Context: Lear, King of Britain, an old man, foolishly divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. He retains one hundred followers, the name of King, and the right to live with each daughter on an alternating monthly basis. Very shortly, however, Goneril, with whom he first resides, peremptorily reduces his retinue and criticizes him and his men. Lear puts a frightening curse on her and hurries off to live with Regan. Before he and his knights arrive, Regan is brought a letter from Goneril relating all that has happened. Lear is refused admittance by Regan until he apologizes to Goneril. When Goneril arrives, Lear realizes his daughters are in league against him. Reduced to impotent fury, he rushes out into the stormy, wild night with his fool. Now, we find him with his fool hurling his defiance at the elements as the storm rages about them.
Rumble thy bellyful. Spit fire, spout rain. . . .
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness
I never gave you kingdom, called you children,
You owe me no subscription. Then let fall
Your horrible pleasure. Here I stand your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man. . . .
Context: The Earl of Gloucester has two sons. One, Edgar, is legitimate, the other, Edmund, illegitimate. Edmund conspires to turn the father against Edgar and deprive him of his birthright. Edgar flees into hiding, disguised as Tom, a madman. In the meantime, King Lear, who has turned over his kingdom to his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, is deprived of his retinue, refused shelter, and forced to wander on the heath. Enraged, deserted (except for his fool), humbled, and pushed to the edge of madness, Lear, accompanied by the fool stumbles upon Tom, the madman. Together, in a storm, they are rescued and the king and fool sent to safety by Gloucester, who does so despite the daughters' injunctions not to aid the king. Regan and her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, discover Gloucester's defection and, in a rage, blind him. Turned loose to go where he wishes, Gloucester, led by an old man, encounters his son, Edgar, still disguised as Tom, the madman.
Is it a beggar man?
Madman and beggar too.
He has some reason, else he could not beg.
I' th' last night's storm, I such a fellow saw;
Which made me think a man a worm. My son
Came then into my mind, and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him. I have heard more since.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.
Context: King Lear, old and foolish, has attempted to rid himself of the responsibilities of kingship by dividing his realm among his three daughters on the condition that each daughter declare her love for him. When the youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to indulge in the effusive love of her sisters, she is disinherited. Lear, however, soon discovers the seeming love of Goneril and Regan, his oldest daughters, and when Regan puts Kent, the king's courtier, into stocks and Goneril refuses to take the part of the aged monarch, he calls his daughters "unnatural hags" and rushes into the stormy night. On the heath with his faithful fool, he cries out against the elements:
LEARBlow winds, and crack your cheeks. Rage, blow,You cataracts, and hurricanoes, spoutTill you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks.You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,Singe my white head. And thou all-shaking thunder,Strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world, Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill...
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at once,That makes ingrateful man.
Context: This line, in all probability derived by Shakespeare from a Scots ballad old when the Bard employed it, has roots deep in chivalry. "Child" was a common synonym for knight. Much obscure meaning is attached to these words uttered by Edgar, son of Gloucester, but most sensibly they can be interpreted as an erratic, mad snatch of song, half remembered, half improvised by the frantically dissembling Edgar. They are used now to describe a fearless, undaunted attack in the face of great odds. Sir Walter Scott employed the same line in The Bridal of Triermain (1813), and Robert Browning, in 1855, used this line as a title of a poem. In the play, Tom, who is really Edgar, son of the Earl of Gloucester, sings wildly, to cover his disguise as a madman, as he, together with the abused and demented King Lear, are led off the stormy heath to shelter by the Earl of Kent and the Earl of Gloucester, who does not recognize his son. Lear prizes mad Tom as a rare philosopher.
LEARCome, good Athenian.GLOUCESTERNo words, no words, hush.EDGARChild Rowland to the dark tower came,His word was still, fie, foh, and fum,I smell the blood of a British man.
Context: King Lear of Britain, misled by false protestations of love, divides his kingdom between his evil eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, and marries off without dowry his youngest and gentlest daughter, Cordelia, to the King of France. Lear soon realizes Goneril and Regan do not love him; they abuse him, conspire to deprive him of his followers, and refuse to shelter him. Cursing them, Lear wanders the heath in a storm. Cold, enraged, and near madness, he is at last rescued and sent to Dover where he is united with Cordelia, returned from France with an army to right the wrongs done her father by her sisters. In the ensuing battle, the forces of Lear and Cordelia lose, and they are captured. Lear does not want to see Goneril and Regan. He is happy merely to be with Cordelia and to let the world go by.
LEAR. . . come let's away to prison:We two alone will sing like birds i' th' 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 laughAt gilded butterflies; and hear poor roguesTalk 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. . . .
Context: Two old men make fateful decisions. Lear, King of Britain, divides his kingdom between his two false eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, and gives his honest youngest, Cordelia, to the King of France with no dowry. The Earl of Gloucester has two sons: Edgar, who is legitimate and Edmund, born out of wedlock. The Earl, deceived by Edmund, who schemes to deprive Edgar of his birthright, is convinced the latter is plotting to murder him for his estates. Edgar flees. Soon, the king, abused by his evil daughters and stripped of his followers except his faithful jester, is turned out to wander the heath in a storm. Enraged, miserable, humbled, and near madness, the old king is rescued by a faithful follower and the Earl of Gloucester. He is sent to Dover where a French army, led by the King of France and Cordelia, is encamped. Gloucester, because he helped the king, has had his eyes put out by Regan and her husband and been turned loose to wander where he will. In his blindness, Gloucester encounters Edgar, disguised as a madman, poor Tom. Edgar maintains his disguise but helps his father toward Dover. They encounter the mad flower- and weed-bedecked Lear who, in his demented state, has escaped Cordelia's care and love. He is wandering and raving in the fields, and sees the blind Gloucester.
LEARHa! Goneril with a white beard! . . .Go to, they are not men o' their words; they toldme I was every thing. 'Tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.GLOUCESTERThe trick of that voice I do well remember;Is't not the King?LEARAy, every inch a King:When I do stare, see how the subject quakes. . . .
Context: Lear, King of Britain, decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. He makes his gifts dependent upon each daughter's declaration of love for him. The two eldest, Goneril and Regan, make flattering and false protestations of love and are richly rewarded. Cordelia, more honest, states simply that she loves him as a father. Angered, he gives her portion to the other two; but the King of France, who is present, discerns her honesty and asks for her hand in marriage. Cordelia goes with him without her dowry and without her father's blessing. Soon, however, Lear is abused, shorn of his followers, and denied shelter by Goneril and Regan. Enraged and near the edge of madness, Lear wanders the stormy heath, hurling defiance at the fierce elements. Cordelia, however, has returned to England with an army of deliverance and Lear, rescued by friends, is turned over to her care. He realizes his misjudgment of her and that she truly loves him. Her army, however, is defeated by Goneril's and Regan's forces, Lear and Cordelia are captured, and Cordelia is cruelly hanged. Now, Lear, bearing her dead body, gives voice to his anguish.
LEARA 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 sayst?–Her voice was ever soft,Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee.
Context: Lear, King of Britain, rashly divides his kingdom between his two dissembling, flattering elder daughters, Goneril and Regan. He retains one hundred knights, the name of King, and the right to live with each daughter on an alternating monthly basis. It is not long, however, until Goneril, with whom he first resides, and her steward, Oswald, begin to treat the old king with disrespect, to reduce his retinue, and criticize his men. Lear, in a rage, calls down a curse upon his eldest daughter and her future offspring.
LEAR. . . If she must teem,Create her child of spleen, that it may liveAnd be a thwart disnatured torment to her.Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,Turn all her mother's pains and benefitsTo laughter, and contempt, that she may feelHow sharper than a serpent's tooth it isTo have a thankless child. Away, away!
Context: Lear, King of Britain, announces that he will divide his kingdom among his three daughters. Foolishly, he makes his gifts dependent upon each daughter's declaration of love for him. The two eldest, Goneril and Regan, make fulsome and false protestations of love and are richly rewarded. The youngest, Cordelia, simply and honestly says that she loves him as a father. Angered, he divides the kingdom between Goneril and Regan, and gives Cordelia nothing. However, the King of France is impressed with her honesty, proposes marriage, and is accepted. Soon, Britain is torn with discord: the two heiresses abuse their father, strip him of his followers, and turn him away from their doors. He wanders on the heath, accompanied only by his jester, enraged and demented. Rescued, he is brought to Dover where Cordelia, returned from France with an army, nurses him back to health. A humbled Lear, unsure of himself, is emerging from his madness.
LEARPray do not mock me.I am a very foolish fond old man,Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;And to deal plainlyI fear I am not in my perfect mind.Methinks I should know you, and know this man,Yet I am doubtful. . . .
Context: This line, still quoted verbatim or contracted to merely "I'm tied to the stake," is often heard when one must face an ordeal. In the play, the Earl of Gloucester has extended aid and comfort to old King Lear despite strict injunctions not to do so by Goneril and Regan, ingrate daughters of the king. Now, after sending Lear to Dover to meet a friendly, invading army, Gloucester is taken by Regan and her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, who are aware of his actions and his betrayal, as they term it, of their wrong-headed and evil cause. They cross-examine him.
CORNWALLWhere hast thou sent the King?GLOUCESTERTo Dover.REGANWherefore to Dover? Wast thou not charged at peril–CORNWALLWherefore to Dover? Let him answer that.GLOUCESTERI am tied to th' stake, and I must stand the course.REGANWherefore to Dover?
Context: Believing in the wrong son as King Lear believed in the wrong daughters, the Earl of Gloucester has been betrayed by his bastard, Edmund. Gloucester secretly helps the maddened king and receives a letter telling him that Lear's daughter Cordelia, still faithful despite Lear's banishment of her, is landing at Dover with a French army. All this, Edmund reveals to one of Lear's evil daughters, Regan, and her vicious husband, the Duke of Cornwall. Cornwall blinds Gloucester and turns him out of doors, where he is discovered by his legitimate son, Edgar, falsely denounced by Edmund as a would-be murderer of his father. Edgar has adopted the disguise of a "bedlam beggar," one who is mad or pretends madness to secure charity. Gloucester, who has finally learned the truth about his sons, wishes to be led to the cliffs of Dover in order to commit suicide, and he asks the presumed Bedlamite to lead him. In a speech reminiscent of Oedipus' assertion that he blinded himself because of his disgust with what he could see, Gloucester tells an old retainer that when he had eyes he felt too sure of himself–his "means" made him feel secure; he is better off with his present "defects."
OLD MANYou cannot see your way.GLOUCESTERI have no way, and therefore want no eyes.I stumbled when I saw. Full oft 'tis seen,Our means secure us, and our mere defectsProve our commodities. O dear son Edgar,The food of thy abused father's wrath;Might I but live to see thee in my touch,I'd say I had eyes again.
Context: This saying has become a proverb in the English language. In the play, Lear, King of Britain, an old, irascible man divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, and cuts off his youngest, Cordelia, with nothing. When he does so, a faithful follower, Kent, questions the decision and is banished for his pains. Soon, however, Kent's warning comes true: Lear is stripped of his bodyguard of one hundred knights and turned out by Goneril and Regan to wander on the heath accompanied only by his jester. Reduced to impotent fury, he curses his offspring and hurls defiance at the raging storm that swirls about him. Cold, miserable deserted by all except his fool, he is found by his friend, Kent, who, at peril of his life, did not leave the country. Lear, on the verge of madness, does not recognize his old follower, but continues his raving.
LEARLet the great godsThat keep this dreadful pother o'er our headsFind out their enemies now. . . .Close pent-up guilts,Rive your concealing continents, and cryThese dreadful summoners grace. I am a manMore sinned against, than sinning.
Context: Lear, King of Britain, makes a foolhardy decision: to divide his kingdom among his three daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, while he still lives. As he rashly parcels it out, he requires each of them to tell him how much she loves him. First Goneril, then Regan flatter him and get their thirds. Before Lear turns to Cordelia, his youngest and only honest daughter, she speaks her thoughts, contrasting herself to Regan's protestation of love.
CORDELIA [aside]Then poor Cordelia–And yet not so, since I am sure my love'sMore ponderous than my tongue.
Context: Old King Lear, broken in spirit and power, clasps the dead body of Cordelia, his youngest daughter, in his arms. He realizes too late, that she loved him more than did her sisters, Goneril and Regan. The latter, rewarded with his kingdom for their fulsome, false, and flattering protestations of love, have turned on him, abused him, stripped him of his followers, turned him away from their doors, and have driven him to madness. Now, after his reunion with Cordelia and the downfall of her sisters, she is pointlessly murdered. Lear finally accepts the fact that she is dead, and worn out with suffering, still hoping against hope, he dies of a broken heart.
. . . 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.Do you see this? Look on her, look her lips–Look there, look there–[Dies.]
Context: Full of years, but not of wisdom, King Lear decides to divide his kingdom into three parts, the largest of which he will pass to the daughter who declares the greatest love for him. The young Cordelia, sickened by the excessive words of her sisters Goneril and Regan, and loving her father deeply, cannot bring herself to speak for gain.
LEAR. . . What can you say, to drawA third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.CORDELIANothing my lord.LEARNothing?CORDELIANothing.LEARNothing will come of nothing. Speak again.CORDELIAUnhappy that I am, I cannot heaveMy heart into my mouth. I love your MajestyAccording to my bond, no more nor less.
Context: Lear, King of Britain, foolishly divides his kingdom between his dissembling and flattering daughters Goneril and Regan. He retains one hundred knights, the name of King, and the right to live with each daughter on an alternating monthly basis. Soon, however, Goneril, with whom he first resides, treats the old king with disrespect, reduces his retinue, and criticizes his men. Enraged, Lear curses her and her future offspring and hurries off to live with Regan. Before he and his men arrive, Goneril's steward, Oswald, reaches Regan with a letter relating all that has happened. Regan refuses the old man admittance until he has apologized to Goneril. When Goneril arrives, Lear realizes the daughters are leagued against him, and he cries out in a helpless rage which approaches madness. His fool crouches by his side, huddling from an impending storm.
LEAR. . . No, you unnatural hags,I will have such revenges on you both,That all the world shall–I shall do such things;What they are, yet I know not, but they shall beThe terrors of the earth. You think I'll weep.No, I'll not weep. [Storm and tempest.]I have full cause of weeping; but this heartShall break into a hundred thousand flawsOr e'er I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad.
Context: Lear, King of Britain, and in his dotage, foolishly divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, and cuts off his youngest, Cordelia, with nothing. A faithful friend, Kent, questions the old man's actions and is exiled. Soon, however, the irascible old king is stripped of his bodyguard of one hundred knights and turned out by the daughters to wander on the heath. Reduced to impotent fury, he curses his eldest daughters and hurls defiance at a raging storm that swirls about him on the heath. Cold, miserable, deserted by all but his jester, he is found by Kent, who, at peril of his life, did not leave the country. Lear, on the verge of madness, does not recognize Kent, but allows himself and the fool to be led toward the shelter of a hovel. Before they enter, sanity returns to the distraught old man in fits and starts.
LEAR. . . Filial ingratitude,Is it not as this mouth should tear this handFor lifting food to't? But I will punish home.No, I will weep no more. In such a nightTo shut me out! Pour on, I will endure.In such a night as this! O Regan, Goneril–Your old kind father, whose frank heart gave all–O that way madness lies, let me shun that.No more of that.
Context: Lear, King of Britain, rashly divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, and cuts off his youngest, Cordelia, with nothing because she cannot match her sisters' glib protestations of love for their father. Kent, a faithful friend of Lear, questions the old man's decision and is exiled. Shortly, Lear is stripped of his bodyguard and refused shelter by his daughters. Alone, except for his jester, Lear wanders the heath. Reduced to impotent fury, he curses Goneril and Regan and madly hurls defiance at the elements. Cold, miserable, deserted by all but his fool, and on the edge of madness, he is found by Kent who did not leave the country. Lear, who does not recognize Kent, allows himself and the fool to be led to the shelter of a hovel. Adversity lends Lear compassion; he takes pity on the fool and bids him enter. Before sleep, he prays. It is at this moment that his redemption begins: for the first time, he thinks of others.
LEAR. . .Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,How shall your houseless heads, and unfed sides,Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend youFrom seasons such as these? O I have ta'enToo little care of this! . . .
Context: The Earl of Gloucester has two sons. One, Edgar, is legitimate, the other, Edmund, was born out of wedlock. Edumnd schemes to turn the father against Edgar and deprive him of his birthright. Edgar, alarmed, flees into hiding disguised as Tom, the madman. Meanwhile, the King of Britain, Lear, has foolishly given his kingdom to two of his daughters, Goneril and Regan. They, conspiring against him, strip him of his followers, abuse him, and turn him out of doors. Accompanied only by his jester, King Lear curses his daughters, wanders the heath in a storm, and hurls defiance at the elements. Cold, miserable, enraged, and near the edge of madness, Lear and his fool are rescued by the Earl of Gloucester, who befriends him despite an injunction by Goneril and Regan not to do so. Regan and her husband discover his defection and brutally blind him. Turned loose to wander where he will, Gloucester encounters his son, Edgar. Now, near Dover, in a field between two armies, Edgar urges his father on. But Gloucester is tired of fleeing: if he is to die he is content to die here. Edgar rallies him.
EDGARWhat, in ill thoughts again? Men must endureTheir going hence, even as their coming hither;Ripeness is all. Come on.GLOUCESTERAnd that's true too.
Context: Lear, old King of Britain, has foolishly tested the love of his three daughters–Goneril, Regan and Cordelia–for him and has exiled Cordelia because she replied, truthfully, "I love your Majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less." Lear has divided his kingdom between the other two daughters and has come to live with Goneril. But he finds her reception frosty. She tries to strip her father of his retainers and dignity. Lear rages out in protest and goes to visit his other daughter. Goneril is afraid that her father might work her harm unless Regan abuses him as she has done, so she sends a messenger to her sister informing her. Albany, Goneril's husband, who claims not to be aware of his wife's intentions, protests her treatment of her father. The following conversation ensues, in which Shakespeare uses an early version of our present-day proverb, "Let well enough alone."
GONERIL. . . No, no, my lord,This milky gentleness and course of yours,Though I condemn not, yet under pardon,You are much more ataxed for want of wisdom,Than praised for harmful mildness.ALBANYHow far your eyes may pierce I cannot tell;Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.
Context: The subplot of King Lear, that of Gloucester and his two sons, Edgar and Edmund, parallels the story of Lear and his three daughters. Edmund, the bastard son, convinces his father by a forged letter that Edgar, the legitimate son, is, in truth, planning to murder his father. When Edmund's treachery has, among other things, cost Gloucester his eyes, Edgar confronts his brother and they fight. Dying, Edmund confesses his evil designs, and Edgar comments on Gloucester's pleasant begetting of the bastard son.
EDMUNDWhat 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 thouThat hast this fortune on me? If thou'rt noble,I do forgive thee.EDGARLet's exchange charity.I am no less in blood than thou art, Edmund;If more, the more th' hast wronged me.My name is Edgar, and thy father's son.The gods are just, and of our pleasant vicesMake instruments to plague us.The dark and vicious place where thee he gotCost him his eyes.
Context: The aged King Lear, who has foolishly divided his kingdom between Goneril and Regan, his two unloving daughters, and has disinherited Cordelia, the loving and youngest, but blunt, daughter, finds himself cast out by his heirs. Furious, he rushes into the stormy night. His wits gone, Lear is removed by his old friends Gloucester and Kent, Edgar, disguised as a madman, and his faithful fool, to the shelter of a farmhouse, where in a mock trial he charges his daughters.
LEARArraign her first; 'tis Goneril. I here take my oathbefore this honourable assembly, she kicked thepoor King her father.. . .And here's another whose warped looks proclaimWhat store her heart is made on. Stop her there!Arms, arms, sword, fire! Corruption in the place!False justicer, why hast thou let her 'scape?. . .KENTO pity! Sir, where is the patience nowThat you so oft have boasted to retain?. . .LEARThe little dogs and all,Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me.
Context: This half-line is part of the final speech in the play, and is spoken over the body of humbled, exhausted, and broken-hearted King Lear, who, at the play's beginning, is headstrong, foolish, and proud. By dividing his kingdom between his evil elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, merely because they profess great love for him, he has hurried himself and his fortunes to this lamentable condition. From the time of the kingdom's division all has been discord: he has been abused, insulted, stripped of his followers, even deprived of shelter. Enraged, miserable, all but deserted, and pushed to the verge of insanity, the old man has gone through personal crises that, in their cruelty and intensity, are out of all proportion to his initial offense: giving up his kingdom while he still lived. Learning too late that his youngest daughter, Cordelia, loved him best, he dies, worn out and disillusioned, when he realizes that she, too, is dead. Edgar, son of a friend of the old king, and one who must help rebuild the kingdom, laments:
EDGARThe 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 youngShall never see so much, nor live so long.
Context: Two old men, blind to the evil they have fathered, make fateful decisions. Lear, King of Britain, divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, and cuts off his youngest, Cordelia, with nothing. The Earl of Gloucester has two sons; Edgar, who is legitimate, and Edmund, born out of wedlock. The Earl, deceived by Edmund who is scheming to deprive Edgar of his birthright, is convinced the latter is plotting to murder him for his estates. Edgar flees and goes into hiding in the wilds disguised as a madman. Lear, stripped even of the name of King by his daughters and accompanied only by his faithful jester, wanders the stormy heath, cursing his daughters and defying the raging elements. In the storm, Kent, an old follower of Lear, finds him and the fool, and they encounter Edgar in disguise. A short time later the Earl of Gloucester arrives to help Lear. Edgar frantically acts Tom, the madman, so his father will not recognize him. (In 1819, in Peter Bell the Third, Percy Bysshe Shelley changed this line to "The Devil is a gentleman.")
EDGAR. . .But mice, and rats, and such small deer,Have been Tom's food, for seven long year.Beware my follower. Peace Smulkin, peace thou fiend.GLOUCESTERWhat, hath your Grace no better company?EDGARThe prince of darkness is a gentleman. Modo he's called and Mahu.
Context: Lear, King of Britain, announces that he will divide his kingdom among his three daughters. Foolishly, he makes his gifts dependent upon each daugther's declaration of love for him. The two eldest, Goneril and Regan, make flattering and deceptive protestations of love and are richly rewarded. Cordelia, the youngest, states simply and honestly that she loves him as a father. Angered, he cuts her off with nothing and divides her share between the other sisters. Kent, a faithful liegeman, questions the king's decision and is exiled for his pains. The King of France is impressed by Cordelia's honesty and offers marriage. She accepts and goes to France. Soon, however, discord erupts in Britain. The old king is abused, stripped of followers, and turned out to wander the heath in a storm. Enraged, humbled, nearly mad, he is rescued by Kent, his faithful follower, who, at peril of his life, did not leave Britain, and the Earl of Gloucester. Gloucester sends letters to Cordelia at Dover. She is bringing a rescuing army to England from France. Now, Cordelia has received her father, and read the letters. A Gentleman is describing her reactions to Kent.
GENTLEMANFaith once or twice she heaved the name of fatherPantingly forth, as if it pressed her heart;Cried, sisters, sisters, shame of ladies, sisters!Kent! Father! Sisters! What, i' th' storm? I' th' night? . . .KENTIt is the stars,The stars above us govern our conditions,Else one self mate and make could not begetSuch different issues. . . .
Context: This saying is not infrequently heard as a synonym for "we're right back where we started," or whenever, after a passage of time or events, we are faced with a similar set of conditions or circumstances. It may also mean that the roles of two persons are reversed but in a similar set of circumstances. In the play, the sons of the Earl of Gloucester, two half-brothers, are at odds with each other. Edmund, the illegitimate son, seeks to deprive Edgar of his rightful inheritance. The father believes Edmund, and Edgar flees into hiding, disguised as Tom, the madman. Edmund, meanwhile, rises to great power and place. Ultimately, however, Edgar encounters him, brands him traitor, challenges him to combat, and defeats him. Edmund, wounded, acknowledges that Edgar is in the right.
EDMUNDTh' hast spoken right, 'tis true.The wheel is come full circle; I am here.
Context: King Lear of Britain has made a foolish mistake: he has divided his kingdom between two daughters, Goneril and Regan, who boast of their boundless love for him; disowned his youngest daughter, Cordelia, who tells him frankly that her love for him cannot be boundless, for she must have some for her husband when she marries; and banished the Earl of Kent, who seeks to stem Lear's "hideous rashness." Too late, Lear discovers the nature of Goneril and Regan, who deliberately abuse and slight him. Maddened by the sense of his daughters' ingratitude and his own helplessness, the king, together with his court jester, wanders on the open heath during a great storm. There he is discovered by the faithful Kent, who has followed him in disguise despite Lear's harsh and rash banishment of him. To Lear, the storm is an echo of his own feelings: "Blow winds, and crack your cheeks. Rage, blow,/ You cataracts, and hurricanoes, spout/ Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks." To Kent, of course, the storm is enough to terrify–"gallow"–the wild creatures that live and hunt at night:
KENTAlas Sir are you here? Things that love nightLove not such nights as these. The wrathful skiesGallow the very wanderers of the dark,And make them keep their caves. Since I was man,Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,Such groans of roaring wind, and rain, I neverRemember to have heard. Man's nature cannot carryTh' affliction, nor the fear.
Context: Edgar, son of the Earl of Gloucester, is the innocent victim of a plot by his father's bastard son, Edmund. Edmund has convinced the earl that Edgar wishes to murder the old man for the sake of the inheritance, and Edgar is forced to flee for his life. He disguises himself as a "bedlam beggar," one who is mad or pretends madness: ". . . my face I'll grime with filth,/ Blanket my loins, elf all my hairs in knots,/ And with presented nakedness outface/ The winds and persecutions of the sky." Such beggars were common enough in Shakespeare's time. "Tom" was the name generally assumed by them. During a great storm Edgar takes shelter in a hovel, which is entered by King Lear, also a victim, one genuinely maddened by the ingratitude of his daughters, Goneril and Regan. Lear, in fact, can think of little else. Edgar uses the phrase "Tom's acold" a number of times in the course of the scene, at first in a famous speech concerning the "foul fiend":
LEARDidst thou give all to thy daughters?And art thou come to this?EDGARWho gives anything to poor Tom, whom the foul fiend hath led through fire, and through flame, through ford and whirlpool, o'er bog and quagmire, that hath laid knives under his pillow, and halters in his pew, set ratsbane by his porridge, . . . Bless thy five wits, Tom's a-cold. O do, de, do, de, do, de . . .
Context: Edmund, bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, plots to have Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate and virtuous son, disinherited. He forges a letter from Edgar suggesting that they murder Gloucester and divide the inheritance; with a great show of unwillingness, Edmund reveals the letter to the earl, whose response is everything Edmund could desire. King Lear has just disinherited his virtuous and honest daughter, Cordelia, and banished the frank and loyal Earl of Kent, turning his kingdom over to the faithless and scheming daughters, Goneril and Regan. To Gloucester, his son's presumed treachery is further evidence that the world as he knew it is being destroyed:
GLOUCESTERThese late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us; . . . Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide. In cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked 'twixt son and father. This villain of mine comes under the prediction, there's son against father; the King falls from bias of nature, there's father against child. We have seen the best of our time. Machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our graves. . . . And the noble and true-hearted Kent banished; his offence, honesty. 'Tis strange.