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King Lear

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


Act 4 Scene 6

Fields near Dover

When shall we come to the top of that same hill?

You do climb up it now: look, how we labour.

Methinks the ground is even.

Horrible steep.
Hark, do you hear the sea?

No, truly.

Why, then, your other senses grow imperfect
By your eyes’ anguish.

So may it be, indeed.
Methinks thy voice is altered; and thou speak’st
In better phrase and matter than thou didst.

You’re much deceived. In nothing am I changed
But in my garments.

Methinks you’re better spoken.

Come on, sir; here’s the place. Stand still. How fearful
And dizzy ’tis, to cast one’s eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles. Half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.
The fishermen that walk upon the beach
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminished to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight. The murmuring surge
That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes
Cannot be heard so high. I’ll look no more
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.

Set me where you stand.

Give me your hand. You are now within a foot
Of the extreme verge. For all beneath the moon
Would I not leap upright.

Let go my hand.
Here, friend, ‘s another purse; in it a jewel
Well worth a poor man’s taking. Fairies and gods
Prosper it with thee! Go thou farther off;
Bid me farewell, and let me hear thee going.

Now fare you well, good sir.

With all my heart.

(aside) Why I do trifle thus with his despair
Is done to cure it.

(Kneeling) O you mighty gods!
This world I do renounce, and in your sights
Shake patiently my great affliction off.
If I could bear it longer, and not fall
To quarrel with your great opposeless wills,
My snuff and loathed part of nature should
Burn itself out. If Edgar live, O, bless him!
Now, fellow, fare thee well.

He falls forward to the ground

Gone, sir: farewell.
And yet I know not how conceit may rob
The treasury of life, when life itself
Yields to the theft. Had he been where he thought,
By this, had thought been past. Alive or dead?
Ho, you sir! friend! Hear you, sir! speak!
Thus might he pass indeed — yet he revives.
What are you, sir?

Away, and let me die.

Hadst thou been aught but gossamer, feathers, air,
So many fathom down precipitating,
Thou’st shivered like an egg. But thou dost breathe,
Hast heavy substance, bleed’st not, speak’st, art sound.
Ten masts at each make not the altitude
Which thou hast perpendicularly fell.
Thy life’s a miracle. Speak yet again.

But have I fallen, or no?

From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.
Look up a-height; the shrill-gorged lark so far
Cannot be seen or heard. Do but look up.

Alack, I have no eyes.
Is wretchedness deprived that benefit
To end itself by death? ‘Twas yet some comfort,
When misery could beguile the tyrant’s rage,
And frustrate his proud will.

Give me your arm.
Up, so. How is ‘t? Feel you your legs? You stand.

Too well, too well.

This is above all strangeness.
Upon the crown o’ the cliff, what thing was that
Which parted from you?

A poor unfortunate beggar.

As I stood here below, methought his eyes
Were two full moons. He had a thousand noses,
Horns whelked and waved like the enraged [enridged] sea.
It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy   father,
Think that the clearest gods, who make them honours
Of men’s impossibilities, have preserved thee.

I do remember now. Henceforth I’ll bear
Affliction till it do cry out itself
‘Enough, enough,’ and die. That thing you speak of,
I took it for a man. Often ‘twould say
‘The fiend, the fiend.’ He led me to that place.

Bear free and patient thoughts. But who comes here?

Enter KING LEAR, fantastically dressed with wild flowers

The safer sense will ne’er accommodate
His master thus.

No, they cannot touch me for crying [coining]; I am the
king himself.

O thou side-piercing sight!

Nature’s above art in that respect. There’s your
press-money. That fellow handles his bow like a
crow-keeper: draw me a clothier’s yard. Look,
look, a mouse! Peace, peace; this piece of toasted
cheese will do ‘t. There’s my gauntlet; I’ll prove
it on a giant. Bring up the brown bills. O, well
flown, bird! i’ the clout, i’ the clout: hewgh!
Give the word.

Sweet marjoram.


I know that voice.

Ha! Gonerilwith a white beard! They flattered
me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs in my
beard ere the black ones were there. To say ‘ay’
and ‘no’ to every thing that I said! — ‘Ay’ and ‘no’
too was no good divinity. When the rain came to
wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter; when
the thunder would not peace at my bidding —  there I
found ’em, there I smelt ’em out. Go to, they are
not men o’ their words; they told me I was everything;
’tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.

The trick of that voice I do well remember:
Is ‘t not the king?

Ay, every inch a king.
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.
I pardon that man’s life. What was thy cause? Adultery?
Thou shalt not die — die for adultery? No!
The wren goes to ‘t, and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight.
Let copulation thrive; for Gloucester’s bastard son
Was kinder to his father than my daughters
Got ‘tween the lawful sheets.
To ‘t, luxury, pell-mell! for I lack soldiers.
Behold yond simpering dame,
Whose face between her forks presages snow,
That minces virtue and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure’s name —
The fitchew, nor the soiled horse, goes to ‘t
With a more riotous appetite.
Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above:
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends.’
There’s hell, there’s darkness, there’s the
sulphurous pit, burning, scalding, stench, consumption [consummation] —
fie, fie, fie! pah, pah! Give me an ounce of civet,
good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination:
there’s money for thee.

O, let me kiss that hand!

Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.

O ruined piece of nature! This great world
Shall [should] so wear out to naught. Dost thou know me?

I remember thine eyes well enough. Dost thou squiny
at me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid! I’ll not
love. Read thou this challenge; mark but the
penning of it.

Were all the letters suns, I could not see [one].

I would not take this from report; it is,
And my heart breaks at it.


What, with the case of eyes?

O, ho, are you there with me? No eyes in your
head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in
heavy case, your purse in a light; yet you see how
this world goes.

I see it feelingly.

What, art mad? A man may see how this world goes
with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond
justice rails upon yond simple thief. Hark, in
thine ear: change places; and, handy-dandy, which
is the justice, which is the thief? Thou hast seen
a farmer’s dog bark at a beggar?

Ay, sir.

And the creature run from the cur? There thou
mightst behold the great image of authority: a
dog’s obeyed in office.
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back;
Thou [Thy blood] hotly lust’st to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.
Through tattered clothes [rags] small vices do appear;
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sins with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks:
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.
None does offend, none, I say, none; I’ll able ’em:
Take that of me, my friend, who have the power
To seal the accuser’s lips.
 Get thee glass eyes,
And like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not. Now, now, now, now:
Pull off my boots: harder, harder: so.

O, matter and impertinency mixed! Reason in madness!

If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester.
Thou must be patient; we came crying hither.
Thou know’st, the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry. I will preach to thee: mark.

Alack, alack the day!

When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. This a good block;
It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
A troop of horse with feltI’ll put ‘t in proof,
And when I have stolen upon these sons-in-law,
Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!

Enter a Gentleman, with Attendants

O, here he is: lay hand upon him. Sir,
Your most dear daughter —

No rescue? What, a prisoner? I am even
The natural fool of fortune. Use me well;
You shall have ransom. Let me have surgeons;
I am cut to the brains.

You shall have anything.

No seconds? All myself?
Why, this would make a man a man of salt,
To use his eyes for garden water-pots,
Ay, and laying autumn’s dust.

Good sir —

I will die bravely, like a smug bridegroom. What!
I will be jovial: come, come; I am a king,
My masters, know you that.

You are a royal one, and we obey you.

Then there’s life in’t. Nay, if you get it, you
shall get it with running. Sa, sa, sa, sa.

Exit running; Attendants follow

A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch,
Past speaking of in a king! Thou hast a [one] daughter,
Who redeems nature from the general curse
Which twain have brought her to.

Hail, gentle sir.

Sir, speed you: what’s your will?

Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward?

Most sure and vulgar. Every one hears that
Which can distinguish sound [sense].

But, by your favour,
How near’s the other army?

Near and on speedy foot; the main descry
Stands on the hourly thought.

I thank you, sir: that’s all.

Though that the queen on special cause is here,
Her army is moved on.

I thank you, sir.


You ever-gentle gods, take my breath from me:
Let not my worser spirit tempt me again
To die before you please!

Well pray you, father.

Now, good sir, what are you?

A most poor man, made tame to [lame by] fortune’s blows;
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,
Am pregnant to good pity. Give me your hand,
I’ll lead you to some biding.

Hearty thanks:
The bounty and the benison of heaven
To boot, and boot!


proclaimed prize! Most happy!
That eyeless head of thine was first framed flesh
To raise my fortunes. Thou old unhappy traitor,
Briefly thyself remember. The sword is out
That must destroy thee.

Now let thy friendly hand
Put strength enough to’t.

EDGAR interposes

Wherefore, bold peasant,
Darest thou support a published traitor? Hence,
Lest that the infection of his fortune take
Like hold on thee. Let go his arm.

Ch’ill not let go, zir, without vurther ‘casion.

Let go, slave, or thou diest!

Good gentleman, go your gait, and let poor volk
pass. An chud ha’ bin zwaggered out of my life,
‘twould not ha’ bin zo long as ’tis by a vortnight.
Nay, come not near th’ old man; keep out, che vor
, or ise try whether your costard or my ballow be
the harder: ch’ill be plain with you.

Out, dunghill!

Ch’ill pick your teeth, zir: come; no matter vor
your foins.

They fight and Oswald falls

Slave, thou hast slain me! Villain, take my purse.
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body,
And give the letters which thou find’st about me
To Edmund earl of Gloucester. Seek him out
Upon the English [British] party: O, untimely death, death!


I know thee well: a serviceable villain,
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.

What, is he dead?

Sit you down, father; rest you.
Let’s see these pockets: the letters that he speaks of
May be my friends. He’s dead; I am only sorry
He had no other death’s-man. Let us see:
Leave, gentle wax; and, manners, blame us not:
To know our enemies’ minds, we’d rip their hearts;
Their papers, is more lawful.
(Reads) ‘Let our reciprocal vows be remembered. You have
many opportunities to cut him off. If your will
want not, time and place will be fruitfully offered.
There is nothing done if he return the conqueror.
Then am I the prisoner, and his bed my jail. From
the loathed warmth whereof deliver me, and supply
the place for your labour.
Your — wife, so I would say —
Affectionate servant, [and for you her own for venture]
indistinguished space of woman’s will [wit]!
A plot upon her virtuous husband’s life,
And the exchange, my brother! Here in the sands
Thee I’ll rake up, the post unsanctified
Of murderous lechers, and in the mature time
With this ungracious paper strike the sight
Of the death-practiced duke. For him ’tis well
That of thy death and business I can tell.

The king is mad. How stiff is my vile sense
That I stand up and have ingenious feeling
Of my huge sorrows! Better I were distract:
So should my thoughts be severed [fenced] from my griefs,
And woes by wrong imaginations lose
The knowledge of themselves.

Give me your hand:
Far off, methinks, I hear the beaten drum.
Come, father, I’ll bestow you with a friend.



voice: Edgar has forgotten to maintain his disguised accent

place: the edge of the cliff (or so he wants his father to think)

choughs: jackdaws, another kind of bird, pronounced “chuffs”

gross: large

samphire: an herb growing on the cliffs

bark: ship

cock: cockboat; the large ship looks like a small rowboat

deficient: failing

all beneath the moon: for the whole world, I wouldn’t jump from here

Fairies: fairies were supposed to multiply treasure

trifle: Edgar plays this trick on his father in order to cure him of his suicidal despair. Note, however, that for the original audience in the Globe, watching this scene on a bare stage and relying solely on the actor’s words, they would have had no idea that Gloucester was not indeed standing at the edge of the cliff. Only Edgar’s later words explain that Gloucester has merely fallen to the ground and passed out. Edgar convinces him that a miracle has saved him from the great fall, and Gloucester determines to leave his death to the gods.

opposeless: irresistible will; if I could endure the fate which you have determined for me

snuff: the smoldering remains of a candle, worthless

conceit: imagination; Edgar fears that his father may have died anyway, out of sheer terror at the thought of falling.

past: by this fall, his ability to think would be over (because he would be dead)

pass: die

gossamer: a fine film of cobwebs often seen floating in the air

precipitating: falling (Edgar now pretends to be another man at the bottom of the cliff, who witnessed Gloucester’s miraculous fall)

shivered: shattered

heavy substance: your body is still in one piece

sound: alive and well

at each: ten ship masts end to end

chalky bourn: the white cliffs of Dover; bourn = boundary

gorged: throated

beguile: outwit, cheat (by suicide)

whelked: twisted

happy: fortunate (to be alive after such a fall)

father: Edgar uses this term out of respect, much as we would say, “sir”. He does not reveal himself to be Gloucester’s son until much later (told in the final scene).

clearest: purest, holiest

honours: gods bring honor to themselves by performing miracles

die: I won’t try to take my own life, until my natural time comes

free: of care

safer: saner

accommodate: dress

touch: arrest

coining: minting coins, which only the king could do (most editors take the reading of Q here)

side-piercing: we might say “heart-breaking”

Nature’s above art: a true king is born, not made (the king’s face would appear on coins)

press-money: paid to soldiers, whom he imagines attend him. He acts as if he is still at court.

crow-keeper: a farmhand scaring away crows

draw me a clothier’s yard: pull the arrow back a full yard (like a tailor would measure a yard of cloth, from his nose to the tip of his arm)

gauntlet: glove thrown down as a challenge (all these commands are random thoughts to imaginary attendants, recalling his better days as king)

brown bills: soldiers armed with battle axes or short hooked blades with spikes

clout: bull’s eye; Lear compares the arrow to a bird, the “hewgh” being the sound an arrow makes as it flies to hit the target.

word: pass word (said to Edgar)

marjoram: an herb used to treat insanity

Goneril: Lear sees the horrible image of blind Gloucester, and compares him to his daughter.

They: his daughters and the men of his court

like a dog: as a dog flatters, fawningly

white hairs: a sign of wisdom; they said he was wise before he was old. The court flattery had begun long before the first scene.

no good divinity: not good theology, making oaths that they didn’t intend to keep: see Matthew 5:33-37.

chatter: his teeth chatter

peace at my bidding: perhaps an allusion to Jesus, calming the storm

found: uncovered their lies and flatteries

ague-proof: immune to fever and sickness

trick: particular quality

subject: criminal brought into judgement; Lear imagines he sits in a trial

cause: crime, cause for arrest

lecher: procreate (that is, the birds and the bees do it, why shouldn’t you?)

Got: begotten; mad Lear doesn’t understand the terrible irony of his statement, spoken to blind Gloucester who now knows of Edmund’s treachery.

lawful sheets: marriage bed

luxury: lechery

soldiers: Lear’s mad ravings make strange sense, as he needs more soldiers to be born in order to take revenge on his daughters (see lines below)

simpering: smiling in a coy or conceited manner

whose face … snow: whose cold looks predict (presages) frigidity (snow) between her legs (forks).

minces virtue: pretends to be virtuous

shake the head: in disapproval of sexual talk

fitchew: skunk, also slang for prostitute

soiled: put out to pasture; that is, this woman pretends to be virtuous but actually has sex more than these animals

Centaurs: mythical creatures, half-human, half-horse, known for their lustfulness

to the girdle: down to the waist the gods control, the Renaissance idea that the upper part of the body was spiritual, while the lower part was carnal.

hell: Lear imagines these lustful women burning in hell, actually seeming to smell the sulfurous fumes

pah, pah: perhaps he imagines he is choking on the fumes

civet: perfume

squiny: squint

Cupid: the love god was supposedly blind, shooting his arrows randomly. Lear refuses to love (have sex) again and beget more children.

challenge: probably an imaginary piece of writing he shows Gloucester

report: I wouldn’t believe it unless I saw it myself

case: empty sockets

heavy case: sad plight (pun)

justice: a judge (whom Lear says is no better than the thief)

handy-dandy: guess in which hand

beadle: constable who enforces the law

to use her in that kind: you want to perform with her the very act for which you punish her

usurer hangs the cozener: the powerful money-lender, a great cheater, punishes the little cheater

Through tattered clothes: small crimes by poor people are seen as great, while the wealthy and powerful get away with worse.

hurtless breaks: If the sinner is wealthy, plated with gold, the lance of justice simply breaks and does not harm him, but for the poor sinner, even a pygmy’s dart would strike him down.

glass eyes: eye glasses

scurvy: worthless

boots: Lawrence Olivier’s Lear is barefoot and has Gloucester remove imaginary boots

matter and impertinency: sense and nonsense

crying: as babies we came into this world crying, so it only makes sense that our lives are full of sorrows

block: critics don’t agree on the meaning here, but some suggest he refers to his “hat” of flowers which he takes off, or perhaps to Edgar’s felt hat, leading to the comment on felt.

felt: so that the enemy couldn’t hear them coming

stolen: snuck up, surprised

natural fool: fortune’s plaything

seconds: supporters coming to his aid

salt: salt tears

die bravely, like a smug bridegroom: “die” was sometimes a Renaissance allusion to sexual climax

life in it: there’s still hope

general curse: universal condemnation (comparing their sin to Adam’s)

vulgar: common knowledge

descry: sighting; they expect to see them within the hour

pregnant: disposed

biding: place to stay (abide)

benison: blessing

to boot: also, even more

proclaimed: someone under sentence of death

happy: fortunate (for Oswald as he will be rewarded for killing Gloucester)

framed: created

remember: think on your life

friendly: Gloucester thinks of Oswald as doing him a favor by killing him

published: publicly proclaimed as

Ch’ill not … casion: Edgar disguises his voice with a strange accent: “I’ll not let go, sir, without further occasion (reason)”

gait: way

An chud … vortnight: If I could have been swaggered (bluffed) out of my life (frightened by the likes of you), I would have died a month ago.

che vor ye … : “keep out, I warn ye, or I’ll try whether your head or my club be the harder. I’ll be plain with you.”

Ch’ll pick your teeth: “I’ll knock your teeth out, no matter your sword thrusts (foins)”

death’s-man: executioner

wax: the seal on the letter, which he breaks open

want: if you will be not lacking

labour: make a place in my bed for your sexual labor

indistinguished … will: unlimited range of woman’s lust

rake up: cover up, bury

post unsanctified: unholy messenger

death-practiced: whose death is plotted

stiff: “How stubborn is my hateful consciousness that I have not been driven mad by these terrible events”

distract: mad

wrong imaginations: delusions

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