Act III - Scene IV

The heath. Before a hovel.

[Enter King Lear, Kent, and Fool.]

Here is the place, my lord; good my lord, enter:
The tyranny of the open night's too rough
For nature to endure.

[Storm still]

Let me alone.
Good my lord, enter here.(5)
Wilt break my heart?
I had rather break mine own. Good my lord, enter.
Thou think'st 'tis much that this contentious storm
Invades us to the skin: so 'tis to thee;(10)
But where the greater malady is fixed,
The lesser is scarce felt. Thou'ldst shun a bear;
But if thy flight lay toward the raging sea,
Thou'ldst meet the bear i' the mouth. When the mind's free,(15)
The body's delicate: the tempest in my mind
Doth from my senses take all feeling else
Save what beats there. Filial ingratitude!
Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand
For lifting food to't? But I will punish home:(20)
No, I will weep no more. In such a night
To 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;(25)
No more of that.
Good my lord, enter here.
Prithee, go in thyself: seek thine own ease:
This tempest will not give me leave to ponder
On things would hurt me more. But I'll go in.(30)
[To the Fool] In, boy; go first. You houseless poverty,—
Nay, get thee in. I'll pray, and then I'll sleep.

[Fool goes in]

Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,(35)
Your looped and windowed 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,(40)
And show the heavens more just.
[Within] Fathom and half, fathom and half!
Poor Tom!

[The Fool runs out from the hovel]

Come not in here, nuncle, here's a spirit.
Help me, help me!(45)
Give me thy hand. Who's there?
A spirit, a spirit: he says his name's poor Tom.
What art thou that dost grumble there i' the straw?
Come forth.

[Enter Edgar disguised as a madman]

Away! the foul fiend follows me!(50)
Through the sharp hawthorn blows the cold wind.
Hum! go to thy cold bed, and warm thee.
Hast thou given all to thy two daughters?
And art thou come to this?
Who gives anything to poor Tom? whom the foul fiend(55)
hath led through fire and through flame, and through ford
and whirlipool e'er bog and quagmire; that hath laid knives
under his pillow, and halters in his pew; set ratsbane
by his porridge; made him proud of heart, to ride on a bay
trotting-horse over four-inched bridges, to course his own(60)
shadow for a traitor. Bless thy five wits! Tom's a-cold,—O, do
de, do de, do de. Bless thee from whirlwinds, star-blasting,
and taking! Do poor Tom some charity, whom the foul fiend
vexes: there could I have him now,—and there,—and there
again, and there.(65)

[Storm still]

Has his daughters brought him to this pass?
Couldst thou save nothing? Didst thou give them all?
Nay, he reserved a blanket, else we had been all shamed.
Now, all the plagues that in the pendulous air
Hang fated o'er men's faults light on thy daughters!(70)
He hath no daughters, sir.
Death, traitor! nothing could have subdued nature
To such a lowness but his unkind daughters.
Is it the fashion, that discarded fathers(75)
Should have thus little mercy on their flesh?
Judicious punishment! 'twas this flesh begot
Those pelican daughters.
Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill:
Halloo, halloo, loo, loo!(80)
This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.
Take heed o' the foul fiend: obey thy parents; keep
thy word justly; swear not; commit not with man's sworn
spouse; set not thy sweet heart on proud array. Tom's a-cold.
What hast thou been?
A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled my hair; wore gloves in my cap; served the lust of my mistress' heart, and did the act of darkness with her; swore as many oaths as I spake words, and broke them in the sweet face of heaven: one that slept in the contriving of lust, and waked to do it: wine loved I deeply, dice dearly: and in woman out-paramoured the Turk: false of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand; hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey. Let not the creaking of shoes nor the rustling of silks betray thy poor heart to woman: keep thy foot out of brothels, thy
hand out of plackets, thy pen from lenders' books, and defy the foul fiend. Still through the hawthorn blows the cold wind: Says suum, mun, ha, no, nonny. Dolphin my boy, my boy, sessa! let him trot by.

[Storm still]

Why, thou wert better in thy grave than to answer
with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies. Is
man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest(105)
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: unaccommodated man is no
more but such a poor bare, forked animal as thou art. Off,
off, you lendings! come unbutton here.(110)

[Tearing off his clothes]

Prithee, nuncle, be contented; 'tis a naughty night to swim
in. Now a little fire in a wild field were like an old lecher's
heart; a small spark, all the rest on's body cold. Look, here
comes a walking fire.

[Enter Gloucester, with a torch]

This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins at(115)
curfew, and walks till the first cock; he gives the web and
the pin, squints the eye, and makes the hare-lip; mildews
the white wheat, and hurts the poor creature of earth.

     St. Withold footed thrice the 'old,

     He met the night-mare, and her nine-fold;(120)

     Bid her alight,

     And her troth plight,

     And, aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!

How fares your grace?
What's he?(125)
Who's there? What is't you seek?
What are you there? Your names?
Poor Tom; that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the
tadpole, the wall-newt and the water; that in the fury of his heart, when the foul fiend rages, eats cow-dung for sallets;
swallows the old rat and the ditch-dog; drinks the green(130)
mantle of the standing pool; who is whipped from tithing to
tithing, and stock-punished, and imprisoned; who hath had
three suits to his back, six shirts to his body, Horse to ride,
and weapon to wear;

     But mice and rats, and such small deer,(135)

     Have been Tom's food for seven long year.

Beware my follower. Peace, Smulkin; peace, thou fiend!
What, hath your grace no better company?
The prince of darkness is a Gentleman:
Modo he's called, and Mahu.(140)
Our flesh and blood is grown so vile, my lord,
That it doth hate what gets it.
Poor Tom's a-cold.
Go in with me: my duty cannot suffer
To obey in all your daughters' hard commands:(145)
Though their injunction be to bar my doors,
And let this tyrannous night take hold upon you,
Yet have I ventured to come seek you out,
And bring you where both fire and food is ready.
First let me talk with this philosopher.(150)
What is the cause of thunder?
Good my lord, take his offer; go into the house.
I'll talk a word with this same learned Theban.
What is your study?
How to prevent the fiend, and to kill vermin.(155)
Let me ask you one word in private.
Importune him once more to go, my lord;
His wits begin to unsettle.
Canst thou blame him?

[Storm still]

His daughters seek his death: ah, that good Kent!(160)
He said it would be thus, poor banished man!
Thou say'st the king grows mad; I'll tell thee, friend,
I am almost mad myself: I had a son,
Now outlawed from my blood; he sought my life,
But lately, very late: I loved him, friend;(165)
No father his son dearer: truth to tell thee,
The grief hath crazed my wits. What a night's this!
I do beseech your grace,—
O, cry your mercy, sir.
Noble philosopher, your company.(170)
Tom's a-cold.
In, fellow, there, into the hovel: keep thee warm.
Come let's in all.
This way, my lord.(175)
With him; I will keep still with my philosopher.
Good my lord, save – except soothe him; let him take the fellow.
Take him you on.
Sirrah, come on; go along with us.(180)
Come, good Athenian.
No words, no words: hush.
Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
His word was still,—Fie, foh, and fum,(185)
I smell the blood of a British man.



  1. Moments earlier, Lear told Kent that he will go but will take the disguised Edgar with him, claiming Edgar to be his “philosopher.” Calling Edgar a “good Athenian” serves to also call him a Greek philosopher, because the people of Athens were associated with the field of philosophy and the pursuit of knowledge. In doing this, Lear shows that he values the disguised Edgar as a person of wisdom and knowledge, and since Edgar is appearing to be mad, Lear's preferring his company speaks to Lear's mindset.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Gloucester’s appearance and statements provide a good example of irony, because his failure to recognize Kent or his own son Edgar, despite how much he claims to love and value them, shows his blindness. This echoes Lear's inability to recognize Kent, and it provides a literal emphasis to the metaphorical blindness of the old men towards the actions of their children.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. While Lear has demonstrated that he has begun to acquire a measure of empathy for the plights and situations of others, his remark here on Poor Tom’s (Edgar’s) state shows that he still views events through his own personal experience. For Lear, the path to madness and the subversion of the natural order happen through the betrayal of children against their father, which we’ve seen happening to Lear and Gloucester.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. At first glance, Edgar's cryptic rhyme appears meaningless; however, the content actually carries strong significance for the play. While "childe" can refer to a nobleman who is not yet a knight, such as a squire, the connection to the words "child" and "children" is meaningful: children in King Lear have threatened their parents' way of life. Furthermore, the "dark tower" can apply to the positions of power that these children are seeking to take from their fathers, likely through violence by spilling "the blood of a British man." Similar to the wisdom found in the Fool's sayings, Shakespeare has clearly experimented with putting heavy content in seemingly foolish words.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. This apparently meaningless rhyme has made appearances in other works. First, it refers to an older fairy tale of the "Childe Rowland," a knight of legend. The poet Robert Browning took this line and legend for the title and content of one of his most well-known poems, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." Additionally, this quatrain is also well-known for its appearance in the tale Jack and the Beanstalk, even though the rhyme has been around since before that tale and this play.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. While the other characters see Lear as crazy, his ravings in the wilderness have actually helped him make more sense of the world and brought him greater insight into the state of the common people. Lear renounces his previous actions as king, which plays into traditional story elements of recognizing one's faults in order to begin repenting. However, Shakespeare has altered the structure of this moral arc by having Lear wade through madness to come to this realization.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Since Lear has started losing his wits, Shakespeare has been developing the association between insight and madness. This passage provides us with evidence that Lear has begun to acquire more knowledge as he struggles with his mental state. Having found shelter from the storm, Lear begins to reflect on his time as king and how he largely ignored the plight of his impoverished subjects. This selection shows how his recent experiences have helped him acquire a measure of empathy, or the ability to sympathize with the situation of others. Nature, as the storm, has provided an equalizing force that has allowed Lear to redefine what he considers necessary; he even sees a shack as precious.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. During Shakespeare's time it was commonly believed that pelican young fed off of their mother’s own blood. Lear is suggesting that he has been a good father, charitable and kind, and Goneril and Regan have been incredibly ungrateful. Notice again, the use of animals to symbolize Goneril and Regan’s lack of basic compassion and humanity.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. A “fathom” is a unit of length comprised of about six feet. When Edgar exclaims that the water in the hovel is a “fathom and half,” this means nine feet in depth. Note that Edgar is merely pretending to be mad here, as opposed to Lear who is actually becoming mad.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. By “Take physic, pomp” King Lear means something like, "pompous men, take a taste of your own medicine." The medicine (“physic”) that Lear is thinking of is exposure to the elements. Lear has been thrown out by his ungrateful daughters, and for the first time, is exposed to the elements of nature as a poor man rather than a “pomp.” His current situation helps him to recognize that he has not helped those in need as much as he could. Lear suggests that the rich be exposed to this level of poverty to come to the same humble realization.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Gloucester sympathizes with Lear for his madness, as he too understands the tragedy that occurs from broken family bonds. Just like Lear, Gloucester has been betrayed by a child (even though he believes it to be Edgar rather than Edmund.) Shakespeare complicates the theme of family relationships here by emphasizing that their dissolution has the capacity to drive people mad. Gloucester and Lear feel deeply hurt by their children’s disloyalty, the consequences of which is dire.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Notice that Lear describes his clothes as “lendings” before stripping them off, reminding the audience that they are not an essential part of him. His nakedness underscores the theme of disintegration; the stripping away of excess and returning to nature. Lear then describes Poor Tom’s madness as being the nature of “unaccommodated man,” suggesting that the human being in this state is more natural than those deemed “sane” in civilization.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. King Lear believes that he will go mad if he continues to obsess about his daughters' betrayal. He is already going mad because of his obsession with Regan's and Goneril's crimes, so his sudden insistence on shunning the topic is potentially a further symptom of madness.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The "physic" Lear refers to is human wretchedness. For the first time in his life, Lear has been subjected to poverty and pain. The "pomp" of his former life blinded him to human suffering—he has "ta'en/Too little care" of the poor. He now calls upon all pompous men to experience the "physic" that is human suffering.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff