Act I - Scene IV

A hall in the same.

[Enter Kent, disguised]

If but as well I other accents borrow,
That can my speech defuse, my good intent
May carry through itself to that full issue
For which I razed my likeness. Now, banished Kent,
If thou canst serve where thou dost stand condemned,(5)
So may it come, thy master, whom thou lovest,
Shall find thee full of labors.

[Horns within. Enter King Lear, Knights, and Attendants]

Let me not stay a jot for dinner; go get it ready.

[Exit an Attendant]

How now! what art thou?

A man, sir.(10)
What dost thou profess? what wouldst thou with us?
I do profess to be no less than I seem; to serve him truly that
will put me in trust: to love him that is honest; to converse
with him that is wise, and says little; to fear judgment; to(15)
fight when I cannot choose; and to eat no fish.
What art thou?
A very honest-hearted fellow, and as poor as the king.
If thou be as poor for a subject as he is for a king,
thou art poor enough. What wouldst thou?(20)
Who wouldst thou serve?
Dost thou know me, fellow?
No, sir; but you have that in your countenance which I(25)
would fain call master.
What's that?
What services canst thou do?
I can keep honest counsel, ride, run, mar a curious tale(30)
in telling it, and deliver a plain message bluntly: that which
ordinary men are fit for, I am qualified in; and the best of me
is diligence.
How old art thou?
Not so young, sir, to love a woman for singing, nor so(35)
old to dote on her for any thing: I have years on my back
Follow me; thou shalt serve me: if I like thee no
worse after dinner, I will not part from thee yet. Dinner, ho,
dinner! Where's my knave? My fool? Go you, and call my fool hither.(40)

[Exit an Attendant. Enter Oswald.]

You, you, sirrah, where's my daughter?
So please you,—

[Exit Oswald.]

What says the fellow there? Call the clotpoll back.

[Exit Knight]

Where's my fool, ho? I think the world's asleep. (45)

[Re-enter Knight]

How now! Where's that mongrel?
He says, my lord, your daughter is not well.
Why came not the slave back to me when I called him?(50)
Sir, he answered me in the roundest manner, he
would not.
He would not!
My lord, I know not what the matter is; but, to
my judgment, your highness is not entertained with(55)
that ceremonious affection as you were wont; there's
a great abatement of kindness appears as well in the
general dependants as in the duke himself also and your
Ha! sayest thou so?(60)
I beseech you, pardon me, my lord, if I be mistaken;
for my duty cannot be silent when I think your highness
Thou but rememberest me of mine own
conception: I have perceived a most faint neglect of late;(65)
which I have rather blamed as mine own jealous curiosity
than as a very pretense and purpose of unkindness: I will
look further into 't. But here's my fool? I have not seen him
this two days.
Since my young lady's going into France, sir, the fool(70)
hath much pined away.
No more of that; I have noted it well. Go you, and
tell my daughter I would speak with her.

[Exit Knight.]

Go you, call hither my fool.

[Exit an Attendant. Enter Oswald.]

O, you sir, you, come you hither, sir: who am I, sir?(75)

My lady's father.
‘My lady's father’! my lord's knave: your whoreson
dog! you slave! you cur!
I am none of these, my lord; I beseech your pardon.
Do you bandy looks with me, you rascal? [striking him](80)
I'll not be struck, my lord.
Nor tripped neither, you base football player. [tripping his heels]
I thank thee, fellow; thou servest me, and I'll love
Come, sir, arise, away! I'll teach you differences: away,(85)
away! if you will measure your lubber's length again,
tarry: but away! Go to! Have you wisdom? So.

[pushes Oswald out]
Now, my friendly knave, I thank thee: there's earnest
of thy service. [gives Kent money]
Let me hire him too: here's my coxcomb.(90)
How now, my pretty knave! how dost thou?
Sirrah, you were best take my coxcomb.
Why, fool?
Why, for taking one's part that's out of favor: nay, an thou
canst not smile as the wind sits, thou'lt catch cold shortly:(95)
there, take my coxcomb: why, this fellow has banished two
on's daughters, and did the third a blessing against his
will; if thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.
How now, nuncle! Would I had two coxcombs and two
Why, my boy?
If I gave them all my living, I'ld keep my coxcombs
myself. There's mine; beg another of thy daughters.
Take heed, sirrah; the whip.
Truth's a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped out,(105)
when Lady the brach may stand by the fire and stink.
A pestilent gall to me!
Sirrah, I'll teach thee a speech.
Mark it, nuncle:(110)
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,(115)
Set less than thou throwest,
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens to a score.(120)
This is nothing, fool.
Then 'tis like the breath of an unfee'd lawyer; you
gave me nothing for't. Can you make no use of nothing,
Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of(125)
[to Kent] Prithee, tell him, so much the rent of his
land comes to: he will not believe a fool.

A bitter fool!
Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a(130)
bitter fool and a sweet fool?
No, lad; teach me.
That lord that counseled thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me,(135)
Do thou for him stand:
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear;
The one in motley here,
The other found out there.(140)
Dost thou call me fool, boy?
All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast
born with.
This is not altogether fool, my lord.
No, faith, lords and great men will not let me; if I had(145)
a monopoly out, they would have part on't: and ladies
too, they will not let me have all fool to myself; they'll be
snatching. Give me an egg, nuncle, and I'll give thee two
What two crowns shall they be?(150)
Why, after I have cut the egg in the middle, and eat up the
meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou clovest
thy crown i' the middle, and gavest away both parts, thou
borest thy ass on thy back o'er the dirt: thou hadst little
wit in thy bald crown, when thou gavest thy golden one(155)
away. If I speak like myself in this, let him be whipped that
first finds it so.
[sings] Fools had ne'er less wit in a year;
For wise men are grown foppish,
They know not how their wits to wear,(160)
Their manners are so apish.

When were you wont to be so full of songs, sirrah?
I have used it, nuncle, ever since thou madest thy
daughters thy mothers: for when thou gavest them the rod,
and put'st down thine own breeches,(165)
[sings] Then they for sudden joy did weep,
And I for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep,
And go the fools among.
Prithee, nuncle, keep a schoolmaster that can teach thy fool to lie: I would fain learn to lie.

An you lie, sirrah, we'll have you whipped.
I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are: they'll have me whipped for speaking true, thou'lt have me whipped for lying; and sometimes I am whipped for holding my peace. I had rather be any kind o' thing than a Fool: and yet I would not be thee, nuncle; thou hast pared thy wit o' both sides, and left nothing i' the middle: here comes one o' the parings.

[Enter Goneril.]

How now, daughter! what makes that frontlet on?(180)
Methinks you are too much of late i' the frown.
Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou hadst no need to
care for her frowning; now thou art an O without a figure:
I am better than thou art now; I am a fool, thou art nothing.
[to Goneril] Yes, forsooth, I will hold my tongue; so your face
bids me, though you say nothing.(185)
Mum, mum,
He that keeps nor crust nor crum,
Weary of all, shall want some.
[pointing to Lear] That's a shealed peascod.(190)

Not only, sir, this your all-licensed fool,
But other of your insolent retinue
Do hourly carp and quarrel; breaking forth
In rank and not-to-be endured riots. Sir,
I had thought, by making this well known unto you,(195)
To have found a safe redress; but now grow fearful,
By what yourself too late have spoke and done.
That you protect this course, and put it on
By your allowance; which if you should, the fault
Would not 'scape censure, nor the redresses sleep,(200)
Which, in the tender of a wholesome weal,
Might in their working do you that offense,
Which else were shame, that then necessity
Will call discreet proceeding.
For, you trow, nuncle,(205)
The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
That it's had it head bit off by it young.
So out went the candle, and we were left darkling.
Are you our daughter?
Come, sir,(210)
I would you would make use of that good wisdom,
Whereof I know you are fraught; and put away
These dispositions, that of late transform you
From what you rightly are.
May not an ass know when the cart draws the horse?(215)
Whoop, Jug! I love thee.
Doth any here know me? This is not Lear:
Doth Lear walk thus? speak thus? Where are his eyes?
Either his notion weakens, his discernings
Are lethargied—Ha! waking? 'tis not so.(220)
Who is it that can tell me who I am?
Lear's shadow.
I would learn that; for, by the marks of sovereignty,
knowledge, and reason, I should be false persuaded I had
Which they will make an obedient father.
Your name, fair gentlewoman?
This admiration, sir, is much o' the savor
Of other your new pranks. I do beseech you
To understand my purposes aright:(230)
As you are old and reverend, you should be wise.
Here do you keep a hundred knights and squires;
Men so disordered, so deboshed and bold,
That this our court, infected with their manners,
Shows like a riotous inn: epicurism and lust(235)
Make it more like a tavern or a brothel
Than a graced palace. The shame itself doth speak
For instant remedy: be then desired
By her, that else will take the thing she begs,
A little to disquantity your train;(240)
And the remainder, that shall still depend,
To be such men as may besort your age,
And know themselves and you.
Darkness and devils!
Saddle my horses; call my train together:(245)
Degenerate bastard! I'll not trouble thee.
Yet have I left a daughter.
You strike my people; and your disordered rabble
Make servants of their betters.

[Enter Albany]

Woe, that too late repents,—(250)
[to Albany] O, sir, are you come?
Is it your will? Speak, sir. Prepare my horses.
Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous when thou show'st thee in a child
Than the sea-monster!(255)

Pray, sir, be patient.
[to Goneril] Detested kite, thou liest.
My train are men of choice and rarest parts,
That all particulars of duty know,
And in the most exact regard support(260)
The worships of their name. O most small fault,
How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show!
That, like an engine, wrenched my frame of nature
From the fixed place; drew from my heart all love,
And added to the gall. O Lear, Lear, Lear!(265)
Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in, [striking his head]
And thy dear judgement out! Go, go, my people.

My lord, I am guiltless, as I am ignorant
Of what hath moved you.
It may be so, my lord.(270)
Hear, nature, hear; dear goddess, hear!
Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend
To make this creature fruitful!
Into her womb convey sterility!
Dry up in her the organs of increase;(275)
And from her derogate body never spring
A babe to honor her! If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen; that it may live,
And be a thwart disnatured torment to her!
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth;(280)
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks;
Turn all her mother's pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt; that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child! Away, away!(285)

[Exit King Lear.]

Now, gods that we adore, whereof comes this?
Never afflict yourself to know the cause;
But let his disposition have that scope
That dotage gives it.

[Re-enter King Lear]

What, fifty of my followers at a clap!(290)
Within a fortnight!
What's the matter, sir?
I'll tell thee: [to Goneril] Life and death! I am ashamed
That thou hast power to shake my manhood thus;(295)
That these hot tears, which break from me perforce,
Should make thee worth them. Blasts and fogs upon thee!
The untented woundings of a father's curse
Pierce every sense about thee! Old fond eyes,(300)
Beweep this cause again, I'll pluck ye out,
And cast you, with the waters that you lose,
To temper clay. Yea, it is come to this?
Let it be so: yet have I left a daughter,
Who, I am sure, is kind and comfortable:(305)
When she shall hear this of thee, with her nails
She'll flay thy wolvish visage. Thou shalt find
That I'll resume the shape which thou dost think
I have cast off for ever: thou shalt,
I warrant thee.(310)

[Exeunt King Lear, Kent, and Attendants]

Do you mark that, my lord?
I cannot be so partial, Goneril,
To the great love I bear you,—
Pray you, content. What, Oswald, ho!
[To the Fool] You, sir, more knave than fool, after your(315)

Nuncle Lear, nuncle Lear, tarry and take the fool with thee.
A fox, when one has caught her,
And such a daughter,(320)
Should sure to the slaughter,
If my cap would buy a halter:
So the fool follows after.

[Exit Fool.]

This man hath had good counsel:—a hundred knights!(325)
'Tis politic and safe to let him keep
At point a hundred knights: yes, that, on every dream,
Each buzz, each fancy, each complaint, dislike,
He may enguard his dotage with their powers,
And hold our lives in mercy. Oswald, I say!(330)
Well, you may fear too far.
Safer than trust too far:
Let me still take away the harms I fear,
Not fear still to be taken: I know his heart.
What he hath uttered I have writ my sister(335)
If she sustain him and his hundred knights
When I have showed the unfitness,—

[Enter Oswald]

How now, Oswald!
What, have you writ that letter to my sister?

Yes, madam.(340)
Take you some company, and away to horse:
Inform her full of my particular fear;
And thereto add such reasons of your own
As may compact it more. Get you gone;
And hasten your return.

[Exit Oswald]

No, no, my lord,(345)
This milky gentleness and course of yours
Though I condemn not, yet, under pardon,
You are much more attasked for want of wisdom
Than praised for harmful mildness.
How far your eyes may pierce I can not tell:(350)
Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.
Nay, then—
Well, well; the event.



  1. “Visage” means “face.” Lear curses Goneril by comparing her to an animal; in this case, her face to a wolf. In doing this, Lear states that Goneril is no better than an animal in her disposition and behavior—she does not have the respect for family ties that a human should.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. A “whoreson” is a bastard son, and a “cur” is a low-bred dog. Lear uses references to various animals to insult and degrade others. Throughout the play, Shakespeare will use animals to symbolize the lowest status to which humans can descend.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. “Deboshed” is an early variant of the term “debauched,” which means depraved. King Lear’s attendants are again described as being an unruly and rowdy bunch.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. A “retinue” is a group of attendants accompanying a high-ranking person. Goneril considers King Lear’s retinue extremely obnoxious, and he finds this offensive and disrespectful.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. A “lubber” is a clumsy, stupid fellow, and to “measure one’s length” means to fall flat on the ground. The disguised Earl of Kent is taunting Oswald here, suggesting that Oswald can “tarry,” meaning stay put, but he will only be further made a fool of when Kent trips him again.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. A “knave” is a servant or a tricky and deceitful fellow. King Lear uses the term to refer to his Fool, who is both his servant, and a bit of a wise trickster. The Fool can be honest in his clever insights, but any criticism of King Lear is lightened with humor.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Goneril is outraged by the behavior of her father’s servants. Among many things, she accuses the servants of “epicurism,” which is the philosophy of pleasure-seeking.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. A “coxcomb” is a fool’s hat, which has a red crest resembling a cock’s comb. As the Fool attempts to place his coxcomb on the Earl of Kent’s head, the coxcomb becomes a symbol of Kent’s foolishness for following King Lear despite Lear’s irrational political choices.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. A “clotpoll,” also spelled “clodpoll,” is a blockhead or dolt. King Lear is using this word as an insult to Oswald.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. To be “attasked” for something is to be blamed for it. Goneril is essentially saying that Albany’s concern for King Lear shows his ignorance, rather than his kindness.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. An “abatement” is a reduction. The knight has noticed that King Lear is being treated unkindly by his servants, the duke, and his own daughter.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. While we spend more time knowing Goneril’s thoughts, Albany’s words here are important to understanding the theme of family relationships in this tragedy. He appears to believe that she should treat her father with more respect due to their familial relationship. He may be committed to Goneril through marriage, and his political position depends on her, but he has a much clearer vision of Goneril’s cruelty towards Lear, which has clearly started to drive him away from her.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Lear appears to believe that he is due respect and authority by virtue of simply being “Lear” rather than the power of his previous status as King. This is what makes him believe that he should be able to give up his power but still demand respect. His repeated questions about his identity suggest that he is slowly discovering that in giving away his authority and wealth, he has given away his previous identity.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. The Fool does not make a direct point here, preferring to convey it through an image. The verb “to pare” means to slice or cut, and so the Fool says that Lear has cut off his intelligence on both sides, which could symbolically refer to Goneril and Regan since Lear gave each of them half of his estate. Having done this, Lear has “left nothing in the middle.” Therefore, the Fool suggests that Lear’s having no power or land of his own is the result of not having any “wit,” or power of reason.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Traditionally, the Fool was able to act outside conventions and even had the unique privilege of criticizing the King. In this scene, the Fool speaks in mad riddles yet makes insightful comments about Lear's current condition. Note that “nothing” is used here again, echoing Lear, Cordelia, Edmund, and Gloucester, which suggests that Lear has become nothing himself by giving away all the power of his kingdom.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. Fools are supposed to jest, but here he speaks with clear insight into Lear’s condition. We know that the Fool is sad about Cordelia’s leaving, and so his words are not meant to entertain Lear but to criticize him. The words may be lighthearted but the meaning behind them is strong. Being able to criticize Lear in this way suggests a role reversal: Shakespeare turned the Fool into a wise leader when Lear became a fool.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. Lear demands that Oswald acknowledge his presence and his status as king, or at least as the former king. Lear’s insistence on being seen and recognized suggests that they are a part of having authority—leaders and subjects must acknowledge one another for the relationship to operate properly. Oswald’s and Goneril’s treatment of Lear violates not only traditional expectations of hospitality but also subverts the power dynamics between father and daughter and king and subject.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Kent’s decision to disguise himself in order to serve Lear demonstrates how loyal he is to Lear's authority. Lear's failure to see through Kent’s disguise emphasizes his lack of insight and how blind he is to actions around him, providing an insightful metaphor for Lear’s inability to see his daughters’ real motivations.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. Kent has decided to come back and serve the King but this time in disguise as he was recently banished from the kingdom due to the King getting angry when Kent tried to confront him with the truth.

    — Angel Sleiman
  20. Goneril's ingratitude is "sharper than a serpent's tooth." Lear demands that Nature make Goneril infertile or that she be cursed with monstrous offspring. Lear clearly views either outcome as punishment for her betrayal; however, he doesn't seem to view his own serpent-like children as a potential reflection of his own character flaws (his arrogance, for example).

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. The Fool's jokes are never funny. This is because Shakespeare does not want his audience to laugh. That would be inappropriate. Rather, he shows how bad Lear is feeling and how impossible it would be to revive his former good spirits and rejuvenation. If the audience were to laugh, they would seem to be laughing at the poor King rather than at the Fool's jokes. Still, the Fool must keep trying to cheer his master up. No doubt he feels no better than his master and his heart isn't in his job of being a jester--which partly explains why his jokes are so lame. He knows he is in trouble because Goneril hates him and would like to get rid of him. What would he do to survive in the outside world? He's been there and knows what it's like out there.

    — William Delaney
  22. The Fool is evidently referring to one of the Mother Goose nursery rhymes. The first stanza of "Little Bo Peep" is the best known.

    Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,

    And can't tell where to find them;

    Leave them alone, and they'll come home,

    Bringing their tails behind them.


    These nursery rhymes were collected in print around Shakespeare's time, but they date back much earlier and were circulated by word of mouth for centuries.


    Evidently what the Fool means is not that Lear is being Little Bo-Peep but like one of her foolish sheep. In the nursery rhyme the sheep are so foolish that they even lose their tails. Little Bo-Peep is foolish herself because she is a shepherdess and should have kept better watch over her sheep.

    — William Delaney
  23. King Lear may not have a lot of money but may think he can have all he wants for the asking. By saying, "there's earnest," he appears to be giving Kent a single coin and implying that it is a sort of retainer or down payment and that he will give him more when he gets the money from his daughter Goneril. Lear really has no cash income at all anymore. He is utterly dependent upon his two daughters. He has not only given up his throne, but he has given away all his lands and all his income. 

    — William Delaney
  24. Oswald is not a likable fellow, but he certainly is clever. This reply is calculated to elicit just the sort of reaction from Lear that it does. Oswald has been instructed by Goneril to be disrespectful to her father, and her crafty servant understands her perfectly. She wants Lear to explode and storm out of her castle with his fool and his hundred knights. That is exactly what happens. As a servant, Oswald know how to be disrespectful without going too far.

    — William Delaney
  25. This is an important truth about life and human nature which most people will learn by experience sooner or later, to their regret.

    Benjamin Franklin says the same thing:

    All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.

    An old folk saying expresses the same idea metaphorically:

    The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

    In one of Aesop's fables a dog holding a bone in its mouth looks into a pond and thinks its own reflection is another dog holding a bigger bone. The dog lets go of its own bone, which falls to the bottom of the pond, and is, of course, unable to grasp the other one.

    Albany is certainly correct in suggesting that he and Goneril have already done pretty well by getting an entire half of England as a gift and that they should be satisfied with the agreement they have made with her father.

    — William Delaney
  26. Having given up his kingdom, Lear is confused about his own identity. He is genuinely trying to understand what is left of him. A moment earlier he asks Goneril, "Are you our daughter?" And a bit later he asks her, "Your name, fair gentlewoman?"

    Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, the Outcast of the Universe.
    --Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Wakefield" in Twice-Told Tales

    — William Delaney
  27. King Lear twice addresses Oswald as "sir" in this line. Lear is obviously being sarcastic. He is, in effect, telling Oswald that he is behaving as if he a person of rank rather than a lowly household servant. A moment later Lear will express his real opinion of Oswald when he calls him whoreson dog! you slave! you cur!

    It is noteworthy that Lear keeps asking other people who he is. He is bewildered. He has lost his identity and doesn't know how to build a new one at this late time of life. He is mortified when Oswald answers his question, "Who am I, sir?" by identifying him as, "My lady's father." But this is something that can happen not only to kings but to commoners of the present day. An old parent living in the home of a grown son or daughter can find that his or her only identity consists of their relationship with their child. Maybe our identity is always based on other people's perceptions and opinions of us. 

    — William Delaney
  28. A brach is a female hunting dog. The Fool is suggesting that one called Lady has come back all wet and muddy and is allowed to stand by the fire and stink up the room.

    — William Delaney
  29. John Milton, another great English poet, wrote:

    Truth . . . never comes into the world but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her forth.

    — William Delaney
  30. Here Kent says he is forty-eight years old. This may have been old age in Shakespeare's day. Of course, Kent could be lying, but only if he were older than forty-eight. Later Oswald will claim that he spared Kent's life "at suit of his gray beard" (2.2).

    — William Delaney
  31. That is, a zero without a numeral in front of it to give it any value, and therefore a nothing. This seems to recall the exchange between Lear and Cordelia in the opening scene when he asks her:

    ...what can you say to draw/
    A third more opulent than your sisters? Speakl

    Nothing, my lord.



    Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

    — William Delaney
  32. While "crowns" literally refers to gold coins that have the likeness of the king imprinted on them, the Fool uses this word to pun on other meanings, such as the crown a king wears on his head (also called a crown) and the crown of an egg.

    — Owl Eyes Reader