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King Lear

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


Act 4 Scene 1

The heath

Yet better thus, and known to be contemned,
Than still contemned and flattered. To be worst,
The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune,
Stands still in esperance, lives not in fear:
The lamentable change is from the best;
The worst returns to laughter. Welcome, then,
Thou unsubstantial air that I embrace!
The wretch that thou hast blown unto the worst
Owes nothing to thy blasts.
 But who comes here?

Enter GLOUCESTER, led by an Old Man

My father, poorly led [parti eyed]? World, world, O world!
But that thy strange mutations make us hate thee,
Life would not yield to age.

O, my good lord, I have been your tenant, and
your father’s tenant, these fourscore years.

Away, get thee away; good friend, be gone.
Thy comforts can do me no good at all;
Thee they may hurt.

[Alack, sir,] you cannot see your way.

I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;
I stumbled when I saw. Full oft ’tis seen,
Our means secure us, and our mere defects
Prove our commodities. O dear son Edgar,
The food of thy abused father’s wrath!
Might I but live to see thee in my touch,
I’d say I had eyes again!

How now! Who’s there?

(Aside) O gods! Who is’t can say, “I am at the worst”?
I am worse than e’er I was.

‘Tis poor mad Tom.

(Aside) And worse I may be yet: the worst is not
So long as we can say “This is the worst.”

Fellow, where goest?

Is it a beggar-man?

Madman and beggar too.

He has some reason, else he could not beg.
I’ the last night’s storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I have heard more since.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods:
They kill [bitt] us for their sport.

(Aside) How should this be?
Bad is the trade that must play [the] fool to sorrow,
Angering itself and others — Bless thee, master!

Is that the naked fellow?

Ay, my lord.

[Then, prithee,] get thee away [gone]. If for my sake
Thou wilt o’ertake us, hence a mile or twain
I’ the way toward Dover, do it for ancient love,
And bring some covering for this naked soul,
Who I’ll entreat to lead me.

Alack, sir, he is mad.

‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.
Do as I bid thee, or rather do thy pleasure;
Above the rest, be gone.

I’ll bring him the best ‘parel that I have,
Come on’t what will.


Sirrah, naked fellow —

Poor Tom’s a-cold.
(Aside) I cannot daub [dance] it further.

Come hither, fellow.

(AsideAnd yet I must. — Bless thy sweet eyes, they bleed.

Know’st thou the way to Dover?

Both stile and gate, horse-way and foot-path. Poor
Tom hath been scared out of his good wits. Bless
thee, good man’s son, from the foul fiend!
[Five fiends have been in poor Tom at once; of lust, as
Obidicut; Hobbididence, prince of dumbness; Mahu, of
stealing; Modo, of murder; Flibbertigibbet, of
mopping and mowing, who since possesses chambermaids
and waiting-women. So, bless thee, master!]

Here, take this purse, thou whom the heavens’ plagues
Have humbled to all strokes. That I am wretched
Makes thee the happier. Heavens, deal so still!
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,
That slaves [stands] your ordinance, that will not see
Because he doth not feel, feel your power quickly;
So distribution should undo [under] excess,
And each man have enough. Dost thou know Dover?

Ay, master.

There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully [firmly] in the confined deep.
Bring me but to the very brim of it,
And I’ll repair the misery thou dost bear
With something rich about me. From that place
I shall no leading need.

Give me thy arm:
Poor Tom shall lead thee.



contemned : despised (it’s better to know you are despised, than to be despised but be fooled by flattery)

esperance : hope (Edgar has hope, since things can’t get any worse, they must get better.)

want : need

means : prosperity makes us overconfident

defects prove our commodities : our sufferings do us good

abused : deceived

worse: seeing his tortured father, Edgar rejects the false optimism of his first speech, realizing that he now indeed is worse off than when he thought of his own suffering only. In his next line, he reasons that as long as a person is still alive, able to think “this is the worst” life can still become harder. Suffering only ends in death.

reason: sanity; if he were a total madman, he wouldn’t have wits enough to beg.

wanton : mischievous, cruel; the gods toy with us as if we were nothing more than insects (worms)

angering : offending; Edgar regrets he must keep up his disguise for awhile.

o’ertake : catch up to us

ancient love : longtime affection he has for the family he has served

‘parel : apparel, clothes

daub : lay it on, act the part

stile : door frame; Edgar says he knows it the entire way

superfluous : having more than he needs

lust-dieted : having his fill of lust (perhaps in the begetting of illegitimate Edmund?)

slaves your ordinance : that enslaves the god’s commands to his own will

distribution : the wealthy who have too much, giving to those in need, by which means the heavens will spread more justice in the world

bending : overhanging

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