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King Lear

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


Act 1 Scene 1

King Lear’s palace

I thought the king had more affected the Duke of
Albany than Cornwall.

It did always seem so to us: but now, in the
division of the kingdom, it appears not which of
the dukes he values most; for qualities [equalities] are so
weighed, that curiosity in neither can make choice
of either’s moiety.

Is not this your son, my lord?

His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge. I have
so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am
brazed to it.

I cannot conceive you.

Sir, this young fellow’s mother could, whereupon
she grew round-wombed, and had, indeed, sir, a son
for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed.
Do you smell a fault?

I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it
being so proper.

But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year
elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account.
Though this knave came something saucily into the
world before he was sent for, yet was his mother
fair; there was good sport at his making, and the
whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this
noble gentleman, Edmund?

No, my lord.

(to Edmund) My lord of Kent. Remember him hereafter as my
honourable friend.

My services to your lordship.

I must love you, and sue to know you better.

Sir, I shall study deserving.

(to Kent) He hath been out nine years, and away he shall
again. The king is coming.


Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester.

I shall, my lord [liege]. (he exits)

Meantime we shall express our darker purpose[s].
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom: and ’tis our fast [first] intent
To shake all cares and business from our age [of our state];
Conferring [confirming] them on younger strengths [years], while we
Unburden’d crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now.
The [two great] princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters,–
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,–
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge? [where merit doth most challenge it]
Goneril, our eldest born, speak first.

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e’er loved, or father found [friend];
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

(Aside) What shall Cordelia speak?
Love, and be silent.

(gesturing to the map)
Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,
With shadowy [shady] forests and with champains riched,
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,
We make thee lady: to thine and Albany’s issue
Be this perpetual. What says our second daughter,
Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall? [Speak.]

[Sir,] I am made
Of that self [selfsame] mettle as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short: that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.

(Aside) Then poor Cordelia!
And yet not so, since I am sure my love’s
More ponderous [richer] than my tongue.

To thee and thine hereditary ever
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom,
No less in space, validity, and pleasure
Than that conferred [confirmed] on Goneril. [But] Now, our joy,
Although our last and least [the last, not least in our dear love]; to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interest; what can you say to draw [win]
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

Nothing, my lord.



Nothing will [can] come of nothing. Speak again.

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less.

How, how, [Go to, go to] Cordelia? mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.

Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
[To love my father all].

But goes thy heart with this?

Ay, my good lord.

So young, and so untender?

So young, my lord, and true.

[Well,] let it be so; thy truth then be thy dower:
For by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate and the night,
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist and cease to be,
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour’d, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.

Good my liege–

Peace, Kent!
Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
I loved her most, and thought to set my rest
On her kind nursery. Hence, and avoid my sight!
So be my grave my peace, as here I give
Her father’s heart from her! Call France; who stirs?
Call Burgundy. Cornwall and Albany,
With my two daughters’ dowers digest this third.
Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.
I do invest you jointly with my power,
Pre-eminence, and all the large effects
That troop with majesty. Ourself, by monthly course,
With reservation of an hundred knights,
By you to be sustain’d, shall our abode
Make with you by due turn. Only we shall [still] retain
The name, and all the addition to a king;
The sway, revenue, execution of the rest,
Beloved sons, be yours; which to confirm,
This coronet part betwixt you.

Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honour’d as my king,
Loved as my father, as my master follow’d,
As my great patron thought on in my prayers–

The bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft.

Let it fall rather, though the fork invade
The region of my heart. Be Kent unmannerly
When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man?
Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak,
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honour’s bound,
When majesty falls [stoops] to folly. Reserve thy state [Reverse thy doom],
And in thy best consideration check
This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgment,
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least,
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds
Reverb no hollowness.

Kent, on thy life, no more.

My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thy enemies, nor fear to lose it,
Thy safety being the motive.

Out of my sight!

See better, Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank of thine eye.

Now, by Apollo

Now, by Apollo, king,
Thou swear’st thy gods in vain.

O, vassal! miscreant! [recreant]

Laying his hand on his sword

Dear sir, forbear.

[Do,] kill thy physician, and thy fee bestow
Upon the foul disease. Revoke thy gift [doom];
Or whilst I can vent clamour from my throat,
I’ll tell thee thou dost evil.

Hear me, recreant, on thine allegiance, hear me;
Since thou hast sought to make us break our vow,
Which we durst never yet, and with strained [strayed] pride
To come between our sentence and our power,
Which nor our nature nor our place can bear,
Our potency made good, take thy reward.
Five [four] days we do allot thee, for provision
To shield thee from disasters [diseases] of the world;
And on the sixth [fifth] to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom. If on the tenth day following
Thy banish’d trunk be found in our dominions,
The moment is thy death. Away! by Jupiter,
This shall not be revoked.

Fare thee well, king: since thus thou wilt appear,
Freedom [friendship] lives hence, and banishment is here.
(to Cordelia) The gods to their dear shelter [protection] take thee, maid,
That justly [rightly] think’st and hast most rightly [justly] said.
(to Regan and Goneril) And your large speeches may your deeds approve,
That good effects may spring from words of love.
Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu;
He’ll shape his old course in a country new. (exit)


Here’s France and Burgundy, my noble lord.

My lord of Burgundy,
We first address toward you, who with this king
Hath rivalled for our daughter. What, in the least,
Will you require in present dower with her,
Or cease your quest of love?

Most royal majesty,
I crave no more than hath your highness offer’d,
Nor will you tender less?

Right noble Burgundy,
When she was dear to us, we did hold her so;
But now her price is fallen. Sir, there she stands:
If aught within that little seeming substance,
Or all of it, with our displeasure pieced,
And nothing more [else], may fitly like your grace,
She’s there, and she is yours.

I know no answer.

[Sir, ] will you, with those infirmities she owes,
Unfriended, new-adopted to our hate,
Dowered [covered] with our curse, and strangered with our oath,
Take her, or leave her?

Pardon me, royal sir;
Election makes not up on such conditions.

Then leave her, sir; for, by the power that made me,
I tell you all her wealth.
(to France) For you, great king,
I would not from your love make such a stray
To match you where I hate; therefore beseech you
To avert your liking a more worthier way
Than on a wretch whom nature is ashamed
Almost to acknowledge hers.

This is most strange,
That she, who even but now was your [best] object,
The argument of your praise, balm of your age,
The [most] best, the [most] dearest, should in this trice of time
Commit a thing so monstrous to dismantle
So many folds of favour. Sure, her offence
Must be of such unnatural degree
That monsters it, or your fore-vouched affection
Fallen into taint: which to believe of her
Must be a faith that reason without miracle
Could never plant in me.

I yet beseech your majesty,
If for I want that glib and oily art
To speak and purpose not — since what I well intend,
I’ll do’t before I speak — that you make known [may know]
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
No unchaste [unclean] action or dishonour’d step,
That hath deprived me of your grace and favour;
But even for want of that for which I am richer,
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue
As I am glad I have not, though not to have it
Hath lost me in your liking.

[Go to, go to,] Better thou
Hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better.

Is it but [no more than] this, a tardiness in nature
Which often leaves the history unspoke
That it intends to do? My Lord of Burgundy,
What say you to the lady? Love’s not love
When it is mingled with regards [respects] that stand
Aloof from the entire point. Will you have her?
She is herself a dowry.

Royal Lear,
Give but that portion which yourself proposed,
And here I take Cordelia by the hand,
Duchess of Burgundy.

Nothing. I have sworn. I am firm.

(to Cordelia) I am sorry, then, you have so lost a father
That you must lose a husband.

Peace be with Burgundy,
Since that respect and fortunes [respects of fortune] are his love,
I shall not be his wife.

Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor,
Most choice forsaken, and most loved despised!
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon.
Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away.
Gods, gods! ’tis strange that from their cold’st neglect
My love should kindle to inflamed respect.
Thy dowerless daughter, king, thrown to my chance,
Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France.
Not all the dukes of waterish Burgundy
Can buy this unprized precious maid of me.
Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind.
Thou losest here, a better where to find.

Thou hast her, France: let her be thine; for we
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of hers again. Therefore be gone
Without our grace, our love, our benison.
Come, noble Burgundy.

Flourish. Exit all but FRANCE, GONERIL, REGAN, and CORDELIA

Bid farewell to your sisters.

The jewels of our father, with washed eyes
Cordelia leaves you. I know you what you are,
And like a sister am most loath to call
Your faults as they are named. Love [Use] well our father:
To your professed bosoms I commit him.
But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,
I would prefer him to a better place.
So, farewell to you both.

Prescribe not us our duties.

Let your study
Be to content your lord, who hath received you
At fortune’s alms. You have obedience scanted,
And well are worth the want that you have wanted.

Time shall unfold what plighted [pleated] cunning hides.
Who covers faults, at last with shame [them] derides.
Well may you prosper.

Come, my fair Cordelia.


Sister, it is not little I have to say of what
most nearly appertains to us both. I think our
father will hence tonight.

That’s most certain, and with you; next month with us.

You see how full of changes his age is; the
observation we have made of it hath not been
little. He always loved our sister most, and
with what poor judgement he hath now cast her off
appears too grossly.

‘Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever
but slenderly known himself.

The best and soundest of his time hath been but
rash. Then must we look from his age to receive
not alone the imperfections of long-engrafted
condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness
that infirm and choleric years bring with them.

Such unconstant starts are we like to have from
him as this of Kent’s banishment.

There is further compliment of leave-taking
between France and him. Pray you, let’s sit [hit]
together. If our father carry authority with
such dispositions as he bears, this last
surrender of his will but offend us.

We shall further think on’t.

We must do something, and i’ the heat.



GLOUCESTER: pronounced “Gloster”

more affected: preferred, had more affection for

qualities … weighed: their portions of land are so equal, or their personal qualities are so balanced

curiosity: close scrutiny

moiety: portion; that is, they each will receive equal amounts so neither one will benefit more than the other.

breeding: upbringing

brazed: brazened, hardened (no longer embarrassed to acknowledge his illegitimate son)

conceive: understand, with Gloucester jokingly taking it in the second sense of sexual conception

ere: before

issue: product, his son Edmund

proper: handsome

order of law: legitimate

account: estimation

knave: “rascal”, in this case said affectionately, but usually an insult, an unprincipled, crafty villain (which turns out to be true)

saucily: bawdily, by means of an extramarital affair

sent for: planned for within the bounds of marriage

fair: beautiful

whoreson: bastard (how often has Edmund endured his father calling him this?)

sue: desire

study deserving: work to deserve your praise

out: away from home, another country?

Sennet: music signaling the king’s entrance

Attend: escort them in

darker purpose: secret intention for this meeting. In the opening lines Gloucester and Kent show that they are already aware of the king’s decision to divide the kingdom. His “darker purpose” must then concern his giving a third part to Cordelia and her new husband.

fast: firm (if “first”, primary)

Unburden’d: Lear intends to give over the responsibilities of ruling to his three daughters so that he will no longer bear the burden of leadership in his few remaining years. “Crawl” is ironic, as Lear will in his old age become a child again, depending on his daughters to care for him.

son: son-in-law

publish: announce

several dowers: individual dowries, inheritance given at marriage (how long have the older sisters been married?)

strife: he wants to divide up the kingdom peacefully to avoid future wars over territory

amorous sojourn: visit of courtship

answered: today we will decide who marries Cordelia

divest: free ourselves of, as in taking off clothes, an ironic foreshadowing of Lear’s attempt to strip himself during the storm

nature … challenge: natural affection should be equal among the daughters but one may prove herself more worthy and receive a greater portion of the kingdom if she declares her love more profusely and flatters her father more

wield: carry, convey

valued: estimated

found: found himself to be loved

Aside: a thought spoken to the audience that no one on stage can hear

champains riched: enriched plains

wide-skirted meads: widespread meadows

issue: children

perpetual: from now on

mettle: character, temperament, but with second sense of “metal,” gold or coins with which she buys his love

prize: estimate the value of my love to be the same as hers

names: describes

felicitate: happy

ponderous: weighty; that is, she believes her loving nature speaks for itself, more decidedly than anything she might say

hereditary: children

validity: value

least: youngest (Q1 uses “least” in a different sense)

interest: interested parties, combining with the wealth of her lands in England their vineyards and pastures (milk)

nothing: you will receive nothing from me if you speak nothing

Unhappy: unfortunate (to be put in this awkward position)

bond: duty as a daughter

Haply: perhaps

plight: pledge of marriage

dower: all you will receive for your wedding is your truthfulness

Hecate: goddess of the underworld and of witches; seen as a character in Macbeth

operation of the orbs: astrological influence

Propinquity: relationship

from this: from this time forth

Scythian: Asian tribes noted for their savagery

generation messes: makes meals of his children; that is, “I would love a savage or a cannibal as much as you”

sometime: once, former

set my rest: remaining days of leisure; also “stake all” as in a card game

nursery: care. This raises an unanswered question: did Lear intend to go live with Cordelia and her new husband in another country, or did he hope that she would refuse to marry in order to stay with him and “love her father all”?

who stirs?: quickly, someone, call France and Burgundy (Lear is rather impatient).

digest: the other two daughters will absorb the third that was to be Cordelia’s

effects that troup with majesty: all that goes with being a king

turn: he intends on staying with each of the other daughters every other month, keeping with him a hundred men as well which they must house and feed

addition: Lear wants to keep the title and the privileges of being king, but without the responsibility

coronet: not Lear’s crown, but the one that he was planning to give Cordelia. In one performance Lear snatched the coronet off his daughter’s head and tossed it at Albany and Cornwall. In contrast, Lawrence Olivier as Lear removes his own crown and casts it on the map (see video). Note in Julius Caesar the distinction that Casca makes between the two types: “I saw Mark Antony offer him a crown, yet ’twas not a crown neither, ’twas one of these coronets” (I.ii)

make: get out of the way of the arrow (of my anger)

fall: strike

fork: point of the arrow

unmannerly: I must be rude if you are going to act like a madman

duty: It’s my duty to challenge you like this, when you have so foolishly given in to your other daughters’ flattery

plainness: I honor you by speaking the truth plainly, without flattery, if it is to warn you against acting foolishly

reserve thy state: retain your place and authority as king. In Q, “doom” would mean his judgment on Cordelia

check: stop

Answer my life: upon my life

reverb no hollowness: reverberate like a hollow drum; that is, Cordelia’s lowly (humble) speech does not indicate that her heart is empty of love; based on a proverb, “The empty vessel makes the greatest sound” (Henry V, 4.4.66).

blank: the white center of the target; that is, let me help you see clearly and aim straight

Apollo: Roman sun god; Shakespeare sets his tale in pre-Christian Britain, mentioning only pagan gods

vassal: menial servant

miscreant: heretic

forbear: restrain yourself

physician: kill the one who is trying to cure you, and reward those who would do you harm (Goneril, Regan)

vent clamour: breathe a cry in protest

recreant: traitor

provision: making preparations

trunk: body

freedom; that is, since you will act thus, I will be better off somewhere else (although Kent later stays in disguise to serve the king)

approve: may your actions match your great words of love

Flourish: trumpet fanfare

tender: offer; that is, “you won’t take back your offer, will you?”

dear: meaning precious and valuable, both used here

aught: anything

seeming substance: just what you see standing there, nothing else

pieced: added to it

owes: owns, possesses; with all her faults

strangered: made a stranger to us

Election: choice; no one can choose under such conditions

stray: stray so far from loving you, to marry you off to a daughter I hate

avert: turn

nature: see comments for next scene

argument: theme, what you talked most about

trice: short period of time

dismantle: undo

monsters it: makes monstrous

fore-vouched: previously sworn; either she has committed a terrible act, or the love you once vowed you had for her is proven false (fallen into taint)

faith … plant in me: to believe this of her would take a miracle

want: lack

purpose not: I don’t have the talent to say things that I don’t intend to do (as my sisters have)

still soliciting: ever-begging, not proud

tardiness in nature: natural hesitation to speak, but would rather show love than speak of it

Love’s … point: love is not love if it is mixed with consideration of things that don’t matter (such as her dowry)

love: Burgundy loves possession of land more than her

inflamed respect: ardent love

waterish: with many rivers

unprized: unappreciated

benison: blessing

washed: tearful

professed: you professed that you love him

fortune’s alms: a small gift cast aside by Fortune

scanted: neglected

worth the want: your lack (want) of fortune is due to your apparent lack of love; you gave nothing and now you have nothing

plighted: promised; time will show if you are true to your flattering words

Who cover … derides: you may cover up your faults for a while, but eventually they will be revealed to your shame

grossly: obvious

slenderly: little

soundest: most rational; even in his best years, he was temperamental

long-ingraffed: ingrown habits; that is, we will suffer not only from problems he has had all his life, but those that also come with old age

therewithal: along with that

choleric: bad-tempered

unconstant starts: unexpected, impulsive actions

compliment: formality, ceremony upon the king of France’s leaving

sit: consult

surrender: If Lear continues to exercise his former authority with such bad behavior, then his abdication of the throne will be more trouble to us than it’s worth.

heat: immediately, “while the iron is hot”

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