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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act II. Scene IV.

King Lear

Before GLOUCESTER’S Castle.KENT in the stocks.

Enter LEAR, Fool, and Gentleman.

Lear.’Tis strange that they should so depart from home,

And not send back my messenger.

Gent.As I learn’d,

The night before there was no purpose in them

Of this remove.

Kent.Hail to thee, noble master!


Mak’st thou this shame thy pastime?

Kent.No, my lord.

Fool.Ha, ha! he wears cruel garters. Horses are tied by the head, dogs and bears by the neck, monkeys by the loins, and men by the legs: when a man is over-lusty at legs, then he wears wooden nether-stocks.

Lear.What’s he that hath so much thy place mistook

To set thee here?

Kent.It is both he and she,

Your son and daughter.



Lear.No, I say.

Kent.I say, yea.

Lear.No, no; they would not.

Kent.Yes, they have.

Lear.By Jupiter, I swear, no.

Kent.By Juno, I swear, ay.

Lear.They durst not do ’t;

They could not, would not do ’t; ’tis worse than murder,

To do upon respect such violent outrage.

Resolve me, with all modest haste, which way

Thou mightst deserve, or they impose, this usage,

Coming from us.

Kent.My lord, when at their home

I did commend your highness’ letters to them,

Ere I was risen from the place that show’d

My duty kneeling, there came a reeking post,

Stew’d in his haste, half breathless, panting forth

From Goneril his mistress salutations;

Deliver’d letters, spite of intermission,

Which presently they read: on whose contents

They summon’d up their meiny, straight took horse;

Commanded me to follow, and attend

The leisure of their answer; gave me cold looks:

And meeting here the other messenger,

Whose welcome, I perceiv’d, had poison’d mine,—

Being the very fellow which of late

Display’d so saucily against your highness,—

Having more man than wit about me,—drew:

He rais’d the house with loud and coward cries.

Your son and daughter found this trespass worth

The shame which here it suffers.

Fool.Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way.

Fathers that wear rags

Do make their children blind,

But fathers that bear bags

Shall see their children kind.

Fortune, that arrant whore,

Ne’er turns the key to the poor.

But for all this thou shalt have as many dolours for thy daughters as thou canst tell in a year.

Lear.O! how this mother swells up toward my heart;

Hysterica passio! down, thou climbing sorrow!

Thy element’s below. Where is this daughter?

Kent.With the earl, sir: here within.

Lear.Follow me not; stay here.[Exit.

Gent.Made you no more offence than what you speak of?


How chance the king comes with so small a number?

Fool.An thou hadst been set i’ the stocks for that question, thou hadst well deserved it.

Kent.Why, fool?

Fool.We’ll set thee to school to an ant, to teach thee there’s no labouring i’ the winter. All that follow their noses are led by their eyes but blind men; and there’s not a nose among twenty but can smell him that’s stinking. Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with following it; but the great one that goes up the hill, let him draw thee after. When a wise man gives thee better counsel, give me mine again: I would have none but knaves follow it, since a fool gives it.

That sir which serves and seeks for gain,

And follows but for form,

Will pack when it begins to rain,

And leave thee in the storm.

But I will tarry; the fool will stay,

And let the wise man fly:

The knave turns fool that runs away;

The fool no knave, perdy.

Kent.Where learn’d you this, fool?

Fool.Not i’ the stocks, fool.

Re-enter LEAR, with GLOUCESTER.

Lear.Deny to speak with me! They are sick! they are weary,

They have travell’d hard to-night! Mere fetches,

The images of revolt and flying off.

Fetch me a better answer.

Glo.My dear lord,

You know the fiery quality of the duke;

How unremovable and fix’d he is

In his own course.

Lear.Vengeance! plague! death! confusion!

Fiery! what quality? Why, Gloucester, Gloucester,

I’d speak with the Duke of Cornwall and his wife.

Glo.Well, my good lord, I have inform’d them so.

Lear.Inform’d them! Dost thou understand me, man?

Glo.Ay, my good lord.

Lear.The king would speak with Cornwall; the dear father

Would with his daughter speak, commands her service:

Are they inform’d of this? My breath and blood!

Fiery! the fiery duke! Tell the hot duke that—

No, but not yet; may be he is not well:

Infirmity doth still neglect all office

Whereto our health is bound; we are not ourselves

When nature, being oppress’d, commands the mind

To suffer with the body. I’ll forbear;

And am fall’n out with my more headier will,

To take the indispos’d and sickly fit

For the sound man. Death on my state![Looking on KENT.]Wherefore

Should he sit here? This act persuades me

That this remotion of the duke and her

Is practice only. Give me my servant forth.

Go, tell the duke and’s wife I’d speak with them,

Now, presently: bid them come forth and hear me,

Or at their chamber-door I’ll beat the drum

Till it cry sleep to death.

Glo.I would have all well betwixt you.[Exit.

Lear.O, me! my heart, my rising heart! but, down!

Fool.Cry to it, nuncle, as the cockney did to the eels when she put ’em i’ the paste alive; she knapped ’em o’ the coxcombs with a stick, and cried, ‘Down, wantons, down!’ ’Twas her brother that, in pure kindness to his horse, buttered his hay.


Lear.Good morrow to you both.

Corn.Hail to your Grace![KENT is set at liberty.

Reg.I am glad to see your highness.

Lear.Regan, I think you are; I know what reason

I have to think so: if thou shouldst not be glad,

I would divorce me from thy mother’s tomb,

Sepulchring an adult’ress.—[To KENT.]O! are you free?

Some other time for that. Beloved Regan,

Thy sister’s naught: O Regan! she hath tied

Sharp-tooth’d unkindness, like a vulture, here:[Points to his heart.

I can scarce speak to thee; thou’lt not believe

With how deprav’d a quality—O Regan!

Reg.I pray you, sir, take patience. I have hope

You less know how to value her desert

Than she to scant her duty.

Lear.Say, how is that?

Reg.I cannot think my sister in the least

Would fail her obligation: if, sir, perchance

She have restrain’d the riots of your followers,

’Tis on such ground, and to such wholesome end,

As clears her from all blame.

Lear.My curses on her!

Reg.O, sir! you are old;

Nature in you stands on the very verge

Of her confine: you should be rul’d and led

By some discretion that discerns your state

Better than you yourself. Therefore I pray you

That to our sister you do make return;

Say, you have wrong’d her, sir.

Lear.Ask her forgiveness?

Do you but mark how this becomes the house:

’Dear daughter, I confess that I am old;

Age is unnecessary: on my knees I beg[Kneeling.

That you’ll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food.’

Reg.Good sir, no more; these are unsightly tricks:

Return you to my sister.

Lear.[Rising.]Never, Regan.

She hath abated me of half my train;

Look’d black upon me; struck me with her tongue,

Most serpent-like, upon the very heart.

All the stor’d vengeances of heaven fall

On her ingrateful top! Strike her young bones,

You taking airs, with lameness!

Corn.Fie, sir, fie!

Lear.You nimble lightnings, dart your blinding flames

Into her scornful eyes! Infect her beauty,

You fen-suck’d fogs, drawn by the powerful sun,

To fall and blast her pride!

Reg.O the blest gods! So will you wish on me,

When the rash mood is on.

Lear.No, Regan, thou shalt never have my curse:

Thy tender-hefted nature shall not give

Thee o’er to harshness: her eyes are fierce, but thine

Do comfort and not burn. ’Tis not in thee

To grudge my pleasures, to cut off my train,

To bandy hasty words, to scant my sizes,

And, in conclusion, to oppose the bolt

Against my coming in: thou better know’st

The offices of nature, bond of childhood,

Effects of courtesy, dues of gratitude;

Thy half o’ the kingdom hast thou not forgot,

Wherein I thee endow’d.

Reg.Good sir, to the purpose.

Lear.Who put my man i’ the stocks?[Tucket within.

Corn.What trumpet’s that?

Reg.I know ’t, my sister’s; this approves her letter,

That she would soon be here. Is your lady come?


Lear.This is a slave, whose easy-borrow’d pride

Dwells in the fickle grace of her he follows.

Out, varlet, from my sight!

Corn.What means your Grace?

Lear.Who stock’d my servant? Regan, I have good hope

Thou didst not know on ’t. Who comes here? O heavens,


If you do love old men, if your sweet sway

Allow obedience, if yourselves are old,

Make it your cause; send down and take my part!

[To GONERIL.]Art not asham’d to look upon this beard?

O Regan, wilt thou take her by the hand?

Gon.Why not by the hand, sir? How have I offended?

All’s not offence that indiscretion finds

And dotage terms so.

Lear.O sides! you are too tough;

Will you yet hold? How came my man i’ the stocks?

Corn.I set him there, sir: but his own disorders

Deserv’d much less advancement.

Lear.You! did you?

Reg.I pray you, father, being weak, seem SQ.

If, till the expiration of your month,

You will return and sojourn with my sister,

Dismissing half your train, come then to me:

I am now from home, and out of that provision

Which shall be needful for your entertainment.

Lear.Return to her? and fifty men dismiss’d!

No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose

To wage against the enmity o’ the air;

To be a comrade with the wolf and owl,

Necessity’s sharp pinch! Return with her!

Why, the hot-blooded France, that dowerless took

Our youngest born, I could as well be brought

To knee his throne, and, squire-like, pension beg

To keep base life afoot. Return with her!

Persuade me rather to be slave and sumpter

To this detested groom.[Pointing at OSWALD.

Gon.At your choice, sir.

Lear.I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad:

I will not trouble thee, my child; farewell.

We’ll no more meet, no more see one another;

But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter;

Or rather a disease that’s in my flesh,

Which I must needs call mine: thou art a boil,

A plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle,

In my corrupted blood. But I’ll not chide thee;

Let shame come when it will, I do not call it:

I do not bid the thunder-bearer shoot,

Nor tell tales of thee to high-judging Jove.

Mend when thou canst; be better at thy leisure:

I can be patient; I can stay with Regan,

I and my hundred knights.

Reg.Not altogether so:

I look’d not for you yet, nor am provided

For your fit welcome. Give ear, sir, to my sister;

For those that mingle reason with your passion

Must be content to think you old, and so—

But she knows what she does.

Lear.Is this well spoken!

Reg.I dare avouch it, sir: what! fifty followers?

Is it not well? What should you need of more?

Yea, or so many, sith that both charge and danger

Speak ’gainst so great a number? How, in one house,

Should many people, under two commands,

Hold amity? ’Tis hard; almost impossible.

Gon.Why might not you, my lord, receive attendance

From those that she calls servants, or from mine?

Reg.Why not, my lord? If then they chanc’d to slack you

We could control them. If you will come to me,—

For now I spy a danger,—I entreat you

To bring but five-and-twenty; to no more

Will I give place or notice.

Lear.I gave you all—

Reg.And in good time you gave it.

Lear.Made you my guardians, my depositaries,

But kept a reservation to be follow’d

With such a number. What! must I come to you

With five-and-twenty? Regan, said you so?

Reg.And speak ’t again, my lord; no more with me.

Lear.Those wicked creatures yet do look well-favour’d,

When others are more wicked; not being the worst

Stands in some rank of praise.[To GONERIL.]I’ll go with thee:

Thy fifty yet doth double five-and-twenty,

And thou art twice her love.

Gon.Hear me, my lord.

What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five,

To follow in a house, where twice so many

Have a command to tend you?

Reg.What need one?

Lear.O! reason not the need; our basest beggars

Are in the poorest thing superfluous:

Allow not nature more than nature needs,

Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady;

If only to go warm were gorgeous,

Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,

Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need,—

You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!

You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,

As full of grief as age; wretched in both!

If it be you that stir these daughters’ hearts

Against their father, fool me not so much

To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger,

And let not women’s weapons, water-drops,

Stain my man’s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags,

I will have such revenges on you both

That all the world shall—I will do such things,—

What they are yet I know not,—but they shall be

The terrors of the earth. You think I’ll weep;

No, I’ll not weep:

I have full cause of weeping, but this heart

Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws

Or ere I’ll weep. O fool! I shall go mad.[Exeunt LEAR, GLOUCESTER, KENT, and Fool.

Corn.Let us withdraw; ’twill be a storm.[Storm heard at a distance.

Reg.This house is little: the old man and his people

Cannot be well bestow’d.

Gon.’Tis his own blame; hath put himself from rest,

And must needs taste his folly.

Reg.For his particular, I’ll receive him gladly,

But not one follower.

Gon.So am I purpos’d.

Where is my Lord of Gloucester?

Corn.Follow’d the old man forth. He is return’d.


Glo.The king is in high rage.

Corn.Whither is he going?

Glo.He calls to horse; but will I know not whither.

Corn.’Tis best to give him way; he leads himself.

Gon.My lord, entreat him by no means to stay.

Glo.Alack! the night comes on, and the bleak winds

Do sorely ruffle; for many miles about

There’s scarce a bush.

Reg.O! sir, to wilful men,

The injuries that they themselves procure

Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors;

He is attended with a desperate train,

And what they may incense him to, being apt

To have his ear abus’d, wisdom bids fear.

Corn.Shut up your doors, my lord; ’tis a wild night:

My Regan counsels well: come out o’ the storm[Exeunt.