"If You Have Poison for Me, I Will Drink It"

April 23, 2020

King Lear and the Fool in the Storm

William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Tragedy of King Lear.
Vol. 46, pp. 293-303 of The Harvard Classics

Shaken and disillusioned by the treachery of his elder daughter, King Lear suspected even the faithful Cordelia of evil designs. Her most tender efforts to comfort him failed to drive away the insistent specter of his madness.
(Shakespeare died April 23, 1616.)

Act IV
Scene VI


  Edg.  From the dread summit of this chalky bourn. 1
Look up a-height; 2 the shrill-gorg’d 3 lark so far
Cannot be seen or heard. Do but look up.
  Glou.  Alack, I have no eyes.
Is wretchedness depriv’d that benefit,
To end itself by death? ’Twas yet some comfort,
When misery could beguile the tyrant’s rage,
And frustrate his proud will.
  Edg.        Give me your arm.
Up: so. How is ’t? Feel you your legs? You stand.
  Glou.  Too well, too well.
  Edg.        This is above all strangeness.
Upon the crown o’ the cliff, what thing was that
Which parted from you?
  Glou.        A poor unfortunate beggar.
  Edg.  As I stood here below, methought his eyes
Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,
Horns whelk’d 4 and waved like the enridged sea.
It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy father,
Think that the clearest 5 gods, who make them honours
Of men’s impossibilities, have preserv’d thee.
  Glou.  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.
  Edg.  Bear free and patient thoughts.

Enter LEAR [fantastically dressed with wild flowers]

        But who comes here?
The safer 6 sense will ne’er accommodate 7
His master thus.
  Lear.  No, they cannot touch me for coining;
I am the King himself.
  Edg.  O thou side-piercing sight!
  Lear.  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, 8 i’ the clout! Hewgh! Give the word. 9
  Edg.  Sweet marjoram.
  Lear.  Pass.
  Glou.  I know that voice.
  Lear.  Ha! Goneril, with a white beard! They flatter’d me like a dog, and told me I had the white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there. To say “ay” and “no” to everything 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.
  Glou.  The trick of that voice I do well remember.
Is ’t not the King?
  Lear.          Ay, every inch a king!
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.
I pardon that man’s life. What was thy cause? 10
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, 11 pell-mell! for I lack soldiers.
Behold yond simp’ring dame,
Whose face between her forks 12 presages snow,
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure’s name,—
The fitchew, 13 nor the soiled 14 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; fie, fie, fie! pah, pah!
Give me an ounce of civet; good apothecary, sweeten my imagination.
There’s money for thee.
  Glou.  O, let me kiss that hand!
  Lear.  Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.
  Glou.  O ruin’d piece of nature! This great world
Shall so wear out to nought. Dost thou know me?
  Lear.  I remember thine eyes well enough. Dost thou squiny 15 at me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid; I’ll not love. Read thou this challenge; mark but the penning of it.
  Glou.  Were all thy letters suns, I could not see.
  Edg.  [Aside.]  I would not take this from report. It is; and my heart breaks at it.
  Lear.  Read.
  Glou.  What, with the case 16 of eyes?
  Lear.  O, ho, are you there with me? No eyes in your head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light; yet you see how this world goes.
  Glou.  I see it feelingly.
  Lear.  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 has seen a farmer’s dog bark at a beggar?
  Glou.  Ay, sir.
  Lear.  And the creature run from the cur? There thou mightst behold the great image of authority: a dog’s obey’d in office.
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thy own back;
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whip’st her. The usurer hangs the cozener. 17
Through tatter’d clothes great vices do appear;
Robes and furr’d 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 18 ’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.
  Edg.  O, matter and impertinency 19 mix’d!
Reason in madness!
  Lear.  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.
  Glou.  Alack, alack the day!
  Lear.  When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.—This a good block. 20
It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
A troop of horse with felt. I’ll put ’t in proof; 21
And when I have stol’n upon these son-in-laws,
Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!

Enter a Gentleman [with Attendants]

  Gent.  O, here he is! Lay hand upon him. Sir,
Your most dear daughter—
  Lear.  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.
  Gent.        You shall have anything.
  Lear.  No seconds? All myself?
Why, this would make a man a man of salt, 22
To use his eyes for garden water-pots,
[Ay, and laying autumn’s dust.
  Gent.        Good sir,—]
  Lear.  I will die bravely, like a smug 23 bridegroom. What! I will be jovial. Come, come; I am a king,
My masters, know you that?
  Gent.  You are a royal one, and we obey you.
  Lear.  Then there’s life in ’t. Come, an you get it, you shall get it by running. Sa, sa, sa, sa.  Exit [running; Attendants follow].
  Gent.  A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch,
Past speaking of in a king! Thou hast one daughter
Who redeems Nature from the general curse
Which twain have brought her to.
  Edg.  Hail, gentle sir.
  Gent.        Sir, speed you: what’s your will?
  Edg.  Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward?
  Gent.  Most sure and vulgar; 24 every one hears that,
Which can distinguish sound.
  Edg.        But, by your favour,
How near’s the other army?
  Gent.  Near and on speedy foot; the main descry 25
Stands on the hourly thought.
  Edg.  I thank you, sir; that’s all.
  Gent.  Though that the Queen on special cause is here,
Her army is mov’d on.  Exit.
  Edg.        I thank you, sir.
  Glou.  You ever-gentle gods, take my breath from me;
Let not my worser spirit tempt me again
To die before you please!
  Edg.        Well pray you, father.
  Glou.  Now, good sir, what are you?
  Edg.  A most poor man, made tame to fortune’s blows;
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,
Am pregnant 26 to good pity. Give me your hand,
I’ll lead you to some biding.
  Glou.        Hearty thanks;
The bounty and the benison of Heaven
To boot, and boot!

Enter Steward [OSWALD]

  Osw.        A proclaim’d prize! Most happy!
That eyeless head of thine was first fram’d flesh
To raise my fortunes. Thou old unhappy traitor,
Briefly thyself remember; the sword is out
That must destroy thee.
  Glou.        Now let thy friendly hand
Put strength enough to ’t.  [EDGAR interposes.]
  Osw.        Wherefore, bold peasant,
Dar’st thou support a publish’d 27 traitor? Hence;
Lest that the infection of his fortune take
Like hold on thee. Let go his arm.
  Edg.  ’Chill 28 not let go, zir, without vurther ’casion.
  Osw.  Let go, slave, or thou diest!
  Edg.  Good gentleman, go your gait, and let poor volk pass. An ’chud 29 ha’ bin zwagger’d out of my life, ’t would not ha’bin zo long as ’tis by a vortnight. Nay, come not near th’ old man; keep out, ’che vor ye, 30 or Ise try whether your costard 31 or my ballow 32 be the harder. ’Chill be plain with you.
  Osw.  Out, dunghill!
  Edg.  ’Chill pick your teeth, zir. Come, no matter vor your foins. 33  [They fight, andEDGAR knocks him down.]
  Osw.  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 34 the English party. O, untimely death!
Death!  Dies.
  Edg.  I know thee well; a serviceable villain,
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.
  Glou.        What, is he dead?
  Edg.  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 rip their hearts;
Their papers, is more lawful.
  (Reads the letter.) “Let our reciprocal vows be rememb’red. You have many opportunities to cut him off; if your will want not, time and place will be fruitfully offer’d. There is nothing done, if he return the conqueror; then am I the prisoner, and his bed my gaol; from the loathed warmth whereof deliver me, and supply the place for your labour.
“Your—wife, so I would say—
“Affectionate servant,

O indistinguish’d space 35 of woman’s will! 36
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-practis’d 37 duke. For him ’tis well
That of thy death and business I can tell.
  Glou.  The King is mad; how stiff is my vile sense
That I stand up and have ingenious 38 feeling
Of my huge sorrows! Better I were distract;
So should my thoughts be sever’d from my griefs,  Drum afar off.
And woes by wrong imaginations lose
The knowledge of themselves.
  Edg.  Give me your hand.
Far off, methinks, I hear the beaten drum.
Come, father, I’ll bestow 39 you with a friend.  Exeunt.

Note 1. Boundary.
Note 2. On high.
Note 3. Shrill-throated.
Note 4. Twisted (?).
Note 5. Most righteous.
Note 6. Saner.
Note 7. Fit out.
Note 8. Mark.
Note 9. Pass-word.
Note 10. Accusation.
Note 11. Lust.
Note 12. Probably, hair ornaments.
Note 13. Pole-cat.
Note 14. Lusty with feeding.
Note 15. Squint.
Note 16. Sockets.
Note 17. Swindler.
Note 18. Warrant.
Note 19. Sense and nonsense.
Note 20. Hat (?).
Note 21. To the test.
Note 22. Tears.
Note 23. Neat, fine.
Note 24. Generally known.
Note 25. The sight of the main body is hourly expected.
Note 26. Ready.
Note 27. Publicly proclaimed.
Note 28. I will.
Note 29. If I could.
Note 30. I warn you.
Note 31. Head.
Note 32. Cudgel.
Note 33. Thrusts.
Note 34. Among.
Note 35. Unlimited range.
Note 36. Appetites.
Note 37. Whose death was plotted.
Note 38. Conscious.
Note 39. Lodge.

Scene VII

[A tent in the French camp]
Enter CORDELIA, KENT, and Doctor

  Cor.  O thou good Kent, how shall I live and work
To match thy goodness? My life will be too short,
And every measure fail me.
  Kent.  To be acknowledg’d, madam, is o’er-paid.
All my reports go with the modest truth;
Nor more nor clipp’d, 1 but so.
  Cor.        Be better suited;
These weeds are memories of those worser hours.
I prithee, put them off.
  Kent.        Pardon, dear madam;
Yet to be known shortens my made intent. 2
My boon I make it, that you know me not
Till time and I think meet.
  Cor.  Then be ’t so, my good lord. [To the Doctor.] How does the King?
  Doct.  Madam, sleeps still.
  Cor.  O you kind gods,
Cure this great breach in his abused nature!
The untun’d and jarring senses, O, wind up
Of this child-changed 3 father!
  Doct.        So please your Majesty
That we may wake the King? He hath slept long.
  Cor.  Be govern’d by your knowledge, and proceed
I’ the sway of your own will.

Enter LEAR in a chair carried by Servants. [Gentleman in attendance]

        Is he array’d?
  Gent.  Ay, madam; in the heaviness of sleep
We put fresh garments on him.
  Doct.  Be by, good madam, when we do awake him;
I doubt not of his temperance. 4
  [Cor.        Very well.
  Doct.  Please you, draw near.—Louder the music there!]
  Cor.  O my dear father! Restoration hang
Thy medicine on my lips; and let this kiss
Repair those violent harms that my two sisters
Have in thy reverence made!
  Kent.        Kind and dear princess!
  Cor.  Had you not been their father, these white flakes
Did challenge pity of them. Was this a face
To be oppos’d against the warring winds?
[To stand against the deep dread-bolted thunder?
In the most terrible and nimble stroke
Of quick, cross lightning? to watch—poor perdu! 5
With this thin helm?] Mine enemy’s dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire; and wast thou fain, poor father,
To hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn
In short and musty straw? Alack, alack!
’Tis wonder that thy life and wits at once
Had not concluded all. He wakes; speak to him.
  Doct.  Madam, do you; ’tis fittest.
  Cor.  How does my royal lord? How fares your Majesty?
  Lear.  You do me wrong to take me out o’ the grave.
Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead.
  Cor.        Sir, do you know me?
  Lear.  You are a spirit, I know; when did you die?
  Cor.  Still, still, far wide! 6
  Doct.  He’s scarce awake; let him alone a while.
  Lear.  Where have I been? Where am I? Fair daylight?
I am mightily abus’d. I should even die with pity,
To see another thus. I know not what to say.
I will not swear these are my hands. Let’s see;
I feel this pin prick. Would I were assur’d
Of my condition!
  Cor.        O, look upon me, sir,
And hold your hand in benediction o’er me.
[No, sir,] you must not kneel.
  Lear.        Pray, do not mock me.
I am a very foolish fond 7 old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful; for I am mainly 8 ignorant
What place this is, and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
For, as I am a man, I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia.
  Cor.        And so I am, I am.
  Lear.  Be your tears wet? Yes, faith. I pray, weep not.
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong;
You have some cause, they have not.
  Cor.        No cause, no cause.
  Lear.  Am I in France?
  Kent.        In your own kingdom, sir.
  Lear.  Do not abuse me.
  Doct.  Be comforted, good madam; the great rage, 9
You see, is kill’d in him: [and yet it is danger
To make him even o’er the time he has lost.]
Desire him to go in; trouble him no more
Till further settling.
  Cor.  Will ’t please your Highness walk?
  Lear.        You must bear with me.
Pray you now, forget and forgive; I am old and foolish.  Exeunt [all but KENT andGentleman].
  [Gent.  Holds it true, sir, that the Duke of Cornwall was so slain?
  Kent.  Most certain, sir.
  Gent.  Who is conductor of his people?
  Kent.  As ’tis said, the bastard son of Gloucester.
  Gent.  They say Edgar, his banish’d son, is with the Earl of Kent in Germany.
  Kent.  Report is changeable. ’Tis time to look about; the powers of the kingdom approach apace.
  Gent.  The arbitrement 10 is like to be bloody.
Fare you well, sir.  [Exit.]
  Kent.  My point and period will be throughly wrought,
Or well or ill, as this day’s battle’s fought.]  Exit.

Note 1. Shortened.
Note 2. Interferes with the plan I have formed.
Note 3. Changed by the cruelty of his children.
Note 4. Sanity.
Note 5. A soldier put on dangerous sentry duty.
Note 6. Delirious.
Note 7. Foolish.
Note 8. Quite.
Note 9. Frenzy.
Note 10. Decision.

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