Last modified on 13 April 2014, at 15:09

King Lear

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!

King Lear (1608) is a play by William Shakespeare that is generally regarded as one of his greatest tragedies. It is based on the legend of Leir, a king of pre-Roman Britain.

Act IEdit

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth
Mend your speech a little,
Lest you may mar your fortunes.
Thy truth, then, be thy dower.
Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
Upon the foul disease.
Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:
Who cover faults, at last shame them derides
Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.
  • Nothing can come of nothing: speak again.
    • Lear, Scene I


  • Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
    My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
    According to my bond; no more nor less.
    • Cordelia, Scene I


  • Mend your speech a little,
    Lest you may mar your fortunes.
    • Lear, Scene I


  • Lear: So young, and so untender?
    Cordelia: So young, my lord, and true.
    Lear: Let it be so; — thy truth, then, be thy dower.
    • Scene I


  • Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
    • Lear, Scene I


  • Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
    Upon the foul disease.
    • Kent, Scene I


  • Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides:
    Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.
    • Cordelia, Scene I


  • Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.
    • Regan, Scene I


  • Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
    More composition and fierce quality
    Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
    Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops
    Got 'tween asleep and wake?
    • Edmund, Scene II


  • Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
    • Edmund, Scene II


  • We have seen the best of our time: machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our graves.
    • Gloucester, Scene II


  • This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!
    • Edmund, Scene II


  • Truth's a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out, when Lady the brach may stand by the fire and stink.
    • The Fool, scene iv; brach is an archaic term for bitch.


  • Have more than thou showest,
    Speak less than thou knowest
    ,
    Lend less than thou owest,
    Ride more than thou goest,
    Learn more than thou trowest,
    Set less than thou throwest;
    Leave thy drink and thy whore,
    And keep in-a-door,
    And thou shall have more
    Than two tens to a score.
    • The Fool, Scene IV


  • The hedge sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
    That it had it head bit off by it young.
    • The Fool, Scene IV


  • Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
    More hideous, when thou show'st thee in a child
    Than the sea-monster!
    • Lear, Scene IV


  • How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
    To have a thankless child!
    • Lear, Scene IV


  • Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.
    • Albany, Scene IV

Act IIEdit

Fellow, I know thee.
Fortune, good-night: smile once more; turn thy wheel!
  • Oswald: Why dost thou use me thus? I know thee not.
    Kent: Fellow, I know thee.
    Oswald: What dost thou know me for?
    Kent: A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.
    • Scene II


  • I have seen better faces in my time,
    Than stands on any shoulder that I see
    Before me at this instant.
    • Kent, Scene II


  • Fortune, good-night: smile once more; turn thy wheel!
    • Kent, Scene II


  • That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
    And follows but for form,
    Will pack when it begins to rain,
    And leave thee in the storm.
    But I will tarry; the fool will stay,
    And let the wise man fly:
    The knave turns fool that runs away;
    The fool, no knave, perdy.
    • The Fool, Scene IV


  • O, sir, you are old;
    Nature in you stands on the very verge
    Of her confine: you should be rul'd and led
    By some discretion, that discerns your state
    Better than you yourself.
    • Regan, Scene IV


  • Our basest beggars
    Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
    Allow not nature more than nature needs,
    Man's life is cheap as beast's.
    • Lear, Scene IV


  • You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
    As full of grief as age; wretched in both!
    If it be you that stir these daughters' hearts
    Against their father, fool me not so much
    To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger,
    And let not women's weapons, water-drops,
    Stain my man's cheeks!
    • Lear, Scene IV


  • I have full cause of weeping; but this heart
    Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws
    Or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!
    • Lear, Scene IV

Act IIIEdit

Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!
  • Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
    You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
    Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
    You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
    Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
    Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
    Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
    Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once
    That make ingrateful man!
    • Lear, Scene II


  • I am a man,
    More sinn'd against than sinning.
    • Lear, Scene II


  • The art of our necessities is strange,
    And can make vile things precious.
    • Lear, Scene II


  • He that has and a little tiny wit,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
    Must make content with his fortunes fit,
    Though the rain it raineth every day.
    • The Fool, Scene II


  • O, that way madness lies; let me shun that;
    No more of that.
    • Lear, Scene IV


  • Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
    That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
    How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
    Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
    From seasons such as these? O! I have ta'en
    Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
    Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
    That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
    And show the heavens more just.
    • Lear, Scene IV


  • Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on 's are sophisticated; thou art the thing itself; unaccomodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.
    • Lear, Scene IV


  • The prince of darkness is a gentleman.
    • Edgar, Scene IV


  • Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
    His word was still, —Fie, foh, and fum,
    I smell the blood of a British man.
    • Edgar, Scene IV


  • He's mad, that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath.
    • The Fool, Scene VI


  • Cry you mercy, I took you for a joint-stool.
    • Fool, Scene VI


  • Go, thrust him out at gates, and let him smell
    His way to Dover.
    • Regan, Scene VII


Act IVEdit

  • I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;
    I stumbled when I saw: full oft 'tis seen,
    Our means secure us, and our mere defects
    Prove our commodities.
    • Gloucester, Scene I


  • And worse I may be yet: the worst is not,
    So long as we can say, This is the worst.
    • Edgar, Scene I


  • As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, —
    They kill us for their sport.
    • Gloucester, Scene I


  • You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
    Blows in your face.
    • Albany, Scene II


  • She that herself will sliver and disbranch
    From her material sap, perforce must wither
    And come to deadly use.
    • Albany, Scene II


  • Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile:
    Filths savour but themselves.
    • Albany, Scene II


  • 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; halfway 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 unnumber'ed idle pebbles chafes,
    Cannot be heard so high.
    • Edgar, Scene VI


  • 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 Gloster'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 fiend's; there's hell, there's darkness,
    There is the sulphurous pit; burning, scalding, stench, consumption! — fie, fie, fie! pah, pah! Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination: there's money for thee.
    • Lear, Scene VI


  • Gloucester: O! let me kiss that hand!
    Lear: Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.
    • Scene VI


  • A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond justice rails upon yon simple thief. Hark, in thine ear: change places; and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?
    • Lear, Scene VI


  • There thou mightst behold the great image of authority: a dog's obeyed in office.
    • Lear, Scene VI


  • Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
    Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
    And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
    Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it.
    • Lear, Scene VI


  • When we are born, we cry that we are come
    To this great stage of fools
    — This' a good block: —
    It were a delicate strategem to shoe
    A troop of horse with felt: I'll put 't in proof;
    And when I have stol'n upon these sons-in-law,
    Then kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!
    • Lear, Scene VI


  • 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.
    • Lear, Scene VII


  • I am a very foolish fond old man,
    Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less;
    And, to deal plainly,
    I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
    • Lear, Scene VII


  • You must bear with me:
    Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish.
    • Lear, Scene VII


Act VEdit

Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
Ripeness is all.
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…
Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
That heaven's vaults should crack.


  • Men must endure
    Their going hence, even as their coming hither:
    Ripeness is all.
    • Edgar, Scene II


  • 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 wall'd prison, packs and sects of great ones
    That ebb and flow by the moon.
    • Lear, Scene III


  • The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
    Make instruments to plague us.
    • Edgar, Scene III


  • The wheel is come full circle: I am here.
    • Edmund, Scene III


  • Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones:
    Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
    That heaven's vaults should crack. — She's gone for ever! —
    I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
    She's dead as earth.
    • Lear, Scene III


  • And my poor fool is hang'd! 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!
    • Lear, Scene III


  • Vex not his ghost: O! let him pass; he hates him
    That would upon the rack of this tough world
    Stretch him out longer.
    • Kent, Scene III


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


  • 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.


Quotes about King LearEdit

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave…
  • Plain language sounds purely objective. On the one hand, it has not the accent of mere vituperation, it is thoroughly dignified; and on the other, it is not the language of a person who is mainly concerned with wangling somebody into believing something. When Mr. Jefferson wrote that one of his associates in Washington's cabinet was "a fool and a blabber," his words, taken in their context, make exactly the same impression of calm, disinterested and objective appraisal as if he had remarked that the man had black hair and brown eyes.
    Or again, while we are about it, let us examine the most extreme example of this sort of thing that I have so far found in English literature, which is Kent's opinion of Oswald, in King Lear:
Kent. Fellow, I know thee.
Osw. What dost thou know me for?
Kent. A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking whoreson, glass-gazing, & super-servicable, finical rogue; onetrunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch.
Now, considering Kent's character and conduct, as shown throughout the play, I doubt very much that those lines should be taken as merely so much indecent blackguarding.… an actor who ranted through them in the tone and accent of sheer violent diatribe would ruin his part. Frank Warrin cited those lines the other day, when he was telling me how much he would enjoy a revival of Lear, with our gifted friend Bill Parke cast for the part of Kent. He said, "Can't you hear Bill's voice growing quieter and quieter, colder and colder, deadlier and deadlier, all the way through that passage?" Angry as Kent is, and plain as his language is, his tone and manner must carry a strong suggestion of objectivity in order to keep fully up to the dramatist's conception of his role. Kent is not abusing Oswald; he is merely, as we say, "telling him."
  • Lear is a play [that] contains a great deal of veiled social criticism — but it is all uttered either by the Fool, by Edgar when he is pretending to be mad, or by Lear during his bouts of madness. In his sane moments Lear hardly ever makes an intelligent remark.

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