|Cordelia in the court of King Lear|
William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Tragedy of King Lear.
Vol. 46, pp. 215-225 of The Harvard Classics
Goneril and Regan falsely swore they loved their father, King Lear, more than life itself. Cordelia could find no words to express her sincere devotion. Then King Lear made the decision that started a series of exciting events.
(Shakespeare's first daughter, Susanna, baptized May 26, 1583.)
[King Lear’s palace]
Enter KENT, GLOUCESTER, and EDMUND
Enter KENT, GLOUCESTER, and EDMUND
Glou. It did always seem so to us; but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the Dukes he values most; for qualities 2 are so weigh’d, that curiosity in neither can make choice of either’s moiety. 3
Kent. Is not this your son, my lord?
Glou. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge. I have so often blush’d to acknowledge him, that now I am braz’d 4 to ’t.
Kent. I cannot conceive you.
Glou. Sir, this young fellow’s mother could; whereupon she grew round-womb’d, and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
Glou. But I have a son, sir, by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account. 6 Though this knave came something saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund?
Edm. No, my lord.
Glou. My Lord of Kent. Remember him hereafter as my honourable friend.
Edm. My services to your lordship.
Kent. I must love you, and sue to know you better.
Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving.
Sennet. 8 Enter one bearing a coronet, then KING LEAR, then the DUKES OF ALBANYand CORNWALL, next GONERIL, REGAN, CORDELIA, with followers
Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester.
Glou. I shall, my lord. Exeunt [GLOUCESTER and EDMUND].
Lear. Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.
Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom; and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburden’d crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now. The Princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answer’d. Tell me, my daughters,—
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,—
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend
Our eldest-born, speak first.
Gon. Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e’er lov’d, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable:
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
Cor. [Aside.] What shall Cordelia speak? Love and be silent.
Lear. Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,
We make thee lady. To thine and Albany’s issues
Be this perpetual. What says our second daughter,
Our dearest Regan, wife of Cornwall? Speak.
Reg. I am made of that self metal as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short, that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear Highness’ love.
Cor. [Aside.] Then poor Cordelia!
And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love’s
More ponderous than my tongue.
Lear. To thee and thine hereditary ever
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom;
No less in space, validity, and pleasure,
Than that conferr’d on Goneril. Now, our joy,
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
Cor. Nothing, my lord.
Lear. Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.
Cor. Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less.
Lear. How, how, Cordelia! Mend your speech a little,
Lest you may mar your fortunes.
Cor. Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, lov’d me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit;
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters
[To love my father all].
Lear. But goes thy heart with this?
Cor. Ay, my good lord.
Lear. So young, and so untender?
Cor. So young, my lord, and true.
Lear. Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower!
For, by the scared radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate, and the night;
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour’d, piti’d, and reliev’d,
As thou my sometime daughter.
Kent. Good my liege,—
Lear. Peace, Kent!
Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
I lov’d her most, and thought to set my rest
So be my grave my peace, as here I give
Her father’s heart from her! Call France.—Who stirs?
Call Burgundy. Cornwall and Albany,
With my two daughters’ dowers digest the third;
Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.
I do invest you jointly with my power,
Pre-eminence, and all the large effects
That troop with majesty. Ourself, by monthly course,
With reservation of an hundred knights,
By you to be sustain’d, shall our abode
Make with you by due turn. Only we shall retain
The sway, revenue, execution of the rest,
Beloved sons, be yours; which to confirm,
This coronet part between you.
Kent. Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honour’d as my king,
Lov’d as my father, as my master follow’d,
As my great patron thought on in my prayers,—
Lear. The bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft.
Kent. Let it fall rather, though the fork invade
The region of my heart: be Kent unmannerly
When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man?
Thinkst thou that duty shall have dread to speak,
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honour’s bound,
When majesty falls to folly. Reserve thy state;
And, in thy best consideration, check
This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgement,
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sounds
Lear. Kent, on thy life, no more.
Kent. My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thy enemies, ne’er fear to lose it.
Thy safety being motive.
Lear. Out of my sight
Kent. See better, Lear; and let me still remain
Lear. Now, by Apollo,—
Kent. Now, by Apollo, king,
Thou swear’st thy gods in vain.
Lear. O, vassal! miscreant! [Laying his hand on his sword.]
Alb. & Corn. Dear sir, forbear.
Kent. Kill thy physician, and thy fee bestow
Upon the foul disease. Revoke thy gift;
Or, whilst I can vent clamour from my throat,
I’ll tell thee thou dost evil.
Lear. Hear me, recreant!
On thine allegiance, hear me!
That thou hast sought to make us break our vows,
Which we durst never yet, and with strain’d pride
To come betwixt our sentences and our power,
Which nor our nature nor our place can bear,
Our potency made good, take thy reward.
Five days we do allot thee, for provision
To shield thee from disasters of the world;
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom. If, on the tenth day following,
Thy banish’d trunk be found in our dominions,
The moment is thy death. Away! By Jupiter,
This shall not be revok’d.
Kent. Fare thee well, king! Sith thus thou wilt appear,
Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here.
[To CORDELIA.] The gods to their dear shelter take thee, maid,
That justly think’st, and hast most rightly said!
[To REGAN and GONERIL.] And your large speeches may your deeds approve,
That good effects may spring from words of love.
Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu;
He’ll shape his old course in a country new. Exit.
Flourish. Re-enter GLOUCESTER, with FRANCE, BURGUNDY, and Attendants
Glou. Here’s France and Burgundy, my noble lord.
Lear. My Lord of Burgundy,
We first address toward you, who with this king
Hath rivall’d for our daughter. What, in the least,
Will you require in present dower with her,
Or cease your quest of love?
Bur. Most royal Majesty,
I crave no more than what your Highness offer’d,
Nor will you tender less.
Lear. Right noble Burgundy,
When she was dear to us, we did hold her so;
But now her price is fallen. Sir, there she stands:
If aught within that little-seeming substance,
Or all of it, with our displeasure piec’d,
And nothing more, may fitly like your Grace,
She’s there, and she is yours.
Bur. I know no answer.
Unfriended, new-adopted to our hate,
Dower’d with our curse, and stranger’d with our oath,
Take her, or leave her?
Bur. Pardon me, royal sir;
Lear. Then leave her, sir; for, by the power that made me,
I tell you all her wealth. [To FRANCE.] For you, great king,
I would not from your love make such a stray,
To match you where I hate; therefore beseech you
To avert your liking a more worthier way
Than on a wretch whom Nature is asham’d
Almost to acknowledge hers.
France. This is most strange,
That she, whom even but now was your best object,
The best, the dearest, should in this trice of time
Commit a thing so monstrous, to dismantle
So many folds of favour. Sure, her offence
Must be of such unnatural degree,
Fallen into taint; which to believe of her,
Must be a faith that reason without miracle
Should never plant in me.
Cor. I yet beseech your Majesty,—
If for I want that glib and oily art,
To speak and purpose not; since what I well intend,
I’ll do ’t before I speak,—that you make known
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
No unchaste action, or dishonoured step,
That hath depriv’d me of your grace and favour;
But even for want of that for which I am richer,
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue
That I am glad I have not, though not to have it
Hath lost me in your liking.
Lear. Better thou
Hadst not been born than not to have pleas’d me better.
France. Is it but this,—a tardiness in nature
That it intends to do? My Lord of Burgundy,
What say you to the lady? Love’s not love
Aloof from the entire point. Will you have her?
She is herself a dowry.
Bur. Royal king,
Give but that portion which yourself propos’d,
And here I take Cordelia by the hand,
Duchess of Burgundy.
Lear. Nothing. I have sworn; I am firm.
Bur. I am sorry, then, you have so lost a father
That you must lose a husband.
Cor. Peace be with Burgundy!
Since that respect and fortunes are his love,
I shall not be his wife.
France. Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich being poor,
Most choice forsaken, and most lov’d despis’d!
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon,
Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away.
Gods, gods! ’tis strange that from their cold’st neglect
My love should kindle to inflam’d respect.
Thy dowerless daughter, king, thrown to my chance,
Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France.
Not all the dukes of waterish Burgundy
Can buy this unpriz’d precious maid of me.
Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind;
Lear. Thou hast her, France. Let her be thine; for we
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of hers again.—[To COR.] Therefore be gone
Come, noble Burgundy. Flourish. Exeunt [all but FRANCE, GONERIL, REGAN, andCORDELIA].
France. Bid farewell to your sisters.
Cor. The jewels of our father, with wash’d eyes
Cordelia leaves you. I know you what you are;
And like a sister am most loath to call
Your faults as they are named. Love well our father,
But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,
So, farewell to you both.
Reg. Prescribe not us our duty.
Gon. Let your study
Be to content your lord, who hath receiv’d you
At fortune’s alms. You have obedience scanted,
Who covers faults, at last shame them derides.
Well may you prosper!
France. Come, my fair Cordelia. Exeunt [FRANCE and CORDELIA].
Gon. Sister, it is not little I have to say of what most nearly appertains to us both. I think our father will hence to-night.
Reg. That’s most certain, and with you; next month with us.
Gon. You see how full of changes his age is; the observation we have made of it hath not been little. He always lov’d our sister most; and with what poor judgement he hath now cast her off appears too grossly. 32
Reg. ’Tis the infirmity of his age; yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.
Gon. The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash; then must we look from his age to receive not alone the imperfections of long-engraffed condition, 33 but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them.
Reg. Such unconstant starts are we like to have from him as this of Kent’s banishment.
Gon. There is further compliment of leave-taking between France and him. Pray you, let us hit together; if our father carry authority with such disposition as he bears, this last surrender of his will but offend us.
Reg. We shall further think of it.
Gon. We must do something, and i’ the heat. [Exeunt.]
Note 1. Liked.
Note 33. Long-confirmed disposition.