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King Lear

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


Act 5 Scene 3

The British camp near Dover.
Enter  EDMUND with KING LEAR and CORDELIA as prisoners

Some officers take them away; good guard
Until their greater pleasures first [best] be known
That are to censure them.

We are not the first
Who with best meaning have incurred the worst.
For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;
Myself could else out-frown false fortune’s frown.
Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?

No, no. Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live
And pray and sing and tell old tales and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too —
Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out —
And take upon’s the mystery of things
As if we were God’s spies. And we’ll wear out
In a walled prison packs and sects of great ones
That ebb and flow by the moon.

Take them away.

Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
The gods themselves throw incense. Have I caught thee?
He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven,
And fire us hence like foxes. Wipe thine eyes;
The good years shall devour them, flesh and fell,
Ere they shall make us weep: we’ll see ’em starve
first. Come.

Exit KING LEAR and CORDELIA, guarded

Come hither, captain, hark.
Take thou this note. Go follow them to prison.
One step I have advanced thee; if thou dost
As this instructs thee, thou dost make thy way
To noble fortunes. Know thou this, that men
Are as the time is. To be tender-minded
Does not become a sword. Thy great employment
Will not bear question; either say thou’lt do ‘t,
Or thrive by other means.

I’ll do ‘t, my lord.

About it and write happy when thou hast done.
Mark, I say, instantly; and carry it so
As I have set it down.

I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats;
If it be man’s work, I’ll do ‘t.]

Exit Captain

Sir, you have shown today your valiant strain,
And fortune led you well. You have the captives
That were the opposites of this day’s strife:
I [We] do require them of you, so to use them
As we shall find their merits and our safety
May equally determine.

Sir, I thought it fit
To send the old and miserable king
To some retention [and appointed guard],
Whose age has charms in it, whose title more,
To pluck the common bosom on his side,
And turn our impressed lances in our eyes
Which do command them. With him I sent the queen,
My reason all the same, and they are ready
Tomorrow, or at further space, to appear
Where you shall hold your session. [At this time
We sweat and bleed: the friend hath lost his friend,
And the best quarrels in the heat are cursed
By those that feel their sharpness.
The question of Cordelia and her father
Requires a fitter place.]

Sir, by your patience,
I hold you but a subject of this war,
Not as a brother.

That’s as we list to grace him.
Methinks our pleasure might have been demanded
Ere you had spoke so far. He led our powers,
Bore the commission of my place and person,
The which immediacy may well stand up
And call itself your brother.

Not so hot.
In his own grace he doth exalt himself
More than in your addition [advancement].

In my rights,
By me invested, he compeers the best.

That were the most, if he should husband you.

Jesters do oft prove prophets.

Holla, holla!
That eye that told you so looked but a-squint.

Lady, I am not well; else I should answer
From a full-flowing stomach. (to Edmund) General,
Take thou my soldiers, prisoners, patrimony;
Dispose of them, of me; the walls are thine.
Witness the world, that I create thee here
My lord and master.

Mean you to enjoy him?

The let-alone lies not in your good will.

Nor in thine, lord.

Half-blooded fellow, yes.

Let the drum strike, and prove my title thine [good].

Stay yet; hear reason. Edmund, I arrest thee
On capital treason, and in thy arrest [attaint]
This gilded serpent.
For your claim, fair sister,
I bar it in the interest of my wife:
‘Tis she is sub-contracted to this lord,
And I, her husband, contradict your bans.
If you will marry, make your loves to me;
My lady is bespoke.

An interlude!

Thou art armed, Gloucester. Let the trumpet sound.
If none appear to prove upon thy person [head]
Thy heinous, manifest and many treasons,
There is my pledge. (throwing down a glove)
I’ll make [prove] it on thy heart,
Ere I taste bread, thou art in nothing less
Than I have here proclaimed thee.

Sick, O, sick!

(Aside) If not, I’ll ne’er trust medicine [poison].

There’s my exchange. (throwing down a glove)
What in the world he is
That names me traitor, villain-like he lies.
Call by thy trumpet: he that dares approach,
On him, on you, who not? I will maintain
My truth and honour firmly.

A herald, ho!

A herald, ho, a herald!]

Trust to thy single virtue, for thy soldiers,
All levied in my name, have in my name
Took their discharge.

My [This] sickness grows upon me.

She is not well; convey her to my tent.

Exit Regan, enter a Herald

Come hither, herald. Let the trumpet sound
And read out this.

Sound, trumpet!]

(Reads) ‘If any man of quality or degree within
the lists [host] of the army will maintain upon Edmund,
supposed Earl of Gloucester, that he is a manifold
traitor, let him appear by the third sound of the
trumpet: he is bold in his defense.’


 First trumpet


Second trumpet


Third trumpet
Trumpet answers offstage

Ask him his purposes, why he appears
Upon this call o’ the trumpet.

What are you?
Your name, your quality? and why you answer
This present summons?

Know my name is lost
By treason’s tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit;
Yet am I noble as the adversary
I come to cope.

Which is that adversary?

What’s he that speaks for Edmund Earl of Gloucester?

Himself: what say’st thou to him?

Draw thy sword,
That if my speech offend a noble heart,
Thy arm may do thee justice. Here is mine.
Behold, it is the privilege of mine honours [tongue],
My oath, and my profession. I protest,
Maugre thy strength, place, youth, and eminence,
Despise [Despite] thy victor sword and fire-new fortune [fortuned],
Thy valour and thy heart, thou art a traitor;
False to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father,
Conspirant ‘gainst this high-illustrious prince,
And from the extremest upward of thy head
To the descent and dust below thy foot [beneath thy feet],
A most toad-spotted traitor. Say thou no,
This sword, this arm, and my best spirits are bent
To prove upon thy heart, whereto I speak,
Thou liest.

In wisdom I should ask thy name,
But since thy outside looks so fair and warlike,
And that thy tongue [being] some say of breeding breathes,
What safe and nicely I might well delay 
By rule [right] of knighthood, I disdain and spurn.
Back [Here] do I toss these treasons to thy head,
With the hell-hated lie o’erwhelm [o’erturned] thy heart,
Which for they yet glance by and scarcely bruise,
This sword of mine shall give them instant way,
Where they shall rest for ever. Trumpets, speak!

 They fight. EDMUND falls wounded

Save him, save him!

This is [mere] practice, Gloucester.
By the law of war [arms] thou wast not bound to answer
An unknown opposite. Thou art not vanquished,
But cozened and beguiled.

Shut [stop] your mouth, dame,
Or with this paper shall I stop it. Hold, sir,
Thou worse than any name, read thine own evil.
No tearing, lady, I perceive you know it.

Say if I do, the laws are mine, not thine.
Who can arraign me for’t?    (in F1 she exits here)

Most monstrous! O!
Know’st thou this paper?

Ask me not what I know.       (in Q1 Goneril exits here)

Go after her: she’s desperate; govern her.

What you have charged me with, that have I done,
And more, much more; the time will bring it out.
‘Tis past, and so am I. But what art thou
That hast this fortune on me? If thou’rt noble,
I do forgive thee.

Let’s exchange charity.
I am no less in blood than thou art, Edmund;
If more, the more thou hast wronged me.
My name is Edgar, and thy father’s son.
The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague [scourge] us:
The dark and vicious place where thee he got
Cost him his eyes.

Thou hast spoken right [truth], ’tis true;
The wheel is come full circle: I am here.

Methought thy very gait did prophesy
A royal nobleness. I must embrace thee.
Let sorrow split my heart, if ever I
Did hate thee or thy father.

Worthy prince, I know’t.

Where have you hid yourself?
How have you known the miseries of your father?

By nursing them, my lord. List a brief tale,
And when ’tis told, O that my heart would burst!
The bloody proclamation to escape
That followed me so near — O, our lives’ sweetness,
That we the pain of death would hourly die
Rather than die at once! — taught me to shift
Into a madman’s rags, to assume a semblance
That very dogs disdained, and in this habit
Met I my father with his bleeding rings,
Their precious stones new lost; became his guide,
Led him, begged for him, saved him from despair.
Never — O fault! — revealed myself unto him
Until some half-hour past, when I was armed,
Not sure, though hoping, of this good success.
I asked his blessing and from first to last
Told him my pilgrimage. But his flawed heart,
Alack, too weak the conflict to support
‘Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief,
Burst smilingly.

This speech of yours hath moved me,
And shall perchance do good. But speak you on,
You look as you had something more to say.

If there be more, more woeful, hold it in,
For I am almost ready to dissolve,
Hearing of this.

This would have seemed a period
To such as love not sorrow, but another
To amplify too much would make much more
And top extremity.
Whilst I was big in clamour came there in a man,
Who, having seen me in my worst estate,
Shuned my abhorred society; but then, finding
Who ’twas that so endured, with his strong arms
He fastened on my neck, and bellowed out
As he’d burst heaven; threw him on my father,
Told the most piteous tale of Lear and him
That ever ear received, which in recounting
His grief grew puissant and the strings of life
Began to crack. Twice then the trumpets sounded,
And there I left him tranced.

But who was this?

Kent, sir, the banished Kent, who in disguise
Followed his enemy king, and did him service
Improper for a slave.]

Enter a Gentleman with a bloody knife

Help, help, O, help!

What kind of help?

Speak, man.

What means that bloody knife?

‘Tis hot, it smokes;
It came even from the heart of — O, she’s dead!

Who dead? speak, man.

Your lady, sir, your lady, and her sister
By her is poisoned. She confesses it.

I was contracted to them both; all three
Now marry in an instant.

Here comes Kent.

Produce the bodies, be they alive or dead.
This judgment [justice] of the heavens that makes us tremble
Touches us not with pity.

 Enter KENT

O, is this he?
The time will not allow the compliment
Which very manners urges.

I am come
To bid my king and master aye good night:
Is he not here?

Great thing of us forgot!
Speak, Edmund, where’s the king? and where’s Cordelia?
See’st thou this object, Kent?

 The bodies of GONERIL and REGAN are brought in

Alack, why thus?

Yet Edmund was beloved:
The one the other poisoned for my sake
And after slew herself.

Even so. Cover their faces.

I pant for life: some good I mean to do,
Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send,
Be brief in it, to the castle; for my writ
Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia.
Nay, send in time.

Run, run, O, run!

To who, my lord? Who hath the office? Send
Thy token of reprieve.

Well thought on: take my sword,
Give it the captain.

Haste thee, for thy life.

He hath commission from thy wife and me
To hang Cordelia in the prison, and
To lay the blame upon her own despair,
That she fordid herself.

The gods defend her! Bear him hence awhile.

Enter KING LEAR, with CORDELIA dead in his arms

Howl, howl, howl, [howl]! O, you are men of stones!
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone forever.
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass,
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.

Is this the promised end?

Or image of that horror?

Fall, and cease.

This feather stirs; she lives! If it be so,
It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.

O my good master!

Prithee, away.

‘Tis noble Kent, your friend.

A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
I might have saved her; now she’s gone forever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! Stay a little. Ha?
What is’t thou say’st? Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.
I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee.

‘Tis true, my lords, he did.

Did I not, fellow?
I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion
I would have made them skip. I am old now,
And these same crosses spoil me. Who are you?
Mine eyes are not o’ the best, I’ll tell you straight.

If fortune brag of two she loved and hated,
One of them we behold.

This is a dull sight. Are you not Kent?

The same,
Your servant Kent: Where is your servant Caius?

He’s a good fellow, I can tell you that;
He’ll strike, and quickly too. He’s dead and rotten.

No, my good lord, I am the very man —

I’ll see that straight.

That from your first of difference and decay
Have followed your sad steps.

You are welcome hither.

Nor no man else: all’s cheerless, dark, and deadly.
Your eldest daughters have fordone [foredoom] themselves,
And desperately are dead.

Ay, so I think.

He knows not what he says [sees], and vain it is
That we present us to him.

Very bootless.

Edmund is dead, my lord.

That’s but a trifle here.
You lords and noble friends, know our intent.
What comfort to this great decay may come
Shall be applied. For us, we will resign
During the life of this old majesty
To him our absolute power; you, to your rights
With boot and such addition as your honours
Have more than merited. All friends shall taste
The wages of their virtue, and all foes
The cup of their deservings. O, see, see!

And my poor fool is hanged. No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir. [O, o, o, o]
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!

Dies [F]

He faints, my lord, my lord!

Break, heart; I prithee, break!  [Lear dies in Q after saying this line]

Look up, my lord.

Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! He hates him
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.

He is gone, indeed.

The wonder is, he hath endured so long:
He but usurped his life.

Bear them from hence. Our present business
Is general woe. Friends of my soul, you twain
Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain.

I have a journey, sir, shortly to go;
My master calls me, I must not say no.

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.


good guard: guard them well

their greater pleasures: the will of those in command

censure: judge

meaning: good intentions

God’s spies: looking down from heaven, seeing all

wear out: outlive

moon: whose fortunes change by the month

brand from heaven: only the gods can part us (in death), like hunters scare out foxes with fire

fell: skin

advanced: promoted; possibly Edmund has just now promoted him by calling him “captain”

as the time is: as occasion demands; successful men take advantage of opportunity

become: befit

bear question: don’t waste time deliberating

write happy: consider yourself fortunate

eat dried oats: I’m not a horse but a man

opposites: opponents

charms: Lear’s old age and title might win the common people’s sympathy if they saw him

turn our impressed lances: turn our conscripted lancers (common men forced to serve) against us

session: trial

best quarrels: even the most worthy arguments, in a time of anger, are best left to later when tempers cool

subject: subordinate

list: choose; it’s my decision whether or not he will be your brother-in-law

powers: armies

immediacy: being next in place to me

hot: not so fast

grace: qualities

addition: what you would give him (by marriage)

compeers: equals

asquint: cross-eyed, not to be trusted

let-alone: permission

attaint: sharing in his crime

serpent: Goneril

contradict your bans: prohibit your announcement of marriage to Edmund

bespoke: spoken for (Albany speaks sarcastically)

interlude: a scene from a play; “how dramatic!”

single virtue: fight alone

quality: rank

canker-bit: eaten by worms

cope: fight

maugre: in spite of

fire-new: fresh from the forge

prince: Albany

tongue: your speech implies that you are a man of good breeding

safe and nicely I might well delay: by  the rules of knighthood, I could remain safe and justly (nicely) refuse to fight an unknown opponent, but I reject those rules and will fight.

bruise: your lies calling me a traitor do not hurt me but nevertheless I will by my sword put them to rest forever

Save him: spare him (so he can confess his crimes)

practice: trickery

cozened: deceived

Hold, sir: in Q Albany addresses his wife only, forcing her to admit she wrote the letter plotting against his life. In F he speaks to Edmund, while Goneril tries to snatch the letter away.

charity: forgiveness

just: This statement sounds cruel coming from Edgar, at first appearing to say that his father deserved his blinding to pay for his adultery. However, this justice resembles more what we find in Greek tragedy, where justice (diké in Greek) means cosmic balance, “what goes around comes around,” not moral justice which rights a wrong.

got: begot (Gloucester paid for his adultery by losing his eyes)

wheel: of fortune has turned; where once Edmund rose to the top, he now lies at the bottom

proclamation: the sentence on his life

sweetness: we love life so much that we are willing to suffer many “deaths” rather than end it all quickly

shift: disguise myself

habit: attire

rings: eye sockets

period: limit

extremity: to tell of more troubles (Kent’s) would make our excessive sorrow even greater (but he tells it anyway)

big in clamour: crying loudly

puissant: overpowering

tranced: passed out

marry: joined forever in death

compliment: ceremony

very manners: mere decency

writ: order to kill

office: commission

fordid: committed suicide

stones: without feeling

stone: glass

end: doomsday

falchion: small sword

crosses: troubles spoil my strength

Caius: Kent’s alias (mentioned only here)

see that straight: I’ll attend to that in a moment

first of difference: from the beginning of your decline

bootless: useless

old majesty: Lear; Albany gives his authority back to Lear, assuming he will live longer

boot: good measure

fool: used as a term of endearment for Cordelia

vex not his ghost: don’t trouble his spirit by holding it here on earth

rack: torture instrument

usurped: held onto life beyond his time

you twain: Albany suggests either that Kent and Edgar rule over Cornwall’s part of the realm, or that Albany abdicates his portion of the kingdom as well.

gored state sustain: keep this wounded country alive

journey: he goes to join his master in death; he has no desire to live without Lear

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