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King Lear

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


Act 3 Scene 2

Another part of the heath. Storm still.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow,
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike [smite] flat the thick rotundity o’ the world,
Crack nature’s moulds, all germains spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

O nuncle, court holy-water in a dry
house is better than this rain-water out o’ door.
Good nuncle, in, and ask thy daughters’ blessing.
Here’s a night pities neither wise men nor fools.

Rumble thy bellyful! Spit fire! spout rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters:
tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.
I never gave you kingdom, called you children,
You owe me no subscription.  [Why] then let fall
Your horrible pleasure; here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man.
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters joined
Your high engendered battles ‘gainst a head
So old and white as this. O! O! ’tis foul!

He that has a house to put’s head in has a good head-piece.
The cod-piece that will house
Before the head has any,
The head and he shall louse;
So beggars marry many.
The man that makes his toe
What he his heart should make,
Shall of a corn cry woe
And turn his sleep to wake.
For there was never yet fair woman but she made
mouths in a glass.

No, I will be the pattern of all patience;
I will say nothing.

Enter KENT

Who’s there?

Marry, here’s grace and a cod-piece; that’s a wise
man and a fool.

Alas, sir, are [sit] you here? Things that love night
Love not such nights as these. The wrathful skies
Gallow the very wanderers of the dark,
And make them keep their caves. Since I was man,
Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never
Remember to have heard. Man’s nature cannot carry
The affliction nor the fear [force].

Let the great gods,
That keep this dreadful pudder [pother] o’er our heads,
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch,
That hast within thee undivulged crimes,
Unwhipped of justice. Hide thee, thou bloody hand,
Thou perjured, and thou simular man of virtue
That art incestuous. Caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practiced on man’s life. Close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents [concealed centers], and cry
These dreadful summoners grace. I am a man
More sinned against than sinning.

Alack, bare-headed?
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel;
Some friendship will it lend you ‘gainst the tempest.
Repose you there, while I to this hard house —
More harder than the stones whereof ’tis raised.
Which even but now, demanding after you [me],
Denied me to come in — return, and force
Their scanted courtesy.

My wits begin to turn.
Come on, my boy: how dost, my boy? Art cold?
I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow?
The art of our necessities is strange
That can make vile things precious. Come, your hovel.
Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart
That’s sorry [that sorrows] yet for thee.

He that has and a little tiny wit,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
Though [For] the rain, it raineth every day.

True, [my good] boy. Come, bring us to this hovel.

    Exit KING LEAR and KENT

This is a brave night to cool a courtesan.
I’ll speak a prophecy ere I go:
When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailors’ tutors;
No heretics burned, but wenches’ suitors;
When every case in law is right,
No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues,
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold i’ the field,
And bawds and whores do churches build;
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion:
Then comes the time, who lives to see’t,
That going shall be used with feet.
This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time.]




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

crack your cheeks: the image of personified clouds blowing, with their cheeks puffed out.

cataracts: floods

cocks: weathervanes shaped like roosters on top of buildings

thought-executing fires: lightning swift as thought

vaunt-couriers: heralds who go before the army (as lightning goes before thunder)

oak-cleaving: tree splitting

rotundity: roundness, also may allude to pregnancy; Lear curses the world to be barren.

moulds: as if men were formed in molds into which the seeds (germains) of life are poured; that is, destroy the means to make more men.

court holy-water: slang for flattery; it would be better to flatter your daughters than to stay outside in this storm.

tax: accuse

subscription: submission, or allegiance, support

servile ministers: agents who serve my daughters, taking their side against me

pernicious: deadly, poisonous

high-engendered: heavenly

headpiece: brain

codpiece … many: the codpiece was clothing that covered the crotch. The fool says that the man who thinks more about “housing his codpiece” (having sex) than where he will live, will soon be poor and full of lice.

many: many lice (see above explanation)

makes his toe: someone who overturns the normal order of things, elevating his toe above the status of his heart. Lear has brought this trouble on himself by turning his power over to his daughters.

glass: mirror, commenting on Lear’s vanity

Marry: By the virgin Mary

Gallow: frighten

pudder: turmoil

enemies: sinners; Lear warns murderers, liars, those committing incest, who have gotten away with their crimes thus far, to hide or beg the heavens for mercy.

simular: counterfeit

caitiff: villain

seeming: hypocrisy

practiced: plotted against

close: hidden

Rive: split open, thus revealing the contents

continents: containers

summoners: the gods who summon them to judgement

sinning: Although many men deserve heaven’s wrath because of their sins, Lear believes that his punishment is greater than his crime, resulting from others’ sins against him.

hard by: close by

hovel: shack

harder: play on words; hard as in nearby, but also hard as in harsh, lacking compassion

demanding: asking about the king

scanted: withheld

art: alchemy which sought to turn base metals into gold. A common thing like warm, dry straw can become precious, even to a king, at times like this.

fortunes fit: he that has little wits must be content with little fortune. This song is also found in Twelfth Night, Act V.

brave: fine

cool a courtesan: such a night would cool off the hot passion of a whore

word than matter: don’t practice the holiness they preach

mar: dilute the beer

tutors: when noblemen know more about fashion than the tailors, being concerned more with looking good than with ruling well

burned: heretics escape punishment, but lovers “burn” with venereal disease. These first four “prophesies” have already come to pass, describing the world as it is now (hypocritical priests, cheating brewers, ineffective rulers, heretics on the loose). The following prophecies, however, are all too good to be true, and will never happen.

tell their gold in the field: count money in the open

bawds: pimps

Albion: England

confusion: if these last six Utopian prophecies ever come to pass, England won’t be recognizable, nothing will be as it is now.

going shall be used with feet: men will walk upright, as they ought (suggesting that they don’t do that now).

Merlin: the wizard of King Arthur legend, supposedly lived after Lear’s time.

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