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King Lear

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


Act 4 Scene 2

Outside ALBANY’s residence

Welcome, my lord: I marvel our mild husband
Not met us on the way.


Now, where’s your master?

Madam, within; but never man so changed.
I told him of the army that was landed;
He smiled at it. I told him you were coming,
His answer was ‘The worse.’ Of Gloucester’s treachery,
And of the loyal service of his son,
When I informed him, then he called me sot,
And told me I had turned the wrong side out.
What most he should dislike [desire] seems pleasant to him,
What like, offensive.

(To EDMUND) Then shall you go no further.
It is the cowish terror of his spirit,
That dares not undertake: he’ll not feel wrongs
Which tie him to an answer. Our wishes on the way
May prove effects. Back, Edmund, to my brother.
Hasten his musters and conduct his powers.
I must change names [arms] at home, and give the distaff
Into my husband’s hands. This trusty servant
Shall pass between us: ere long you are like to hear,
If you dare venture in your own behalf,
A mistress’s command. Wear this; spare speech;
Decline your head: this kiss, if it durst speak,
Would stretch thy spirits up into the air.
Conceive, and fare thee well.

Yours in the ranks of death.

My most dear Gloucester!


O, the difference of man and man!
To thee a woman’s services are due.
My fool [foot] usurps my body [bed].

Madam, here comes my lord.


I have been worth the whistle.

O Goneril!
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face. [I fear your disposition:
That nature which contemns its origin
Cannot be bordered certain in itself.
She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap, perforce must wither
And come to deadly use.

No more; the text is foolish.

Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile;
Filths savour but themselves. What have you done?
Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?
A father, and a gracious aged man
Whose reverence even the head-lugged bear would lick,
Most barbarous, most degenerate, have you madded.
Could my good brother suffer you to do it?
A man, a prince, by him so benefited!
If that the heavens do not their visible spirits
Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
It will come,
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.]

Milk-livered man,
That bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs,
Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning
Thine honour from thy suffering! [That not know’st
Fools do those villains pity who are punished
Ere they have done their mischief. Where’s thy drum?
France spreads his banners in our noiseless land.
With plumed helm thy slayer begins threats
Whiles thou, a moral fool, sit’st still and criest
‘Alack, why does he so?’]

See thyself, devil!
Proper deformity seems [shows] not in the fiend
So horrid as in woman.

O vain fool!

Thou changed and self-covered thing, for shame,
Be-monster not thy feature. Were’t my fitness
To let these hands obey my blood,
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
Thy flesh and bones. Howe’er thou art a fiend,
A woman’s shape doth shield thee.

Marry, your manhood, mew!

Enter a Messenger

What news?]

O, my good lord, the Duke of Cornwall’s dead,
Slain by his servant, going to put out
The other eye of Gloucester.

Gloucester’s eyes?

A servant that he bredthrilled [thralled] with remorse,
Opposed against the act, bending his sword
To his great master; who, thereat enraged,
Flew on him, and amongst them felled him dead,
But not without that harmful stroke which since
Hath plucked him after.

This shows you are above,
You justicers, that these our nether crimes
So speedily can venge! But, O poor Gloucester!
Lost he his other eye?

Both, both, my lord.
(to Goneril) This letter, madam, craves a speedy answer;
‘Tis from your sister.

(Aside) One way I like this well;
But being widow, and my Gloucester with her,
May all the building in my fancy pluck
Upon my hateful life: another way,
The news is not so tart [took] — I’ll read, and answer.


Where was his son when they did take his eyes?

Come with my lady hither.

He is not here.

No, my good lord; I met him back again.

Knows he the wickedness?

Ay, my good lord; ’twas he informed against him,
And quit the house on purpose, that their punishment
Might have the freer course.

Gloucester, I live
To thank thee for the love thou show’dst the king,
And to revenge thine eyes. Come hither, friend:
Tell me what more thou know’st.



mild: timid, weak-willed (in contrast to Edmund)

sot: fool

cowish: cowardly

answer: retaliation (he ignores insults which would oblige him to retaliate)

wishes: desires that Edmund be her husband

prove effects: come true

brother: brother-in-law; she is unaware that Cornwall is dead

musters: collecting of troops

conduct his powers: lead his armies

change names: from that of wife to husband

distaff: stick used in spinning yarn, “woman’s work”

stretch: raise your spirits (with a sexual innuendo as well)

Conceive: understand my intentions toward you

death: either “I’ll be with you until death” or perhaps a reference to sex. “Die” was a common English euphemism for orgasm, probably from the French la petite mort, “the little death.”

fool: her husband (if “foot” as in Q, she means that instead of the husband being the head of the wife, Albany is actually her foot)

whistle: “It is a poor dog that is not worth the whistling.”

contemns its origin: despises its parent

bordered: contained (he fears her infidelity)

disbranch: cut herself off from the family tree

text: on which your sermon is based; “Stop preaching to me”

head-lugged: dragged with a chain around its neck, hence enraged

madded: driven mad

suffer: permit

Milk-livered: cowardly (the blood in the liver was supposed to give courage; he has “milk”)

discerning … suffering: unable to distinguish between injuries which affect your honor and thus should be avenged, and the patient endurance of ordinary troubles.

mischief: only fools pity villains (such as Lear and Gloucester) who are punished before they can commit wrong; in other words, they had it coming.

drum: preparing for war, calling men to battle

noiseless: no drum, thus unprepared

proper deformity: it is proper for a demon to be deformed (physically), much worse for a woman to be so (morally)

changed and self-covered: transformed as by witchcraft, disguising her true demonic form

Be-monster: don’t become in your looks the evil fiend you are inside

Marry: by Mary, that is, the Virgin Mary (an anachronism since Shakespeare sets his play in pre-Christian times)

mew: she laughs at his manhood

bred: raised

thrilled: deeply moved

plucked him after: to death, following his servant

justicers: just gods who avenge crimes (Albany’s optimism toward heaven will be strongly challenged at the end of the play)

nether: committed here below

this: the news of Cornwall’s death, for it probably means Edmund’s advancement to fill a powerful role

pluck: since my sister is now a widow, she may try to take Edmund from me, which would pull down all my dream-castles (“the building in my fancy”), leaving me here in this hateful marriage.

tart: sour (that is, things won’t be so bad, if Cornwall’s death means Edmund’s advancement, and she can get her husband out of the way)

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