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

Act IV. Scene VI.

King Lear

The Country near Dover.

Enter GLOUCESTER, and EDGAR dressed like a peasant.

Glo.When shall I come to the top of that same hill?

Edg.You do climb up it now; look how we labour.

Glo.Methinks the ground is even.

Edg.Horrible steep:

Hark! do you hear the sea?

Glo.No, truly.

Edg.Why, then your other senses grow imperfect

By your eyes anguish.

Glo.So may it be, indeed.

Methinks thy voice is alter’d, and thou speak’st

In better phrase and matter than thou didst.

Edg.Y’are much deceiv’d; in nothing am I chang’d

But in my garments.

Glo.Methinks you’re better spoken.

Edg.Come on, sir; here’s the place: stand still.

How fearful

And dizzy ’tis to cast one’s eyes so low!

The crows and choughs that wing the midway air

Show scarce so gross as beetles; half way down

Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!

Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.

The fishermen that walk upon the beach

Appear like mice, and yond tall anchoring bark

Diminish’d to her cock, her cock a buoy

Almost too small for sight. The murmuring surge,

That on the unnumber’d idle pebbles chafes,

Cannot be heard so high. I’ll look no more,

Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight

Topple down headlong.

Glo.Set me where you stand.

Edg.Give me your hand; you are now within a foot

Of the extreme verge: for all beneath the moon

Would I not leap upright.

Glo.Let go my hand.

Here, friend, ’s another purse; in it a jewel

Well worth a poor man’s taking: fairies and gods

Prosper it with thee! Go thou further off;

Bid me farewell, and let me hear thee going.

Edg.Now fare you well, good sir.

Glo.With all my heart.

Edg.Why I do trifle thus with his despair

Is done to cure it.

Glo.O you mighty gods!

This world I do renounce, and, in your sights,

Shake patiently my great affliction off;

If I could bear it longer, and not fall

To quarrel with your great opposeless wills,

My snuff and loathed part of nature should

Burn itself out. If Edgar live, O, bless him!

Now, fellow, fare thee well.[He falls forward.

Edg.Gone, sir: farewell.

[Aside.]And yet I know not how conceit may rob

The treasury of life when life itself

Yields to the theft; had he been where he thought

By this had thought been past. Alive or dead?

[To GLOUCESTER.]Ho, you sir! friend! Hear you, sir? speak!

Thus might he pass indeed; yet he revives.

What are you, sir?

Glo.Away and let me die.

Edg.Hadst thou been aught but gossamer, feathers, air,

So many fathom down precipitating,

Thou’dst shiver’d like an egg; but thou dost breathe,

Hast heavy substance, bleed’st not, speak’st, art sound.

Ten masts at each make not the altitude

Which thou hast perpendicularly fell:

Thy life’s a miracle. Speak yet again.

Glo.But have I fallen or no?

Edg.From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.

Look up a-height; the shrill-gorg’d lark so far

Cannot be seen or heard: do but look up.

Glo.Alack! I have no eyes.

Is wretchedness depriv’d that benefit

To end itself by death? ’Twas yet some comfort,

When misery could beguile the tyrant’s rage,

And frustrate his proud will.

Edg.Give me your arm:

Up: so. How is ’t? Feel you your legs? You stand.

Glo.Too well, too well.

Edg.This is above all strangeness.

Upon the crown o’ the cliff, what thing was that

Which parted from you?

Glo.A poor unfortunate beggar.

Edg.As I stood here below methought his eyes

Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,

Horns whelk’d and wav’d like the enridged sea:

It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy father,

Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours

Of men’s impossibilities, have preserv’d thee.

Glo.I do remember now; henceforth I’ll bear

Affliction till it do cry out itself

‘Enough, enough,’ and die. That thing you speak of

I took it for a man; often ’twould say

‘The fiend, the fiend:’ he led me to that place.

Edg.Bear free and patient thoughts. But who comes here?

Enter LEAR, fantastically dressed with flowers.

The safer sense will ne’er accommodate

His master thus.

Lear.No, they cannot touch me for coining;

I am the king himself.

Edg.O thou side-piercing sight!

Lear.Nature’s above art in that respect. There’s your press-money. That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper: draw me a clothier’s yard. Look, look! a mouse. Peace, peace! this piece of toasted cheese will do ’t. There’s my gauntlet; I’ll prove it on a giant. Bring up the brown bills. O! well flown, bird; i’ the clout, i’ the clout: hewgh! Give the word.

Edg.Sweet marjoram.


Glo.I know that voice.

Lear.Ha! Goneril, with a white beard! They flatter’d me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there. To say ‘ay’ and ‘no’ to everything I said! ‘Ay’ and ‘no’ too was no good divinity. When the rain came to wet me once and the wind to make me chatter, when the thunder would not peace at my bidding, there I found ’em, there I smelt ’em out. Go to, they are not men o’ their words: they told me I was every thing; ’tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.

Glo.The trick of that voice I do well remember:

Is ’t not the king?

Lear.Ay, every inch a king:

When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.

I pardon that man’s life. What was thy cause?


Thou shalt not die: die for adultery! No:

The wren goes to ’t, and the small gilded fly

Does lecher in my sight.

Let copulation thrive; for Gloucester’s bastard son

Was kinder to his father than my daughters

Got ’tween the lawful sheets.

To ’t luxury, pell-mell! for I lack soldiers.

Behold yound simpering dame,

Whose face between her forks presageth snow;

That minces virtue, and does shake the head

To hear of pleasure’s name;

The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to ’t

With a more riotous appetite.

Down from the waist they are Centaurs,

Though women all above:

But to the girdle do the gods inherit,

Beneath is all the fiends’:

There’s hell, there’s darkness, there is the sulphurous pit,

Burning, scalding, stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie! pah, pah! Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination: there’s money for thee.

Glo.O! let me kiss that hand!

Lear.Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.

Glo.O ruin’d piece of nature! This great world

Shall so wear out to nought. Dost thou know me?

Lear.I remember thine eyes well enough. Dost thou squiny at me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid; I’ll not love. Read thou this challenge; mark but the penning of it.

Glo.Were all the letters suns, I could not see.

Edg.[Aside.]I would not take this from report; it is,

And my heart breaks at it.


Glo.What! with the case of eyes?

Lear.O, ho! are you there with me? No eyes in your head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light: yet you see how this world goes.

Glo.I see it feelingly.

Lear.What! art mad? A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond justice rails upon yon simple thief. Hark, in thine ear: change places; and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief? Thou hast seen a farmer’s dog bark at a beggar?

Glo.Ay, sir.

Lear.And the creature run from the cur? There thou mightst behold the great image of authority; a dog’s obey’d in office.

Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!

Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back;

Thou hotly lust’st to use her in that kind

For which thou whipp’st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.

Through tatter’d clothes small vices do appear;

Robes and furr’d gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,

And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;

Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw doth pierce it.

None does offend, none, I say none; I’ll able ’em:

Take that of me, my friend, who have the power

To seal the accuser’s lips. Get thee glass eyes;

And, like a scurvy politician, seem

To see the things thou dost not. Now, now, now, now;

Pull off my boots; harder, harder; so.

Edg.[Aside.]O! matter and impertinency mix’d;

Reason in madness!

Lear.If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes;

I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester:

Thou must be patient; we came crying hither:

Thou know’st the first time that we smell the air

We waul and cry. I will preach to thee: mark.

Glo.Alack! alack the day!

Lear.When we are born, we cry that we are come

To this great stage of fools. This’ a good block!

It were a delicate stratagem to shoe

A troop of horse with felt; I’ll put it in proof,

And when I have stol’n upon these sons-in-law,

Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!

Enter Gentleman, with Attendants.

Gent.O! here he is; lay hand upon him. Sir,

Your most dear daughter—

Lear.No rescue? What! a prisoner? I am even

The natural fool of fortune. Use me well;

You shall have ransom. Let me have surgeons;

I am cut to the brains.

Gent.You shall have any thing.

Lear.No seconds? All myself?

Why this would make a man a man of salt,

To use his eyes for garden water-pots,

Ay, and laying autumn’s dust.

Gent.Good sir,—

Lear.I will die bravely as a bridegroom. What!

I will be jovial: come, come; I am a king,

My masters, know you that?

Gent.You are a royal one, and we obey you.

Lear.Then there’s life in it. Nay, an you get it, you shall get it by running. Sa, sa, sa, sa.[Exit.Attendants follow.

Gent.A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch,

Past speaking of in a king! Thou hast one daughter,

Who redeems nature from the general curse

Which twain have brought her to.

Edg.Hail, gentle sir!

Gent.Sir, speed you: what’s your will?

Edg.Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward?

Gent.Most sure and vulgar; every one hears that,

Which can distinguish sound.

Edg.But, by your favour,

How near’s the other army?

Gent.Near, and on speedy foot; the main descry

Stands on the hourly thought.

Edg.I thank you, sir: that’s all.

Gent.Though that the queen on special cause is here,

Her army is mov’d on.

Edg.I thank you, sir.[Exit Gentleman.

Glo.You ever-gentle gods, take my breath from me:

Let not my worser spirit tempt me again

To die before you please!

Edg.Well pray you, father.

Glo.Now, good sir, what are you?

Edg.A most poor man, made tame to fortune’s blows;

Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,

Am pregnant to good pity. Give me your hand,

I’ll lead you to some biding.

Glo.Hearty thanks:

The bounty and the benison of heaven

To boot, and boot!


Osw.A proclaim’d prize! Most happy!

That eyeless head of thine was first fram’d flesh

To raise my fortunes. Thou old unhappy traitor,

Briefly thyself remember: the sword is out

That must destroy thee.

Glo.Now let thy friendly hand

Put strength enough to ’t.[EDGAR interposes.

Osw.Wherefore, bold peasant,

Dar’st thou support a publish’d traitor? Hence;

Lest that infection of his fortune take

Like hold on thee. Let go his arm.

Edg.Chill not let go, zur, without vurther ’casion.

Osw.Let go, slave, or thou diest.

Edg.Good gentleman, go your gait, and let poor volk pass. An chud ha’ bin zwaggered out of my life, ’twould not ha’ bin zo long as ’tis by a vortnight. Nay, come not near th’ old man; keep out, che vor ye, or ise try whether your costard or my ballow be the harder. Chill be plain with you.

Osw.Out, dunghill!

Edg.Chill pick your teeth, zur. Come; no matter vor your foins.[They fight and EDGAR knocks him down.

Osw.Slave, thou hast slain me. Villain, take my purse.

If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;

And give the letters which thou find’st about me

To Edmund Earl of Gloucester; seek him out

Upon the English party: O! untimely death.[Dies.

Edg.I know thee well: a serviceable villain;

As duteous to the vices of thy mistress

As badness would desire.

Glo.What! is he dead?

Edg.Sit you down, father; rest you.

Let’s see his pockets: these letters that he speaks of

May be my friends. He’s dead; I am only sorry

He had no other deaths-man. Let us see:

Leave, gentle wax; and, manners, blame us not:

To know our enemies’ minds, we’d rip their hearts;

Their papers, is more lawful.

Let our reciprocal vows be remembered. You have many opportunities to cut him off; if your will want not, time and place will be fruitfully offered. There is nothing done if he return the conqueror; then am I the prisoner, and his bed my gaol; from the loathed warmth whereof deliver me, and supply the place for your labour.

Your—wife, so I would say

Affectionate servant,


O undistinguish’d space of woman’s will!

A plot upon her virtuous husband’s life,

And the exchange my brother! Here, in the sands,

Thee I’ll rake up, the post unsanctified

Of murderous lechers; and in the mature time

With this ungracious paper strike the sight

Of the death-practis’d duke. For him ’tis well

That of thy death and business I can tell.

Glo.The king is mad: how stiff is my vile sense,

That I stand up, and have ingenious feeling

Of my huge sorrows! Better I were distract:

So should my thoughts be sever’d from my griefs,

And woes by wrong imaginations lose

The knowledge of themselves.[Drums afar off.

Edg.Give me your hand:

Far off, methinks, I hear the beaten drum.

Come, father, I’ll bestow you with a friend.[Exeunt.