucester’s eyes!        80
  Mess.  A servant that he bred, thrill’d with remorse, 15
Oppos’d against the act, bending 16 his sword
To his great master; who, thereat enrag’d,
Flew on him, and amongst them fell’d him dead;        84
But not without that harmful stroke, which since
Hath pluck’d him after.
  Alb.        This shows you are above,
You justicers, that these our nether 17 crimes.        88
So speedily can venge! But, O poor Gloucester!
Lost he his other eye?
  Mess.        Both, both, my lord.
This letter, madam, craves a speedy answer.        92
’Tis from your sister.
  Gon.  [Aside.]  One way I like this well;
But being widow, and my Gloucester with her,
May all the building in my fancy pluck        96
Upon my hateful life. 18 Another way,
The news is not so tart.—I’ll read, and answer.  Exit.
  Alb.  Where was his son when they did take his eyes?
  Mess.  Come with my lady hither.        100
  Alb.        He is not here.
  Mess.  No, my good lord; I met him back again.
  Alb.  Knows he the wickedness?
  Mess.  Ay, my good lord; ’twas he inform’d against him;        104
And quit the house on purpose, that their punishment
Might have the freer course.
  Alb.        Gloucester, I live
To thank thee for the love thou show’dst the King,        108
And to revenge thine eyes. Come hither, friend;
Tell me what more thou know’st.  Exeunt.
Note 1. Cowardly. [back]
Note 2. Retaliation. [back]
Note 3. Come to pass. [back]
Note 4. Worth consideration. [back]
Note 5. Cannot be counted on to keep within bounds. [back]
Note 6. Break off. [back]
Note 7. Essential. [back]
Note 8. I. e., to burning. [back]
Note 9. Pulled by the head. [back]
Note 10. Driven mad. [back]
Note 11. Cowardly. [back]
Note 12. Peaceful. [back]
Note 13. Appropriate to a fiend. [back]
Note 14. Whose devilish self is covered with a human form (?) [back]
Note 15. Pity. [back]
Note 16. Directing. [back]
Note 17. Committed on earth. [back]
Note 18. My castles in the air may tumble and make my life hateful to me. [back]


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