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King Lear

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


Act 1 Scene 4

Albany and Goneril’s residence
Enter KENT, disguised

If but as well I other accents borrow,
That can my speech defuse, my good intent
May carry through itself to that full issue
For which I razed my likeness. Now, banished Kent,
If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemned,
So may it come thy master, whom thou lovest
Shall find thee full of labours.

Horns within.
Enter KING LEAR, Knights, and attendants

Let me not stay a jot for dinner; go get it ready.
How now, what art thou?

A man, sir.

What dost thou profess? What wouldst thou with us?

I do profess to be no less than I seem: to serve
him truly that will put me in trust, to love him
that is honest, to converse with him that is wise
and says little, to fear judgment, to fight when I
cannot choose, and to eat no fish.

What art thou?

A very honest-hearted fellow, and as poor as the king.

If thou be as poor for a subject as he is for a
king, thou art poor enough. What wouldst thou?


Who wouldst thou serve?


Dost thou know me, fellow?

No, sir; but you have that in your countenance
which I would fain call master.

What’s that?


What services canst thou do?

I can keep honest counsel, ride, run, mar a curious
tale in telling it, and deliver a plain message
bluntly: that which ordinary men are fit for, I am
qualified in; and the best of me is diligence.

How old art thou?

Not so young, sir, to love a woman for singing, nor
so old to dote on her for anything, I have years
on my back forty eight.

Follow me; thou shalt serve me: if I like thee no
worse after dinner, I will not part from thee yet.
Dinner, ho, dinner! Where’s my knave? my fool?
Go you, and call my fool hither.


You, you, sirrah, where’s my daughter?

So please you —


What says the fellow there? Call the clotpoll back.
Where’s my fool, ho? I think the world’s asleep.
How now! where’s that mongrel?

He says, my lord, your daughter is not well.


Why came not the slave back to me when I called him?

Sir, he answered me in the roundest manner, he would not.

He would not?

My lord, I know not what the matter is, but to my
judgment your highness is not entertained with that
ceremonious affection as you were wont. There’s a
great abatement of kindness appears as well in the
general dependants as in the duke himself also and
your daughter.

Ha? Sayest thou so?

I beseech you, pardon me, my lord, if I be mistaken,
for my duty cannot be silent when I think your
highness wronged.

Thou but rememberest me of mine own conception. I
have perceived a most faint neglect of late, which I
have rather blamed as mine own jealous curiosity
than as a very pretence and purpose of unkindness.
I will look further into’t. But where’s my fool? I
have not seen him this two days.

Since my young lady’s going into France, sir, the
fool hath much pined away.

No more of that; I have noted it well. Go you, and
tell my daughter I would speak with her.
Go you, call hither my fool.

Re-enter OSWALD

O, you sir, you, come you hither, sir. Who am I,

My lady’s father.

‘My lady’s father‘! My lord’s knave, you
whoreson dog! you slave! you cur!


I am none of these, my lord; I beseech your pardon.

Do you bandy looks with me, you rascal?

Striking him

I’ll not be strucken, my lord.


Nor tripped neither, you base football player.

Tripping up his heels

I thank thee, fellow; thou servest me, and I’ll love thee.

Come, sir, arise, away! I’ll teach you differences.
Away, away! if you will measure your lubber’s
again, tarry: but away! go to; have you
wisdom? So!

Pushes OSWALD out

Now, my friendly knave, I thank thee. There’s
earnest of thy service.

Enter FOOL

Let me hire him too: here’s my coxcomb.

How now, my pretty knave! How dost thou?

Sirrah, you were best take my coxcomb.

Why, fool?

Why, for taking one’s part that’s out of favor.
Nay, an thou canst not smile as the wind sits,
thou’lt catch cold shortly. There, take my coxcomb.
Why, this fellow has banished two on’s daughters,
and did the third a blessing against his will.
If thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.
How now, nuncle! Would I had two coxcombs and two daughters.

Why, my boy?

If I gave them all my living, I’d keep my coxcombs
myself. There’s mine; beg another of thy daughters.

Take heed, sirrah, the whip.

Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped
out, when Lady the Brach may stand by the fire and stink.

A pestilent gall to me.

Sirrah, I’ll teach thee a speech.


Mark it, nuncle:
Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens to a score.

This is nothing, fool.

Then ’tis like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer; you
gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of
nothing, nuncle?

Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.

[To KENT] Prithee, tell him, so much the
rent of his land comes to: he will not believe a fool.

A bitter fool.

Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a
bitter fool and a sweet one?

No, lad; teach me.

[That lord that counseled thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me,
Do thou for him stand:
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear;
The one in motley here,
The other found out there.

Dost thou call me fool, boy?

All thy other titles thou hast given away; that
thou wast born with.

This is not altogether fool, my lord.

No, faith, lords and great men will not let me; if
I had a monopoly out, they would have part on’t:
and ladies too, they will not let me have all fool
to myself; they’ll be snatching.] Give me an egg,
nuncle, and I’ll give thee two crowns.

What two crowns shall they be?

Why, after I have cut the egg i’ the middle, and eat
up the meat, the two crowns of the egg.
When thou clovest thy crown i’ the middle, and gavest away
both parts, thou borest thy ass on thy back o’er
the dirt: thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown,
when thou gavest thy golden one away. If I speak
like myself in this, let him be whipped that first finds it so.
Fools had ne’er less grace [wit] in a year;
For wise men are grown foppish,
They know not how their wits to wear,
Their manners are so apish.

When were you wont to be so full of songs, sirrah?

I have used it, nuncle, ever since thou madest thy
daughters thy mothers; for when thou gavest them
the rod, and put’st down thine own breeches,
Then they for sudden joy did weep,
And I for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep,
And go the fools among.
Prithee, nuncle, keep a schoolmaster that can teach
thy fool to lie. I would fain learn to lie.

If you lie, sirrah, we’ll have you whipped.

I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are:
they’ll have me whipped for speaking true, thou’lt
have me whipped for lying; and sometimes I am
whipped for holding my peace! I had rather be any
kind o’ thing than a fool: and yet I would not be
thee, nuncle. Thou hast pared thy wit o’ both sides,
and left nothing i’ the middle — here comes one o’
the parings.


How now, daughter, what makes that frontlet on?
[Methinks] you are too much of late i’ the frown.

Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou hadst no need to
care for her frowning; now thou art an O without a
. I am better than thou art now; I am a fool,
thou art nothing. (To GONERIL) Yes, forsooth,
I will hold my tongue; so your face
bids me, though you say nothing. Mum, mum,
He that keeps nor crust nor crum,
Weary of all, shall want some.

Pointing to KING LEAR

That’s a shelled peascod.

Not only, sir, this your all-licensed fool,
But other of your insolent retinue
Do hourly carp and quarrel, breaking forth
In rank and not-to-be endured riots. Sir,
I had thought, by making this well known unto you,
To have found a safe redress; but now grow fearful,
By what yourself too late have spoke and done;
That you protect this course, and put it on
By your allowance; which if you should, the fault
Would not ‘scape censure, nor the redresses sleep,
Which, in the tender of a wholesome weal,
Might in their working do you that offence,
Which else were shame, that then necessity
Will call discreet proceeding.

For, you know, nuncle,
The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
That it had its head bit off by its young.
So, out went the candle, and we were left darkling.

Are you our daughter?

[Come, sir,]
I would you would make use of your good wisdom,
Whereof I know you are fraught; and put away
These dispositions, that of late transport [transform] you
From what you rightly are.

May not an ass know when the cart
draws the horse? Whoop, Jug! I love thee.

Does any here know me? [Why] This is not Lear:
Does Lear walk thus? speak thus? Where are his eyes?
Either his notion weakens, his discernings
Are lethargied
— Ha! [sleeping or] waking? [Sure] ’tis not so.
Who is it that can tell me who I am?

Lear’s shadow.

I would learn that; for, by the marks of sovereignty,
knowledge, and reason, I should be false persuaded
I had daughters.

Which they will make an obedient father.]

Your name, fair gentlewoman?

This admiration, sir, is much o’ the savour
Of other your new pranks. I do beseech you
To understand my purposes aright:
As you are old and reverend, should be wise.
Here do you keep a hundred knights and squires,
Men so disordered, so debauched and bold,
That this our court, infected with their manners,
Shows like a riotous inn. Epicurism and lust
Make it more like a tavern or a brothel
Than a graced [great] palace. The shame itself doth speak
For instant remedy. Be then desired
By her, that else will take the thing she begs,
A little to disquantity your train;
And the remainder that shall still depend,
To be such men as may besort your age,
And know themselves and you.

Darkness and devils!
Saddle my horses; call my train together.
Degenerate bastard! I’ll not trouble thee.
Yet have I left a daughter.

You strike my people, and your disordered rabble
Make servants of their betters.


Woe that too late repents —
[O, sir, are you come?]
Is it your will? Speak, sir. — Prepare my horses.
Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous when thou show’st thee in a child
Than the sea-monster!

Pray, sir, be patient.

(To GONERIL) Detested kite! thou liest.
My train are men of choice and rarest parts
That all particulars of duty know,
And in the most exact regard support
The worships of their name. O most small fault!
How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show,
Which like an engine wrenched my frame of nature
From the fixed place, drew from my heart all love,
And added to the gall. O Lear, Lear, Lear!
Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in,
And thy dear judgment out! Go, go, my people.

My lord, I am guiltless, as I am ignorant
Of what hath moved you.

It may be so, my lord.
Hear, nature, hear; dear goddess, hear!
Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend
To make this creature fruitful.
Into her womb convey sterility,
Dry up in her the organs of increase,
And from her derogate body never spring
A babe to honour her. If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen; that it may live,
And be a thwart disnatured torment to her!
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent [accent] tears fret channels in her cheeks.
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child! Away, away!
[Go, go, my people!]


Now, gods that we adore, whereof comes this?

Never afflict yourself to know more of it [the cause],
But let his disposition have that scope
As dotage gives it.

Re-enter KING LEAR

What, fifty of my followers at a clap?
Within a fortnight?

What’s the matter, sir?

I’ll tell thee:
(To GONERIL) Life and death! I am ashamed
That thou hast power to shake my manhood thus;
That these hot tears, which break from me perforce,
Should make thee worth them [the worst]. Blasts and fogs upon thee!
The untented woundings of a father’s curse
Pierce every sense about thee! Old fond eyes,
Beweep this cause again, I’ll pluck ye out,
And cast you with the waters that you loose [make]
To temper clay. [Yea, is’t come to this?]
Ha? Let it be so. Yet have I another [left a] daughter,
Who I am sure is kind and comfortable.
When she shall hear this of thee, with her nails
She’ll flay thy wolvish visage. Thou shalt find
That I’ll resume the shape which thou dost think
I have cast off for ever. [Thou shalt, I warrant thee.]

Exit KING LEAR, KENT, and attendants

Do you mark that, [my lord]?

I cannot be so partial, Goneril,
To the great love I bear you —

Pray you, content. [Come, sir, no more.] What, Oswald, ho?
(To the FOOL)
You, sir, more knave than fool, after your master!

Nuncle Lear, nuncle Lear, tarry and take the fool with thee!
A fox, when one has caught her,
And such a daughter,
Should sure to the slaughter,
If my cap would buy a halter;
So the fool follows after.


This man hath had good counsel — a hundred knights!
‘Tis politic and safe to let him keep
At point a hundred knights! Yes, that on every dream,
Each buzz, each fancy, each complaint, dislike,
He may enguard his dotage with their powers
And hold our lives in mercy. Oswald, I say!

Well, you may fear too far.

Safer than trust too far.
Let me still take away the harms I fear,
Not fear still to be taken. I know his heart.
What he hath uttered I have writ my sister.
If she sustain him and his hundred knights
When I have showed the unfitness —

Re-enter OSWALD

How now, Oswald?
What, have you writ that letter to my sister?

Ay, madam.

Take you some company, and away to horse.
Inform her full of my particular fear,
And thereto add such reasons of your own
As may compact it more. Get you gone,
And hasten your return.


No, no, my lord,
This milky gentleness and course of yours,
Though I condemn [dislike] not, yet, under pardon,
You are much more attasked for want of wisdom
Than praised for harmful mildness.

How far your eyes may pierce I can not tell:
Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.

Nay, then–

Well, well; the event.



defuse: disguise; Kent speaks in a different accent as part of his disguise

full issue: intended outcome

razed my likeness: shaved off his beard to change his appearance

come: come to pass that …

stay a jot: wait a second

profess: what is your profession

eat no fish: he’s not a Catholic, who ate fish instead of meat on Fridays, an anachronism in the play since the story is apparently set before Christian times (notice all the references to Roman gods).

countenance: face and bearing (the way you present yourself)

fain: want to

keep honest council: keep secrets

mar a curious tale: spoil an elaborate story, that is, he’s not a good storyteller, but he sees this as a positive quality, as he speaks plainly.

dote: show excessive fondness

knave: boy (often used in a derogatory sense but not here)

clotpoll: blockhead

asleep: since no one seems to be responding to his requests quickly enough

roundest: rudest

entertained: treated

wont: accustomed to

abatement: reduction

dependants: servants

rememberest: remind, confirm my own observations

jealous curiosity: overly suspicious concern over minor matters

very pretence: true intention

young lady: Cordelia

pined: grieved, longing for Cordelia

No more of that: Lear has noted the Fool’s sadness, but doesn’t want to be reminded of his sending Cordelia away.

father: Lear is enraged since he doesn’t acknowledge him as “My king”

whoreson: son of a whore, bastard

bandy: volley, exchange (as in tennis); only an insolent servant would look directly at the king

base football player: a lowly game played in the streets by idle boys

differences: in rank (to know your betters)

if you will measure your lubber’s length again: if you want to be flattened out on the floor again (to measure your length), you clumsy oaf (lubber = an inexperienced sailor; a landlubber)

earnest: payment (Lear gives him a coin)

coxcomb: the fool’s traditional hat, perhaps with bells

out of favor: Kent is a fool to side with Lear, since he’s no longer in power

an:  if

smile … cold shortly: if you can’t flatter and side with those in power, you’ll be out in the cold soon enough.

banished: ironically, by giving them his kingdom, he has lost his daughters’ affection (pretended though it was).

on’s: of his

blessing: by sending her away from this poor situation

follow him: if you follow such a man, you are indeed a fool

nuncle: contraction of “mine uncle” as the fool calls the king

Brach: bitch; the text probably should read “the Lady’s brach” instead of a proper name (JD Wilson). The fool says that he (Truth) is whipped and sent outside like a dog, whereas Goneril’s pet servant, Oswald (whom Lear has just called a dog), gets to stay inside by the fire.

gall: irritating sore (the fact that Oswald is favored in this house rather than being punished for his insolence to the king)

Mark it: pay attention

showest: that is, don’t show all your cards, don’t reveal all your worth.

owest: own, that is, don’t lend someone everything you have (as the king has done).

goest: ride more than you walk

trowest: believe; listen to others’ opinions, not just those who agree with you.

throwest: stake less at dice than you throw for, get the odds on your opponent

two tens to a score: you’ll do better than break even (two tens = twenty, a score)

breath of an unfee’d lawyer: advice of an unpaid lawyer

nothing: echoes what Lear said to Cordelia in the first scene

Prithee: pray thee

rent: his lands are now worth nothing to him, since he gave them away.

stand: you, Lear, stand in for him (this fool that told you to give away your kingdom, who of course is Lear himself)

motley: the costume of a jester, typically a patchwork of green and yellow

found out there: discovered to be a fool, as he points to Lear

fool: foolish, that is, the “fool” speaks wisely

monopoly: the lords and great men will not let me keep all the folly to myself

meat: the contents of the egg

crowns: half shells

clovest: split

borest thy ass: carried your donkey on your back, foolishly overturning normal behavior

bald crown: his head

like myself: like a fool

Fools … apish: fools are less in favor these days, because “wise” men now play the fools, mimicking (aping) the professionals.

mothers: you reversed roles with your daughters, as now they spank you

play bo-peep: act like a child

Prithee: I pray thee (I ask you)

fain: desire to

kin: are you and your daughters truly related?

pared: as in paring an apple, cut off the sides

frontlet: a band worn across the forehead, used here to refer to a frown

O without a figure: a zero without a digit to give it numeric value; he is nothing.

shelled peascod: empty pea pod

all-licensed: allowed to take liberties, to insult his betters, which was part of his function in court, as only he could tell the king to his face that he is a fool (note the contrast with Kent who was banished for saying so).

retinue: the 100 knights he keeps with him

carp: complain

rank: excessive, violent

redress: solution; she hoped that by mentioning this problem to Lear, he would have taken care of it himself and brought his knights to order

too late: lately

put it on: you encourage this trouble

sleep: correction would not wait

tender of a wholesome weal: care for the peace of the state

might … proceeding: correcting your faults might humiliate you, but under the circumstances would be wise and justified action

cuckoo: bird that lays its eggs in another’s nest, in this case a sparrow, who feeds the young cuckoos anyway until they are old enough to kill it (metaphor of ungrateful children).

darkling: in the dark

fraught: endowed

dispositions: moods

Whoop, Jug: meaning is uncertain, perhaps a quote from a popular drinking song

notion: understanding

discernings are lethargied: mental faculties are asleep

shadow: Lear is only a mere shadow of his former self (note in Q he says this about himself)

marks of sovereignty: evidence that he is a king and has daughters for princesses, but this must be false, as surely no daughter would speak so harshly to her father the king.

name: Lear asks sarcastically, “Who are you? You can’t be my daughter and treat me so rudely.”

admiration: pretended wonder

savour: smells like, resembles

epicurism: living only for pleasure like the ancient philosophy of the same name

desired: requested

disquantity your train: reduce in number your followers

besort: befit

Degenerate: unnatural

will: Lear asks Albany, “Is this your will, too? Are you a part of this insult against me?”

kite: bird of prey

parts: qualities

worships: honors, reputation

engine: tool (lever) that tore apart the natural affection I had for Cordelia from my heart

gall: bitterness

gate: his head

nature: Lear prays to Nature as a deity whom his unnatural daughter has offended (see comments for 1.2)

derogate: degraded

teem: increase, conceive children

spleen: spiteful, ill-humoured

cadent: falling

fret: wear

dotage: senility

clap: at one stroke (like a thunderclap)

fortnight: month

perforce: by force, against my will

untented: undressed (tent refers to a bandage)

fond: foolish

Beweep: if you cry again …

temper: soften

comfortable: comforting

flay: tear the skin off

visage: face

shape: his kingly role

partial: even though I love you (I must protest)

a fox … halter: if I could trade my cap for a rope, I would lead this fox (Goneril) to slaughter

politic: good policy (said ironically)

at point: armed

buzz: rumor

enguard: protect (his senile whims)

compact: substantiate

course: nature, disposition

attasked: at fault

harmful mildness: leniency (towards Lear) that causes harm

mar: spoil

event: let’s see what the result is

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