Act II - Scene IV

Before Gloucester's castle. Kent in the stocks.

[Enter King Lear, Fool, and Gentleman]

'Tis strange that they should so depart from home,
And not send back my messenger.
As I learned,
The night before there was no purpose in them(5)
Of this remove.
Hail to thee, noble master!
Ha! Makest thou this shame thy pastime?
No, my lord.(10)
Ha, ha! he wears cruel garters. Horses are tied by the
heads, dogs and bears by the neck, monkeys by the loins,
and men by the legs: when a man's over-lusty at legs,
then he wears wooden nether-stocks.
What's he that hath so much thy place mistook(15)
To set thee here?
It is both he and she;
Your son and daughter.
No, I say.
I say, yea.
No, no, they would not.
Yes, they have.
By Jupiter, I swear, no.(25)
By Juno, I swear, ay.
They durst not do't;
They could not, would not do't; 'tis worse than murder,
To do upon respect such violent outrage:
Resolve me, with all modest haste, which way
Thou mightst deserve, or they impose, this usage,
Coming from us.
My lord, when at their home(30)
I did commend your highness' letters to them,
Ere I was risen from the place that showed
My duty kneeling, came there a reeking post,
Stewed in his haste, half breathless, panting forth
From Goneril his mistress salutations;(35)
Delivered letters, spite of intermission,
Which presently they read: on whose contents,
They summoned up their meiny, straight took horse;
Commanded me to follow, and attend
The leisure of their answer; gave me cold looks:(40)
And meeting here the other messenger,
Whose welcome, I perceived, had poisoned mine,—
Being the very fellow that of late
Displayed so saucily against your highness,—
Having more man than wit about me, drew:(45)
He raised the house with loud and coward cries.
Your son and daughter found this trespass worth
The shame which here it suffers.
Winter's not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way.
Fathers that wear rags(50)
Do make their children blind;
But fathers that bear bags
Shall see their children kind.
Fortune, that arrant whore,
Ne'er turns the key to the poor.(55)
But, for all this, thou shalt have as many dolors for thy
daughters as thou canst tell in a year.
O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow,
Thy element's below! Where is this daughter?(60)
With the earl, sir, here within.
Follow me not; Stay here.

[Exit Lear.]

Made you no more offence but what you speak of?
None. How chance the king comes with so small a number?(65)
And thou hadst been set i' the stocks for that question,
thou hadst well deserved it.
Why, fool?
We'll set thee to school to an ant, to teach thee there's
no laboring i' the winter. All that follow their noses are(70)
led by their eyes but blind men; and there's not a nose
among twenty but can smell him that's stinking. Let go thy
hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break thy
neck with following it: but the great one that goes up the
hill, let him draw thee after. When a wise man gives thee(75)
better counsel, give me mine again: I would have none but
knaves follow it, since a fool gives it.
That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,(80)
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.(85)
Where learned you this, fool?
Not i' the stocks, fool.

[Re-enter King Lear with Gloucester]

Deny to speak with me? They are sick? they are weary?
They have traveled all the night? Mere fetches;(90)
The images of revolt and flying off.
Fetch me a better answer.
My dear lord,
You know the fiery quality of the duke;
How unremovable and fixed he is(95)
In his own course.
Vengeance! plague! death! confusion!
Fiery? what quality? Why, Gloucester, Gloucester,
I'ld speak with the Duke of Cornwall and his wife.
Well, my good lord, I have informed them so.(100)
Informed them! Dost thou understand me, man?
Ay, my good lord.
The king would speak with Cornwall; the dear father
Would with his daughter speak, commands her service:(105)
Are they informed of this? My breath and blood!
Fiery? the fiery duke? Tell the hot duke that—
No, but not yet: may be he is not well:
Infirmity doth still neglect all office
Whereto our health is bound; we are not ourselves(110)
When nature, being oppressed, commands the mind
To suffer with the body: I'll forbear;
And am fall'n out with my more headier will,
To take the indisposed and sickly fit
For the sound man. Death on my state! Wherefore (115)
[looking on Kent]
Should he sit here? This act persuades me
That this remotion of the duke and her
Is practice only. Give me my servant forth.
Go tell the duke and's wife I'ld speak with them,
Now, presently: bid them come forth and hear me,(120)
Or at their chamber-door I'll beat the drum
Till it cry sleep to death.
I would have all well betwixt you.

[Exit Gloucester.]

O me, my heart, my rising heart! but, down!
Cry to it, nuncle, as the cockney did to the eels when she(125)
put 'em i' the paste alive; she knapped 'em o' the coxcombs with
a stick, and cried “Down, wantons, down!” 'Twas her brother
that, in pure kindness to his horse, buttered his hay.

[Enter Cornwall, Regan, Gloucester, and Servants]

Good morrow to you both.
Hail to your grace!(130)

[Kent is set at liberty]

I am glad to see your highness.
Regan, I think you are; I know what reason
I have to think so: if thou shouldst not be glad,
I would divorce me from thy mother's tomb,
Sepulchring an adultress. [To Kent] O, are you free?(135)
Some other time for that. Beloved Regan,
Thy sister's naught: O Regan, she hath tied
Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here!
[Points to his heart]
I can scarce speak to thee; thou'lt not believe
With how depraved a quality—O Regan!(140)
I pray you, sir, take patience: I have hope.
You less know how to value her desert
Than she to scant her duty.
Say, how is that?
I cannot think my sister in the least(145)
Would fail her obligation: if, sir, perchance
She have restrained the riots of your followers,
'Tis on such ground, and to such wholesome end,
As clears her from all blame.
My curses on her!(150)
O, sir, you are old.
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of her confine: you should be ruled and led
By some discretion, that discerns your state
Better than you yourself. Therefore, I pray you,(155)
That to our sister you do make return;
Say you have wronged her, sir.
Ask her forgiveness?
Do you but mark how this becomes the house:
“Dear daughter, I confess that I am old; [kneeling] (160)
Age is unnecessary: on my knees I beg
That you'll vouchsafe me raiment, bed, and food.”
Good sir, no more; these are unsightly tricks:
Return you to my sister.
[Rising] Never, Regan:(165)
She hath abated me of half my train;
Looked black upon me; struck me with her tongue,
Most serpent-like, upon the very heart:
All the stored vengeances of heaven fall
On her ingrateful top! Strike her young bones,(170)
You taking airs, with lameness!
Fie, sir, fie!
You nimble lightnings, dart your blinding flames
Into her scornful eyes! Infect her beauty,
You fen-sucked fogs, drawn by the powerful sun,(175)
To fall and blast her pride!
O the blest gods! so will you wish on me,
When the rash mood is on.
No, Regan, thou shalt never have my curse:
Thy tender-hefted nature shall not give(180)
Thee o'er to harshness: her eyes are fierce; but thine
Do comfort and not burn. 'Tis not in thee
To grudge my pleasures, to cut off my train,
To bandy hasty words, to scant my sizes,
And in conclusion to oppose the bolt(185)
Against my coming in: thou better know'st
The offices of nature, bond of childhood,
Effects of courtesy, dues of gratitude;
Thy half o' the kingdom hast thou not forgot,
Wherein I thee endowed.(190)
Good sir, to the purpose.
Who put my man i' the stocks?

[Trumpet within]

What trumpet's that?
I know't, my sister's: this approves her letter,
That she would soon be here.(195)
Is your lady come?

[Enter Oswald]

This is a slave, whose easy-borrowed pride
Dwells in the fickle grace of her he follows. Out, varlet, from my sight!
What means your grace?
Who stocked my servant? Regan, I have good hope(200)
Thou didst not know on't.

[Enter Goneril]

Who comes here? O heavens,
If you do love old men, if your sweet sway
Allow obedience, if yourselves are old,
Make it your cause; send down, and take my part!(205)
[To Goneril] Art not ashamed to look upon this beard?
O Regan, wilt thou take her by the hand?
Why not by the hand, sir? How have I offended?
All's not offence that indiscretion finds
And dotage terms so.(210)
O sides, you are too tough;
Will you yet hold? How came my man i' the stocks?
I set him there, sir: but his own disorders
Deserved much less advancement.
You! did you?(215)
I pray you, father, being weak, seem so.
If, till the expiration of your month,
You will return and sojourn with my sister,
Dismissing half your train, come then to me:
I am now from home, and out of that provision(220)
Which shall be needful for your entertainment.
Return to her, and fifty men dismissed?
No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl,—
To wage against the enmity o' the air;(225)
Necessity's sharp pinch! Return with her?
Why, the hot-blooded France, that dowerless took
Our youngest born, I could as well be brought
To knee his throne, and, squire-like; pension beg
To keep base life afoot. Return with her?(230)
Persuade me rather to be slave and sumpter
To this detested groom. [pointing at Oswald]
At your choice, sir.
I prithee, daughter, do not make me mad:
I will not trouble thee, my child; farewell:(235)
We'll no more meet, no more see one another:
But yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter;
Or rather a disease that's in my flesh,
Which I must needs call mine: thou art a boil,
A plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle,(240)
In my corrupted blood. But I'll not chide thee;
Let shame come when it will, I do not call it:
I do not bid the thunder-bearer shoot,
Nor tell tales of thee to high-judging Jove:
Mend when thou canst; be better at thy leisure:(245)
I can be patient; I can stay with Regan,
I and my hundred knights.
Not altogether so:
I looked not for you yet, nor am provided
For your fit welcome. Give ear, sir, to my sister;(250)
For those that mingle reason with your passion
Must be content to think you old, and so—
But she knows what she does.
Is this well spoken?
I dare avouch it, sir: what, fifty followers?(255)
Is it not well? What should you need of more?
Yea, or so many, sith that both charge and danger
Speak 'gainst so great a number? How, in one house,
Should many people, under two commands,
Hold amity? 'Tis hard; almost impossible.(260)
Why might not you, my lord, receive attendance
From those that she calls servants or from mine?
Why not, my lord? If then they chanced to slack you,
We could control them. If you will come to me,—(265)
For now I spy a danger,—I entreat you
To bring but five and twenty: to no more
Will I give place or notice.
I gave you all—
And in good time you gave it.(270)
Made you my guardians, my depositaries;
But kept a reservation to be followed
With such a number. What, must I come to you
With five and twenty, Regan? said you so?
And speak't again, my lord; no more with me.(275)
Those wicked creatures yet do look well-favored,
When others are more wicked: not being the worst
Stands in some rank of praise. [To Goneril] I'll go with thee:
Thy fifty yet doth double five and twenty,
And thou art twice her love.(280)
Hear me, my lord;
What need you five and twenty, ten, or five,
To follow in a house where twice so many
Have a command to tend you?
What need one?(285)
O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life's as cheap as beast's: thou art a lady;
If only to go warm were gorgeous,(290)
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need,—
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age; wretched in both!(295)
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! No, you unnatural hags,(300)
I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall—I will do such things,—
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth. You think I'll weep
No, I'll not weep:(305)
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!

[Exeunt King Lear, Gloucester, Kent, and Fool. Storm and Tempest.]

Let us withdraw; 'twill be a storm.
This house is little: the old man and his people(310)
Cannot be well bestowed.
'Tis his own blame; hath put himself from rest,
And must needs taste his folly.
For his particular, I'll receive him gladly,
But not one follower.(315)
So am I purposed.
Where is my lord of Gloucester?
Followed the old man forth: he is returned.

[Re-enter Gloucester]

The king is in high rage.
Whither is he going?(320)
He calls to horse; but will I know not whither.
'Tis best to give him way; he leads himself.
My lord, entreat him by no means to stay.
Alack, the night comes on, and the bleak winds
Do sorely ruffle; for many miles about(325)
There's scarce a bush.
O, sir, to wilful men,
The injuries that they themselves procure
Must be their schoolmasters. Shut up your doors:
He is attended with a desperate train;(330)
And what they may incense him to, being apt
To have his ear abused, wisdom bids fear.
Shut up your doors, my lord; 'tis a wild night:
My Regan counsels well; come out o' the storm.



  1. Lear draws attention to how Regan and Goneril take each other’s hands when Goneril enters the area. This physical act serves as a symbolic blow to Lear, who sees that his daughter Regan stands with, and supports, Goneril instead of him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Since it’s been established that the Fool knows more about events happening in the play than the others, his rhymes warrant close scrutiny. In this case, he is saying that someone who serves Lear for appearances and personal gain will abandon Lear when the “storm” comes. Given the Fool’s insight, and the way things are going for Lear, this rhyme certainly foreshadows events to come.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Having both his daughters show him such disrespect, Lear has just invoked the heavens to keep him sane. However, now he threatens to live as an animal in the woods, a claim that suggests nature values justice and family bonds more than Lear’s present company. Since comparing people to animals has been used for insults, this sentiment complicates the symbol because it suggests that while beasts, animals are still less corrupt than humans.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. In Roman mythology, Juno, Jupiter’s wife, is the goddess of marriage and the protector of the state. Juno is often thought to be the equivalent of the Greek goddess Hera.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. “Dolor” means grief or suffering, but “dollar” is the English name for the German coin “thaler” of varying value. The Fool may be using the term for its double meaning, suggesting that Lear’s daughters will give him more pain than money in the coming year.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. While Lear’s speech appears nonsensical, he makes a salient argument here. Lear complicates the notion that humans and animals are not really very different, stating “Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.” This means that humans really require no more to live on than animals. The use of the word “cheap” also suggests that even the poorest people have things that the rich may deem unnecessary, leading us to wonder what truly makes a person rich.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Regan’s inclusion of “Nature” in her response to Lear has additional meaning. She means that “Nature” represents a place beyond the realm of human rationality, and since it is “on the very verge / Of his confine,” then she means to say that madness is coming closer to Lear. Because Regan frames the human mind as something that can be breached by nature, she reinforces her assertion that age or emotional instability can weaken it and allow the wild forces of “Nature” to take over.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Lear has come to Regan to seek support for Goneril’s harsh treatment of him. Regan immediately targets his age, treating him like a child that should ask Goneril for forgiveness. Regan’s statement again brings up the interplay between madness and age by strongly contending that Lear’s aging mind is responsible for his behavior.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Lear’s daughters have systematically stripped him of his remaining knights, removing nearly all of his remaining power and authority in the process. In response to this, Lear again invokes the heavens to intervene; however this time, Lear asks for patience and sanity, fearing that he’s losing both. Goneril and Regan’s cold and unjust treatment of their father has severed the family ties, and has left Lear on the brink of madness.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Upon seeing Kent, the Fool immediately starts to ridicule him. He calls the stocks Kent’s “cruel garters” (garters being a band worn to keep socks or stockings up one’s leg) and his “wooden nether-socks.” Since clothes often represent station in Shakespeare’s plays, the Fool uses such language to portray Kent’s pitiful position.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Shakespeare feels the need to explain why Lear is not accompanied by his one hundred knights. The Fool explains that a lot of them have already deserted Lear because they can see he is on a downhill path and will no longer be able to pay them or provide for them. It is not only Lear's daughters who are rejecting him, but gradually all his followers except for the Fool and Kent.

    — William Delaney
  12. Regan and her husband have come to visit the Earl of Gloucester because they did not want to be at their own castle when Lear arrived. This ties the main plot (Lear and his daughters) and the subplot (Gloucester and his sons) together.

    — William Delaney
  13. Lear doesn't want to believe what is happening to him. He has already lost two daughters, Cordelia and Goneril. Now he feels threatened with the loss of his third and last one. He doesn't want to quarrel with Regan as he did with Goneril because he knows he is utterly dependent upon her love and good will. He has already begun to lose the self-assurance that made him describe himself as a "dragon" in Act 1, Scene 1. Lear needs to have a roof over his head, and Regan is his last recourse. 

    — William Delaney
  14. In addition to suggesting that Lear might be thinking of disowning his daughter Regan, or threatening to do so, these words also inform the audience that Lear's wife and the three daughters' mother is dead. That needs to be resolved. Otherwise the audience might suppose the woman was a character who had not yet appeared on the stage. Shakespeare did not want any more female characters in his play. A Queen Lear would have only complicated matters without contributing much of interest. 

    — William Delaney
  15. Old people do not generally feel as old as they look or as old as they really are chronologically. King Lear still considers himself perhaps middle-aged at most. He still likes to go hunting on horseback and to consume big meals with lots of wine or ale. He must have initially intended to spend at least ten more good years enjoying himself with his hundred knights. But he cannot see himself as others see him--except, perhaps, with a fleeting glimpse in a mirror, from which he quickly turns away. This is suggestive of Robert Burns' famous poem "To a Louse," in which he says:

    *O wad some Power the giftie gie us *
    *To see oursels as ithers see us! *
    *It wad frae mony a blunder free us, *
    *An' foolish notion: *
    *What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us, *
    An' ev'n devotion!


    — William Delaney
  16. Lear's demonstration of pretended humility helps to explain why he prefers to expose himself to cold and misery in the open air to living with either of his daughters on their terms. He is obviously a very proud man. Throughout the play he will continue to rail against his ungrateful daughters because the audience must be made to realize that it is out of the question for him to go back to either Goneril or Regan, both of whom would be glad to have him in their castles and provide him with every comfort, as long as he was alone. They may not care for their father at all, but they know it looks bad to have him wandering through the open country like a beggar, especially when he is so old. If they feel no love or pity, they must at least feel some guilt.


    — William Delaney
  17. Lear seems to be blaming himself for his daughter's wicked character. It is quite natural for parents to ask themselves how they are to blame when a son or daughter turns out bad. This is perhaps because it is natural for parents to see themselves in their children. 

    — William Delaney
  18. Lear has never suffered from such things as cold and hunger in his entire life. It is easy for such a spoiled, headstrong man to "abjure," that is to forsake, all roofs and go out into the stormy night. Once outside the luxurious world of castles, food, wine, soft beds, and liveried servants, his real education begins. The Fool has been there before and knows exactly what to expect of the outside world, although, being a fool and uneducated, he does not know how to express himself in precise language. Lear is not only an old man but is totally unequipped to survive in the real world. He may have thought that his grandiose gesture would ignite some spark of love in his daughter and make her implore him to come back inside. But part of his education is that his daughter cares nothing about him, is glad to get rid of him, and doesn't care in the least if he dies.

    — William Delaney
  19. Lear is in an awkward position because he still loves his children even though he has been forced to realize that they don't love him. 

    — William Delaney
  20. Shakespeare's King Lear is largely about Lear's learning experience. What Regan says here is very appropriate, since this is just the beginning of the sufferings that will finally teach Lear many important lessons about reality. For one thing, he will learn the difference between real love and counterfeit love. He will learn about the perfidy and duplicity that exists in much of humanity. He will learn to empathize with the hard lives of his most humble subjects. And he will learn patience and humility. 

    One of Benjamin Franklin's many wise and practical sayings is:

    Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.

    — William Delaney
  21. The theme of King Lear is how each generation is "trodden down" by the "hungry generation" just behind it (to borrow from Keats' metaphor in "Ode to a Nightingale"). Lear and Kent, both representing the elder generation, see the stocking of the king's messenger as a "violent outrage," but Regan and Cornwall, representing the hungry, ambitious, greedy younger generation, have a different value system and no regard for traditional values. They simply cannot see things the same way as Lear and Kent, whose value system will be dying along with them.

    Shakespeare expresses the same idea more cynically in* Measure for Measure:*

    Friend hast thou none;
    For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire,
    The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
    Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
    For ending thee no sooner. (III.i)

    — William Delaney