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

Act V. Scene III.

King Lear

The British Camp, near Dover.

Enter, in conquest, with drum and colours, EDMUND; LEAR and CORDELIA, prisoners; Officers, Soldiers, &c.

Edm.Some officers take them away: good guard,

Until their greater pleasures first be known

That are to censure them.

Cor.We are not the first

Who, with best meaning, have incurr’d the worst.

For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;

Myself could else out-frown false Fortune’s frown.

Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?

Lear.No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison;

We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:

When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,

And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,

And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh

At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues

Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,

Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;

And take upon ’s the mystery of things,

As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,

In a wall’d prison, packs and sets of great ones

That ebb and flow by the moon.

Edm.Take them away.

Lear.Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,

The gods themselves throw incense. Have I caught thee?

He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven,

And fire us hence like foxes. Wipe thine eyes;

The goujeres shall devour them, flesh and fell,

Ere they shall make us weep: we’ll see ’em starve first.

Come.[Exeunt LEAR and CORDELIA, guarded.

Edm.Come hither, captain; hark,

Take thou this note;[Giving a paper.]go follow them to prison:

One step I have advanc’d thee; if thou dost

As this instructs thee, thou dost make thy way

To noble fortunes; know thou this, that men

Are as the time is; to be tender-minded

Does not become a sword; thy great employment

Will not bear question; either say thou’lt do ’t,

Or thrive by other means.

Offi.I’ll do ’t, my lord.

Edm.About it; and write happy when thou hast done.

Mark,—I say, instantly, and carry it so

As I have set it down.

Offi.I cannot draw a cart nor eat dried oats;

If it be man’s work I will do it.[Exit.

Flourish.Enter ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN, Officers, and Attendants.

Alb.Sir, you have show’d to-day your valiant strain,

And fortune led you well; you have the captives

Who were the opposites of this day’s strife;

We do require them of you, so to use them

As we shall find their merits and our safety

May equally determine.

Edm.Sir, I thought it fit

To send the old and miserable king

To some retention, and appointed guard;

Whose age has charms in it, whose title more,

To pluck the common bosom on his side,

And turn our impress’d lances in our eyes

Which do command them. With him I sent the queen;

My reason all the same; and they are ready

To-morrow, or at further space, to appear

Where you shall hold your session. At this time

We sweat and bleed; the friend hath lost his friend,

And the best quarrels, in the heat, are curs’d

By those that feel their sharpness;

The question of Cordelia and her father

Requires a fitter place.

Alb.Sir, by your patience,

I hold you but a subject of this war,

Not as a brother.

Reg.That’s as we list to grace him:

Methinks our pleasure might have been demanded,

Ere you had spoke so far. He led our powers,

Bore the commission of my place and person;

The which immediacy may well stand up,

And call itself your brother.

Gon.Not so hot;

In his own grace he doth exalt himself

More than in your addition.

Reg.In my rights,

By me invested, he compeers the best.

Gon.That were the most, if he should husband you.

Reg.Jesters do oft prove prophets.

Gon.Holla, holla!

That eye that told you so look’d but a-squint.

Reg.Lady, I am not well; else I should answer

From a full-flowing stomach. General,

Take thou my soldiers, prisoners, patrimony;

Dispose of them, of me; the walls are thine;

Witness the world, that I create thee here

My lord and master.

Gon.Mean you to enjoy him?

Alb.The let-alone lies not in your good will.

Edm.Nor in thine, lord.

Alb.Half-blooded fellow, yes.

Reg.[To EDMUND.]Let the drum strike, and prove my title thine.

Alb.Stay yet; hear reason. Edmund, I arrest thee

On capital treason; and, in thy arrest,

This gilded serpent.[Pointing to GONERIL.]For your claim, fair sister,

I bar it in the interest of my wife;

’Tis she is sub-contracted to this lord,

And I, her husband, contradict your bans.

If you will marry, make your love to me,

My lady is bespoke.

Gon.An interlude!

Alb.Thou art arm’d, Gloucester; let the trumpet sound:

If none appear to prove upon thy person

Thy heinous, manifest, and many treasons,

There is my pledge;[Throws down a glove.]I’ll prove it on thy heart,

Ere I taste bread, thou art in nothing less

Than I have here proclaim’d thee.

Reg.Sick! O sick!

Gon.[Aside.]If not, I’ll ne’er trust medicine.

Edm.There’s my exchange:[Throws down a glove.]what in the world he is

That names me traitor, villain-like he lies.

Call by thy trumpet: he that dares approach,

On him, on you, who not? I will maintain

My truth and honour firmly.

Alb.A herald, ho!

Edm.A herald, ho! a herald!

Alb.Trust to thy single virtue; for thy soldiers,

All levied in my name, have in my name

Took their discharge.

Reg.My sickness grows upon me.

Alb.She is not well; convey her to my tent.[Exit REGAN, led.

Come hither, herald,

Enter a Herald.

Let the trumpet sound,—

And read out this.

Offi.Sound, trumpet![A trumpet sounds.

Her.If any man of quality or degree within the lists of the army will maintain upon Edmund, supposed Earl of Gloucester, that he is a manifold traitor, let him appear at the third sound of the trumpet. He is bold in his defence.

Edm.Sound![First Trumpet.

Her.Again![Second Trumpet.

Her.Again![Third Trumpet.

[Trumpet answers within.

Enter EDGAR, armed, with a Trumpet before him.

Alb.Ask him his purposes, why he appears

Upon this call o’ the trumpet.

Her.What are you?

Your name? your quality? and why you answer

This present summons?

Edg.Know, my name is lost;

By treason’s tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit:

Yet am I noble as the adversary

I come to cope.

Alb.Which is that adversary?

Edg.What’s he that speaks for Edmund Earl of Gloucester?

Edm.Himself: what sayst thou to him?

Edg.Draw thy sword,

That, if my speech offend a noble heart,

Thy arm may do thee justice; here is mine:

Behold, it is the privilege of mine honours,

My oath, and my profession: I protest,

Maugre thy strength, youth, place, and eminence,

Despite thy victor sword and fire-new fortune,

Thy valour and thy heart, thou art a traitor,

False to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father,

Conspirant ’gainst this high illustrious prince,

And, from the extremest upward of thy head

To the descent and dust below thy foot,

A most toad-spotted traitor. Say thou ‘No,’

This sword, this arm, and my best spirits are bent

To prove upon thy heart, whereto I speak,

Thou liest.

Edm.In wisdom I should ask thy name;

But since thy outside looks so fair and war-like,

And that thy tongue some say of breeding breathes,

What safe and nicely I might well delay

By rule of knighthood, I disdain and spurn;

Back do I toss these treasons to thy head,

With the hell-hated lie o’erwhelm thy heart,

Which, for they yet glance by and scarcely bruise,

This sword of mine shall give them instant way,

Where they shall rest for ever. Trumpets, speak![Alarums.They fight.EDMUND falls.

Alb.Save him, save him!

Gon.This is practice, Gloucester:

By the law of arms thou wast not bound to answer

An unknown opposite; thou art not vanquish’d,

But cozen’d and beguil’d.

Alb.Shut your mouth, dame,

Or with this paper shall I stop it. Hold, sir;

Thou worse than any name, read thine own evil:

No tearing, lady; I perceive you know it.[Gives the letter to EDMUND.

Gon.Say, if I do, the laws are mine, not thine:

Who can arraign me for ’t?[Exit.

Alb.Most monstrous!

Know’st thou this paper?

Edm.Ask me not what I know.

Alb.Go after her: she’s desperate; govern her.[Exit an Officer.

Edm.What you have charg’d me with, that have I done,

And more, much more; the time will bring it out:

’Tis past, and so am I. But what art thou

That hast this fortune on me? If thou’rt noble,

I do forgive thee.

Edg.Let’s exchange charity.

I am no less in blood than thou art, Edmund;

If more, the more thou hast wrong’d me.

My name is Edgar, and thy father’s son.

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices

Make instruments to plague us:

The dark and vicious place where thee he got

Cost him his eyes.

Edm.Thou hast spoken right, ’tis true;

The wheel is come full circle; I am here.

Alb.Methought thy very gait did prophesy

A royal nobleness: I must embrace thee:

Let sorrow split my heart, if ever I

Did hate thee or thy father.

Edg.Worthy prince, I know ’t.

Alb.Where have you hid yourself?

How have you known the miseries of your father?

Edg.By nursing them, my lord. List a brief tale;

And, when ’tis told, O! that my heart would burst,

The bloody proclamation to escape

That follow’d me so near,—O! our lives’ sweetness,

That we the pain of death would hourly die

Rather than die at once!—taught me to shift

Into a madman’s rags, to assume a semblance

That very dogs disdain’d: and in this habit

Met I my father with his bleeding rings,

Their precious stones new lost; became his guide,

Led him, begg’d for him, sav’d him from despair;

Never,—O fault!—reveal’d myself unto him,

Until some half hour past, when I was arm’d;

Not sure, though hoping, of this good success,

I ask’d his blessing, and from first to last

Told him my pilgrimage: but his flaw’d heart,—

Alack! too weak the conflict to support;

’Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief,

Burst smilingly.

Edm.This speech of yours hath mov’d me,

And shall perchance do good; but speak you on;

You look as you had something more to say.

Alb.If there be more, more woeful, hold it in;

For I am almost ready to dissolve,

Hearing of this.

Edg.This would have seem’d a period

To such as love not sorrow; but another,

To amplify too much, would make much more,

And top extremity.

Whilst I was big in clamour came there a man,

Who, having seen me in my worst estate,

Shunn’d my abhorr’d society; but then, finding

Who ’twas that so endur’d, with his strong arms

He fasten’d on my neck, and bellow’d out

As he’d burst heaven; threw him on my father;

Told the most piteous tale of Lear and him

That ever ear receiv’d; which in recounting

His grief grew puissant, and the strings of life

Began to crack: twice then the trumpet sounded,

And there I left him tranc’d.

Alb.But who was this?

Edg.Kent, sir, the banish’d Kent; who in disguise

Follow’d his enemy king, and did him service

Improper for a slave.

Enter a Gentleman, with a bloody knife.

Gent.Help, help! O help!

Edg.What kind of help?

Alb.Speak, man.

Edg.What means that bloody knife?

Gent.’Tis hot, it smokes;

It came even from the heart of—O! she’s dead.

Alb.Who dead? speak, man.

Gent.Your lady, sir, your lady: and her sister

By her is poison’d; she confesses it.

Edm.I was contracted to them both: all three

Now marry in an instant.

Edg.Here comes Kent.

Alb.Produce the bodies, be they alive or dead:

This judgment of the heavens, that makes us tremble,

Touches us not with pity.[Exit Gentleman.

Enter KENT.

O! is this he?

The time will not allow the compliment

Which very manners urges.

Kent.I am come

To bid my king and master aye good-night;

Is he not here?

Alb.Great thing of us forgot!

Speak, Edmund, where’s the king? and where’s Cordelia?

Seest thou this object, Kent?[The bodies of GONERIL and REGAN are brought in.

Kent.Alack! why thus?

Edm.Yet Edmund was belov’d:

The one the other poison’d for my sake,

And after slew herself.

Alb.Even so. Cover their faces.

Edm.I pant for life: some good I mean to do

Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send,

Be brief in it, to the castle; for my writ

Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia.

Nay, send in time.

Alb.Run, run! O run!

Edg.To whom, my lord? Who has the office? send

Thy token of reprieve.

Edm.Well thought on: take my sword,

Give it the captain.

Alb.Haste thee, for thy life.[Exit EDGAR.

Edm.He hath commission from my wife and me

To hang Cordelia in the prison, and

To lay the blame upon her own despair,

That she fordid herself.

Alb.The gods defend her! Bear him hence awhile.[EDMUND is borne off.

Enter LEAR, with CORDELIA dead in his arms; EDGAR, Officer, and Others.

Lear.Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones:

Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so

That heaven’s vaults should crack. She’s gone for ever.

I know when one is dead, and when one lives;

She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;

If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,

Why, then she lives.

Kent.Is this the promis’d end?

Edg.Or image of that horror?

Alb.Fall and cease?

Lear.This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so,

It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows

That ever I have felt.

Kent.[Kneeling.]O, my good master!

Lear.Prithee, away.

Edg.’Tis noble Kent, your friend.

Lear.A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!

I might have sav’d her; now, she’s gone for ever!

Cordelia, Cordelia! stay a little. Ha!

What is ’t thou sayst? Her voice was ever soft,

Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.

I kill’d the slave that was a hanging thee.

Off.’Tis true, my lord, he did.

Lear.Did I not, fellow?

I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion

I would have made them skip: I am old now,

And these same crosses spoil me. Who are you?

Mine eyes are not o’ the best: I’ll tell you straight.

Kent.If fortune brag of two she lov’d and hated,

One of them we behold.

Lear.This is a dull sight. Are you not Kent?

Kent.The same,

Your servant Kent. Where is your servant Caius?

Lear.He’s a good fellow, I can tell you that;

He’ll strike, and quickly too. He’s dead and rotten.

Kent.No, my good lord; I am the very man—

Lear.I’ll see that straight.

Kent.That, from your first of difference and decay,

Have follow’d your sad steps.

Lear.You are welcome hither.

Kent.Nor no man else; all’s cheerless, dark, and deadly:

Your eldest daughters have fordone themselves,

And desperately are dead.

Lear.Ay, so I think.

Alb.He knows not what he says, and vain it is

That we present us to him.

Edg.Very bootless.

Enter an Officer.

Off.Edmund is dead, my lord.

Alb.That’s but a trifle here.

You lords and noble friends, know our intent;

What comfort to this great decay may come

Shall be applied: for us, we will resign,

During the life of this old majesty,

To him our absolute power:—[To EDGAR and KENT.]You, to your rights;

With boot and such addition as your honours

Have more than merited. All friends shall taste

The wages of their virtue, and all foes

The cup of their deservings. O! see, see!

Lear.And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!

Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,

And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,

Never, never, never, never, never!

Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.

Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,

Look there, look there![Dies.

Edg.He faints!—my lord, my lord!

Kent.Break, heart; I prithee, break.

Edg.Look up, my lord.

Kent.Vex not his ghost: O! let him pass; he hates him

That would upon the rack of this tough world

Stretch him out longer.

Edg.He is gone, indeed.

Kent.The wonder is he hath endur’d so long:

He but usurp’d his life.

Alb.Bear them from hence. Our present business

Is general woe.[To KENT and EDGAR.]Friends of my soul, you twain

Rule in this realm, and the gor’d state sustain.

Kent.I have a journey, sir, shortly to go;

My master calls me, I must not say no.

Alb.The weight of this sad time we must obey;

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

The oldest hath borne most: we that are young,

Shall never see so much, nor live so long.[Exeunt, with a dead march.