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King Lear

(Line differences from Q1 are in brackets, lines in F1 only are in italics)


Act 3 Scene 4

The heath. Before a hovel.

Here is the place, my lord; good my lord, enter.
The tyranny of the open night’s too rough
For nature to endure.

Let me alone.

Good my lord, enter here.

Wilt break my heart?

I had rather break mine own. Good my lord, enter.

Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious [tempestuous] storm
Invades us to the skin: so ’tis to thee;
But where the greater malady is fixed,
The lesser is scarce felt. Thou’dst shun a bear,
But if thy flight lay toward the raging sea,
Thou’dst meet the bear i’ the mouth. When the mind’s free,
The body’s delicate: the tempest in my mind
Doth from my senses take all feeling else
Save what beats there. Filial ingratitude!
Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand
For lifting food to’t? But I will punish home [sure]:
No, I will weep no more. In such a night as this
To shut me out! Pour on; I will endure.

In such a night as this! O Regan, Goneril!
Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave [you] all —
O, that way madness lies; let me shun that;
No more of that.

Good my lord, enter here.

Prithee, go in thyself, seek thine own ease.
This tempest will not give me leave to ponder
On things would hurt me more. But I’ll go in.
In, boy; go first. You houseless poverty —
Nay, get thee in. I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm [night],
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

Enter EDGAR and FOOL from hovel

Fathom and half, fathom and half! Poor Tom!

Come not in here, nuncle, here’s a spirit!
Help me, help me!

Give me thy hand. Who’s there?

A spirit, a spirit: he says his name’s poor Tom.

What art thou that dost grumble there i’ the straw?
Come forth.

Away! the foul fiend follows me!
Through the sharp hawthorn blows the [cold] wind.
Humh! go to thy cold bed, and warm thee.

Didst thou give all to thy [two] daughters?
And art thou come to this?

Who gives anything to poor Tom? whom the foul
fiend hath led through fire and through flame, and
through sword [ford] and whirlpool o’er bog and quagmire;
that hath laid knives under his pillow, and halters
in his pew; set ratsbane by his porridge; made him
proud of heart, to ride on a bay trotting-horse over
four-inched bridges, to course his own shadow for a
traitor. Bless thy five wits! Tom’s a-cold — O, do
de, do de, do de
. Bless thee from whirlwinds,
star-blasting, and taking! Do poor Tom some
charity, whom the foul fiend vexes. There could I
have him now — and there — and there again, and there.

[What,] have his daughters brought him to this pass?
Couldst thou save nothing? Wouldst [Didst] thou give them all?

Nay, he reserved a blanket, else we had been all shamed.

Now, all the plagues that in the pendulous air
Hang fated o’er men’s faults, light [fall] on thy daughters!

He hath no daughters, sir.

Death, traitor! Nothing could have subdued nature
To such a lowness but his unkind daughters.
Is it the fashion that discarded fathers
Should have thus little mercy on their flesh?
Judicious punishment! ’twas this flesh begot
Those pelican daughters.

Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill:
Halloo, halloo, loo, loo!

This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.

Take heed o’ the foul fiend. Obey thy parents;
keep thy words justice [justly]; swear not; commit not with
man’s sworn spouse; set not thy sweet heart on proud
array — Tom’s a-cold.

What hast thou been?

A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled
my hair, wore gloves in my cap, served the lust of
my mistress’ heart, and did the act of darkness with
her; swore as many oaths as I spake words, and
broke them in the sweet face of heaven. One that
slept in the contriving of lust, and waked to do it.
Wine loved I deeply, dice dearly, and in woman
out-paramoured the Turk. False of heart, light of
, bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth,
wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey.
Let not the creaking of shoes nor the rustling of
silks betray thy poor heart to woman. Keep thy foot
out of brothels, thy hand out of plackets, thy pen
from lenders’ books, and defy the foul fiend.
Still through the hawthorn blows the cold wind:
Says suum, mun, ha, no, nonny. Dolphin my boy,
sessa! let him trot by.

[Why,] thou wert better in thy grave than to answer
with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies.
Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou
owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep
no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here’s three on ‘s
are sophisticated; thou art the thing itself,
unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare,
forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings!
Come unbutton here.

Tearing off his clothes

Prithee, nuncle, be contented; ’tis a naughty night
to swim in. Now a little fire in a wild field were
like an old lecher’s heart; a small spark, all the
rest on’s body cold. Look, here comes a walking fire.

Enter GLOUCESTER with a torch

This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins
at curfew, and walks till the first cock; he gives
the web and the pin, squints [squemes] the eye, and makes the
hare-lip; mildews the white wheat, and hurts the
poor creature of earth.
Swithold footed thrice the old [wold];
He met the night-mare, and her nine-fold;
Bid her alight,
And her troth plight,
And, aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!

How fares your grace?

What’s he?

Who’s there? What is’t you seek?

What are you there? Your names?

Poor Tom; that eats the swimming frog, the toad,
the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water; that in
the fury of his heart, when the foul fiend rages,
eats cow-dung for sallets; swallows the old rat and
the ditch-dog; drinks the green mantle of the
standing pool; who is whipped from tithing to
tithing, and stock-punished, and imprisoned; who
hath had three suits to his back, six shirts to his
body, horse to ride, and weapon to wear;
But mice and rats, and such small deer,
Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.
Beware my follower. Peace, Smulkin [Snulbug]; peace, thou fiend!

What, hath your grace no better company?

The prince of darkness is a gentleman:
Modo he’s call’d, and Mahu.

Our flesh and blood is grown so vile, my lord,
That it doth hate what gets it.

Poor Tom’s a-cold.

Go in with me. My duty cannot suffer
To obey in all your daughters’ hard commands.
Though their injunction be to bar my doors,
And let this tyrannous night take hold upon you,
Yet have I ventured to come seek you out,
And bring you where both fire and food is ready.

First let me talk with this philosopher.
What is the cause of thunder?

Good my lord, take his offer; go into the house.

I’ll talk a word with this same [most] learned Theban.
What is your study?

How to prevent the fiend, and to kill vermin.

Let me ask you one word in private.

Importune him once more to go, my lord;
His wits begin to unsettle.

Canst thou blame him?
His daughters seek his death: ah, that good Kent!
He said it would be thus, poor banished man!
Thou say’st the king grows mad; I’ll tell thee, friend,
I am almost mad myself. I had a son,
Now outlawed from my blood. He sought my life,
But lately, very late, I loved him, friend;
No father his son dearer. Truth to tell thee,
The grief hath crazed my wits. What a night’s this!
I do beseech your grace —

O, cry your mercy, sir.
Noble philosopher, your company.

Tom’s a-cold.

In, fellow, there, into the hovel: keep thee warm.

Come let’s in all.

This way, my lord.

With him; I will keep still with my philosopher.

Good my lord, soothe him; let him take the fellow.

Take him you on.

Sirrah, come on; go along with us.

Come, good Athenian.

No words, no words: hush.

Child Rowland to the dark tower came [town come],
His word was still, “Fie, foh, and fum,
I smell the blood of a British man.”




heath: A large tract of uncultivated open land covered with low shrubs

hovel : shack, hut

fixed: rooted, lodged (the storm in his mind distracts him from feeling the storm outside)

delicate : when the mind is free from worries, the body’s needs are felt more strongly

filial : the ingratitude of children

tear : bite; it’s as unnatural as if my mouth bit my own hand

home: to the utmost

frank: generous

give me leave : the storm prevents Lear from brooding more on his troubles

bide : endure

looped and windowed: clothes (rags) full of holes

care : as king, Lear admits that he has not worried much about those less fortunate in his kingdom.

Take physic, pomp : take your medicine, you pompous, high and mighty rulers

superflux : superfluity; give the poor what you have in excess and don’t need.

fathom and half : because of the downpour, Edgar like a sailor is taking soundings to check the depth of the water.

poor Tom:  beggars were often called by this name which Edgar adopts for a disguise

foul fiend: Edgar pretends to be pestered by a demon

halters : nooses (the demon tempts Tom to commit suicide in several ways)

ratsbane: poison

four-inched bridges : narrow, risky (another way of killing himself)

course: chase

five wits : common sense, imagination, fantasy, estimation, memory

star-blasting: becoming the victim of malignant stars

taking : pestilence

There: Tom attacks his demon with an imaginary sword; or one critic suggests he finds lice on himself, biting him

pass: predicament, condition; Lear identifies with Poor Tom, and believes he must suffer because he gave away all his wealth as well

blanket: what little he wears to cover his nakedness

pendulous: hanging dangerously overhead

faults: sins

pelican : thought to feed on their parents’ blood

pillicock: probably a nursery rhyme, playing off the word pelican, may be another word for phallus

commit not : adultery

array : fancy clothes

gloves in my cap : as a pledge from his mistress

out-paramoured the Turk : had more concubines than a sultan with his harem

light of ear: listened to gossip and lies

plackets : slits in women’s skirts

Dolphin : possibly referring to the French prince or dauphin (much of what Tom says is nonsense).

answer : confront

cat: the civet cat, whose glands secrete an ingredient used in perfume

sophisticated : “here’s three of us (Lear, Fool, Kent) who are artificial, compared to this natural man Tom”

unaccommodated: unfurnished with the extras of civilized man

forked : standing on two legs

lendings: Lear’s clothes, what he has borrowed from the silkworm, beast, etc; he wants to join Tom in his nakedness

Flibbertigibbet: a devil from Elizabethan folklore

first cock : midnight

web and pin : cataracts in the eye

Swithold : an Anglo-Saxon saint who exorcised demons, walked over (footed) the wold (uplands), confronting the demon who causes bad dreams and her nine children, making her alight (stop riding the poor sleeper) and swear (plight her troth) to do no more harm.

aroint: begone

sallets : salads

ditch-dog : carcass of a dog, “road kill”

mantle : scum on the pond

tithing : parish

Smulkin: a demon; also Modo and Mahu in the lines below

flesh and blood: children

gets : begets

suffer: permit me

philosopher : in his madness Lear thinks of Tom as a wise man; likewise his references to Theban and Athenian (Greek).

prevent : ward off

importune : plead urgently

Kent : Gloucester does not recognize the disguised man he is speaking with (anymore than he does his son Edgar).

outlawed from my blood: disinherited

Rowland: the nephew of Charlemagne, hero of the French epic The Song of Roland (again, more nonsense verse from Tom)

word was still:  motto was always

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