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King Lear

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


Act 2 Scene 4

Courtyard at GLOUCESTER’s residence , KENT in the stocks
Enter KING LEAR, FOOL, and Gentleman

‘Tis strange that they should so depart from home [hence],
And not send back my messenger.

As I learn’d,
The night before there was no purpose in them
Of this remove.

Hail to thee, noble master!

Ha! [How] Makest thou this shame thy pastime?

No, my lord.

Ha, ha! he wears cruel garters. Horses are tied
by the heads [heels], dogs and bears by the neck, monkeys by
the loins, and men by the legs. When a man’s
over-lusty at legs, then he wears wooden nether-stocks.

What’s he that hath so much thy place mistook
To set thee here?

It is both he and she, your son and daughter.



No, I say.

I say, yea.

[No, no, they would not.

Yes, they have.]

By Jupiter, I swear, no.

By Juno, I swear, ay.

They durst not do ‘t.
They could not, would not do ‘t; ’tis worse than murder
To do upon respect such violent outrage.
Resolve me, with all modest haste, which way
Thou mightst deserve, or they impose [purpose], this usage,
Coming from us.

My lord, when at their home
I did commend your highness’ letters to them,
Ere I was risen from the place that showed
My duty kneeling, came there a reeking post,
Stewed in his haste, half breathless, panting forth
From Goneril his mistress salutations;
Delivered letters, spite of intermission,
Which presently they read; on whose contents
They summoned up their meiny [men], straight took horse,
Commanded me to follow, and attend
The leisure of their answer, gave me cold looks;
And meeting here the other messenger,
Whose welcome, I perceived, had poisoned mine,
Being the very fellow that of late
Displayed so saucily against your highness,
Having more man than wit about me, drew.
He raised the house with loud and coward cries.
Your son and daughter found this trespass worth
The shame which here it suffers.

Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild-geese fly that way.
Fathers that wear rags
Do make their children blind;
But fathers that bear bags
Shall see their children kind.
Fortune, that arrant whore,
Ne’er turns the key to the poor.
But, for all this, thou shalt have as many dolours
for thy daughters as thou canst tell in a year.

O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow,
Thy element’s below. Where is this daughter?

With the earl, sir, here within.

Follow me not, stay here.


Made you no more offence but what you speak of?

None. How chance the king comes with so small a number [train]?

An thou hadst been set i’ the stocks for that question,
thou hadst well deserved it.

Why, fool?

We’ll set thee to school to an ant, to teach thee
there’s no labouring i’ the winter. All that follow
their noses are led by their eyes but blind men, and
there’s not a nose among twenty [a hundred] but can smell him
that’s stinking. Let go thy hold when a great wheel
runs down a hill, lest it break thy neck with
following it: but the great one that goes upward [up the hill],
let him draw thee after. When a wise man
gives thee better counsel, give me mine again: I
would have none but knaves follow it, since a fool gives it.
That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm.
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
And let the wise man fly:
The knave turns fool that runs away;
The fool no knave, perdy.

Where learned you this, fool?

Not i’ the stocks, fool.


Deny to speak with me? They are sick, they are weary,
They have travelled all [hard] the night? Mere fetches [justice],
The images of revolt and flying off.
Fetch me a better answer.

My dear lord,
You know the fiery quality of the duke,
How unremoveable and fixed he is
In his own course.

Vengeance, plague, death, confusion!
Fiery? what quality? Why, Gloucester, Gloucester,
I’d speak with the Duke of Cornwall and his wife.

Well, my good lord, I have informed them so.

Informed them! Dost thou understand me, man?

Ay, my good lord.

The king would speak with Cornwall; the dear father
Would with his daughter speak, commands, tends, [her] service.
Are they informed of this? My breath and blood!
 The fiery duke — Tell the hot duke that —
No, but not yet: maybe he is not well.
Infirmity doth still neglect all office
Whereto our health is bound; we are not ourselves
When nature, being oppressed, commands the mind
To suffer with the body. I’ll forbear,
And am fallen out with my more headier will,
To take the indisposed and sickly fit
For the sound man.

 Looking on KENT

Death on my state! Wherefore
Should he sit here? This act persuades me
That this remotion of the duke and her
Is practice only. Give me my servant forth.
Go tell the duke and ‘s wife I’d speak with them,
Now, presently: bid them come forth and hear me,
Or at their chamber door I’ll beat the drum
Till it cry sleep to death.

I would have all well betwixt you.


me, my heart, my rising heart! but, down!

Cry to it, nuncle, as the cockney did to the eels
when she put ’em i’ the paste alive; she knapped [rapped] ’em
o’ the coxcombs with a stick, and cried ‘Down,
wantons, down!’ ‘Twas her brother that, in pure
kindness to his horse, buttered his hay.


Good morrow to you both.

Hail to your grace.

I am glad to see your highness.

Regan, I think you are; I know what reason
I have to think so. If thou shouldst not be glad,
I would divorce me from thy mother’s tomb,
Sepulchring an adultress.

To KENT who has been released from the stocks

O, are you free?
Some other time for that. Beloved Regan,
Thy sister’s naught. O Regan, she hath tied
Sharp-tooth’d unkindness, like a vulture, here.
I can scarce speak to thee; thou’lt not believe
With how depraved a quality — O Regan!

I pray you, sir, take patience. I have hope
You less know how to value her desert
Than she to scant [slack] her duty.

Say, how is that?

I cannot think my sister in the least
Would fail her obligation. If, sir, perchance
She have restrained the riots of your followers,
‘Tis on such ground, and to such wholesome end
As clears her from all blame.

My curses on her!

O, sir, you are old.
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of his [her] confine. You should be ruled and led
By some discretion that discerns your state
Better than you yourself. Therefore, I pray you,
That to our sister you do make return;
Say you have wronged her, [sir.]

Ask her forgiveness?
Do you but mark how this becomes the house?
“Dear daughter, I confess that I am old.
Age is unnecessary: on my knees I beg
That you’ll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food.”

Good sir, no more; these are unsightly tricks.
Return you to my sister.

Never [No], Regan:
She hath abated me of half my train,
Looked black upon me, struck me with her tongue,
Most serpent-like, upon the very heart.
All the stored vengeances of heaven fall
On her ingrateful top! Strike her young bones,
You taking airs, with lameness!

Fie, sir, fie!

You nimble lightnings, dart your blinding flames
Into her scornful eyes! Infect her beauty,
You fen-sucked fogs, drawn by the powerful sun,
To fall and blister [blast her pride]!

O the blest gods! So will you wish on me
When the rash mood is on.

No, Regan, thou shalt never have my curse.
Thy tender-hefted nature shall not give
Thee o’er to harshness. Her eyes are fierce, but thine
Do comfort and not burn. ‘Tis not in thee
To grudge my pleasures, to cut off my train,
To bandy hasty words, to scant my sizes,
And in conclusion to oppose the bolt
Against my coming in. Thou better know’st
The offices of nature, bond of childhood,
Effects of courtesy, dues of gratitude.
Thy half o’ the kingdom hast thou not forgot
Wherein I thee endowed.

Good sir, to the purpose.

Who put my man i’ the stocks?

What trumpet’s that?

I know’t, my sister’s. This approves her letter,
That she would soon be here.


Is your lady come?

This is a slave, whose easy-borrowed pride
Dwells in the sickly [fickle] grace of her he follows.
Out, varlet, from my sight!

What means your grace?

Who stocked  my servant? Regan, I have good hope
Thou didst not know on’t.


Who comes here? O heavens,
If you do love old men, if your sweet sway
Allow obedience, if yourselves are old,
Make it your cause: send down, and take my part!
(to Goneril) Art not ashamed to look upon this beard?
O Regan, wilt thou take her by the hand?

Why not by the hand, sir? How have I offended?
All’s not offence that indiscretion finds
And dotage terms so.

sides, you are too tough;
Will you yet hold? How came my man i’ the stocks?

I set him there, sir, but his own disorders
Deserved much less advancement.

You! Did you?

I pray you, father, being weak, seem so.
If till the expiration of your month,
You will return and sojourn with my sister,
Dismissing half your train, come then to me.
I am now from home, and out of that provision
Which shall be needful for your entertainment.

Return to her, and fifty men dismissed?
No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose
To wage against the enmity o’ the air;
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl —
Necessity’s sharp pinch! Return with her?
Why, the hot-blooded France, that dowerless took
Our youngest born, I could as well be brought
To knee his throne, and, squire-like, pension beg
To keep base life afoot. Return with her?
Persuade me rather to be slave and sumpter
To this detested groom.

At your choice, sir.

I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad.
I will not trouble thee, my child. Farewell;
We’ll no more meet, no more see one another —
But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter;
Or rather a disease that’s in my flesh,
Which I must needs call mine. Thou art a boil,
A plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle,
In my corrupted blood. But I’ll not chide thee;
Let shame come when it will, I do not call it;
I do not bid the thunder-bearer shoot,
Nor tell tales of thee to high-judging Jove.
Mend when thou canst; be better at thy leisure;
I can be patient. I can stay with Regan,
I and my hundred knights.

Not altogether so:
I looked not for you yet, nor [now] am provided
For your fit welcome. Give ear, sir, to my sister;
For those that mingle reason with your passion 
Must be content to think you old, and so–
But she knows what she does.

Is this well spoken?

I dare avouch it, sir. What, fifty followers?
Is it not well? What should you need of more?
Yea, or so many, since that both charge and danger
Speak ‘gainst so great a number? How in one house
Should many people, under two commands,
Hold amity? ‘Tis hard, almost impossible.

Why might not you, my lord, receive attendance
From those that she calls servants or from mine?

Why not, my lord? If then they chanced to slack ye,
We could control them. If you will come to me —
For now I spy a danger — I entreat you
To bring but five and twenty: to no more
Will I give place or notice.

I gave you all —

And in good time you gave it.

Made you my guardians, my depositaries,
But kept a reservation to be followed
With such a number. What, must I come to you
With five and twenty, Regan? Said you so?

And speak’t again, my lord; no more with me.

Those wicked creatures yet do look well-favoured,
When others are more wicked; not being the worst
Stands in some rank of praise.


I’ll go with thee:
Thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty,
And thou art twice her love.

Hear me, my lord;
What need you five and twenty, ten, or five,
To follow in a house where twice so many
Have a command to tend you?

What need one?

O, reason not the need [deed]! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady;
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need —
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man [fellow],
As full of grief as age, wretched in both!
If it be you that stir these daughters’ hearts
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely [lamely]. Touch me with noble anger,
And let not women’s weapons, water-drops,
Stain my man’s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags,
I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall — I will do such things —
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth! You think I’ll weep
No, I’ll not weep:
I have full cause of weeping; but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,
Or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!


Let us withdraw; ’twill be a storm.

This house is little; the old man and his people
Cannot be well bestowed.

‘Tis his own blame; hath put himself from rest,
And must needs taste his folly.

For his particular, I’ll receive him gladly,
But not one follower.

So am I purposed.
Where is my lord of Gloucester?

Followed the old man forth: he is returned.


The king is in high rage.

Whither is he going?

He calls to horse; but will I know not whither.

‘Tis best [good] to give him way; he leads himself.

My lord, entreat him by no means to stay.

Alack, the night comes on, and the high [bleak] winds
Do sorely ruffle; for many miles about
There’s scarce [not] a bush.

O, sir, to willful men,
The injuries that they themselves procure
Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors.
He is attended with a desperate train,
And what they may incense him to, being apt
To have his ear abused, wisdom bids fear.

Shut up your doors, my lord; ’tis a wild night.
My Regan counsels well; come out o’ the storm.




they: Cornwall and Regan who had departed their home to go to Gloucester’s, hoping to avoid Lear

purpose: intention

shame: being in the stocks

cruel: a pun on “crewel,” a type of yarn used in making garters

over-lusty: either tried to run away, or lusts after women’s legs

nether-stocks: stockings for the lower legs (in this case, the stocks around his ankles)

durst: wouldn’t dare

respect: they wouldn’t do such an outrage, out of respect for the king; one should treat the king’s messenger as you would the king himself

resolve: inform me what you have done to deserve this punishment, coming as my servant

commend: deliver

reeking post: sweating messenger

intermission: in spite of his interrupting my business, or with breaks in his speech because he was out of breath

meiny: attendants

displayed so saucily: behaved so insultingly to the king (back at Goneril’s)

drew: drew his sword

blind: indifferent to his poverty

bags: money-bags

Fortune: is unfaithful, promiscuous, unreliable, never opens its door to the poor

dolours: sorrows, also a pun on “dollars”

mother: hysteria, a female disease which caused choking, shortness of breath, thought to rise up from the womb; “hysterica passio” is the Latin medical term

element: proper place

number: what’s happened to his 100 knights? The fool will argue that they left when the king’s fortunes began to fail.

An: If

ant: the ant in the fable works in the summer while there is opportunity to store up food, unlike the lazy grasshopper who waits until winter and has none. Lear has waited until “winter” (see the Fool’s earlier line about the geese flying south) and is now unprepared for hard times.

stinking: everyone ought to be able to smell the decay of Lear’s fortunes

great wheel: Fortune’s wheel; when a great man’s fortune begins to fail him, quit following him unless you want to share his fate.

form: show, serves only to gain favor, not out of true loyalty; similar to the phrase “fair weather friends” who only stick around when things are going well

pack: leave

wise: meant ironically, for those that flee, being disloyal, are actually the fools.

perdy: by God (French par Dieu)

fetches: excuses; when the king commands, there are no excuses

flying off: desertion

tends: awaits

office: duties

health: in health we are bound to such duties that illness prevents us from performing

forbear: be patient

headier: I quarrel with my more headstrong impulse

remotion: absence, remaining remote

practice: pretense

forth: out of the stocks

paste: pastry; the foolish woman tries to bake live eels

buttered his hay: the foolish man thought he was being kind, but horses won’t eat greasy hay

sepulchring an adultress: if you were not glad to see me, I would have to think that your mother, now in her tomb (sepulcher), was unfaithful to me and you were not my daughter.

naught: wicked

here: at his heart; the vulture may allude to the myth of Prometheus, chained to a rock, whose liver was eaten by a vulture each day, as punishment for introducing fire to mankind

desert: worth; I hope that you are mistaken in your evaluation of her; that is more likely than that she has ignored her duty.

confine: you are at the limits of your natural life

discerns: understands your condition

becomes the house: suits my royal position (said with irony; Lear asking forgiveness would not suit his role as king); some editors suggest Lear kneels in mockery here as if speaking to Goneril — or without the quotation marks, to Regan

unnecessary: old people are of no use

vouchsafe: grant

raiment: clothing

abated: deprived

train: followers

top: head

taking airs: infectious vapors

fen-sucked: drawn up from the swamps

tender-hefted: framed in a tender nature

bandy: tennis term, hit back

scant: reduce

bolt: lock on the door

offices: duties

to the purpose: come to the point

approves: confirms

stocked:   Q gives this line to Goneril “Who struck my servant…” that is, Oswald; in Q she’s angry about the fight with Kent

allow: approves of

indiscretion finds: poor judgement decides is an offence

dotage: senility

sides: Lear feels his heart is about to burst out of his body

sojourn: live with

abjure: renounce, give up

wage: fight

pinch: this is the hard decision I am forced to make

knee: kneel before

squire-like: as a servant

sumpter: pack horse

groom: Oswald

embossed carbuncle: swollen boil risen to a head

chide: scold

Jove: Jupiter (Greek Zeus), king of the gods known for throwing down thunderbolts.

Mend: improve your manners

mingle reason with your passion: those whose reason can recognize your passionate outbursts as the results of old age

avouch: swear by

charge: expense

amity: peaceful relations

depositaries: trustees of his kingdom

well-favoured: bad things look better when compared to worse

reason not the need: don’t talk to me of what I need, I demand more than the bare necessities of life

superfluous: even beggars have some extra things they don’t need merely to sustain life

gorgeous: if all you needed were warmth, you wouldn’t wear these beautiful gowns, which hardly keep you warm anyway.

flaws: cracks

Or ere: before

bestowed: lodged

his particular: himself alone

purposed: determined

ruffle: rage

procure: bring on themselves

train: his knights, although in the next scene it seems all have left him except the Fool and Kent

incense: incite

abused: since he tends to listen to bad advice

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