Act III - Scene VI

A chamber in a farmhouse adjoining the castle.

[Enter Gloucester, King Lear, Kent, Fool, and Edgar]

GLOUCESTER:
Here is better than the open air; take it thankfully.
I will piece out the comfort with what addition I can: I will
not be long from you.
KENT:
All the power of his wits have given way to his impatience:
the gods reward your kindness!(5)

[Exit Gloucester]

EDGAR:
Frateretto calls me; and tells me
Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness.
Pray, innocent, and beware the foul fiend.
FOOL:
Prithee, nuncle, tell me whether a madman be a gentleman or a yeoman?(10)
KING LEAR:
A king, a king!
FOOL:
No, he's a yeoman that has a gentleman to his son; for
he's a mad yeoman that sees his son a gentleman before him.
KING LEAR:
To have a thousand with red burning spits(15)
Come hissing in upon 'em,—
EDGAR:
The foul fiend bites my back.
FOOL:
He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's
health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath.
KING LEAR:
It shall be done; I will arraign them straight.(20)
[To Edgar] Come, sit thou here, most learned justicer;
[To the Fool] Thou, sapient sir, sit here. Now, you she foxes!
EDGAR:
Look, where he stands and glares!
Wantest thou eyes at trial, madam?(25)
FOOL:
[Singing] Come o'er the bourn, Bessy, to me,—
Her boat hath a leak,
And she must not speak
Why she dares not come over to thee.(30)
EDGAR:
The foul fiend haunts poor Tom in the voice of a
nightingale. Hopdance cries in Tom's belly for two
white herring. Croak not, black angel; I have no food
for thee.
KENT:
How do you, sir? Stand you not so amazed:(35)
Will you lie down and rest upon the cushions?
KING LEAR:
I'll see their trial first. Bring in the evidence.
[To Edgar] Thou robed man of justice, take thy place;
[To the Fool] And thou, his yoke-fellow of equity,
Bench by his side: [To Kent] you are o' the commission,(40)
Sit you too.
EDGAR:
Let us deal justly.
Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepherd?
Thy sheep be in the corn;
And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,(45)
Thy sheep shall take no harm.
Pur! the cat is gray.
KING LEAR:
Arraign her first; 'tis Goneril. I here take my oath before this honorable assembly, she kicked the poor king her father.(50)
FOOL:
Come hither, mistress. Is your name Goneril?
KING LEAR:
She cannot deny it.
FOOL:
Cry you mercy, I took you for a joint-stool.
KING LEAR:
And here's another, whose warped looks proclaim
What store her heart is made on. Stop her there!(55)
Arms, arms, sword, fire! Corruption in the place!
False justicer, why hast thou let her 'scape?
EDGAR:
Bless thy five wits!
KENT:
O pity! Sir, where is the patience now,
That thou so oft have boasted to retain?(60)
EDGAR:
[Aside] My tears begin to take his part so much,
They'll mar my counterfeiting.
KING LEAR:
The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanch, and
Sweet-heart, see, they bark at me.
EDGAR:
Tom will throw his head at them. Avaunt, you curs!(65)

     Be thy mouth or black or white,

     Tooth that poisons if it bite;

     Mastiff, grey-hound, mongrel grim,

     Hound or spaniel, brach or lym,

     Or bobtail tike or trundle-tail,(70)

     Tom will make them weep and wail:

     For, with throwing thus my head,

     Dogs leap the hatch, and all are fled.

Do de, de, de. Sessa! Come, march to wakes and fairs and
market-towns. Poor Tom, thy horn is dry.(75)
KING LEAR:
Then let them anatomize Regan; see what breeds
about her heart. Is there any cause in nature that makes these
hard hearts? [To Edgar] You, sir, I entertain for one of my
hundred; only I do not like the fashion of your garments: you
will say they are Persian attire: but let them be changed.(80)
KENT:
Now, good my lord, lie here and rest awhile.
KING LEAR:
Make no noise, make no noise; draw the curtains: so,
so, so. We'll go to supper i' he morning. So, so, so.
FOOL:
And I'll go to bed at noon.

[Re-enter Gloucester]

GLOUCESTER:
Come hither, friend: where is the king my master?(85)
KENT:
Here, sir; but trouble him not, his wits are gone.
GLOUCESTER:
Good friend, I prithee, take him in thy arms;
I have o'erheard a plot of death upon him:
There is a litter ready; lay him in 't,
And drive towards Dover, friend, where thou shalt meet(90)
Both welcome and protection. Take up thy master:
If thou shouldst dally half an hour, his life,
With thine, and all that offer to defend him,
Stand in assured loss: take up, take up;
And follow me, that will to some provision(95)
Give thee quick conduct.
KENT:
Oppressed nature sleeps:
This rest might yet have balmed thy broken senses,
Which, if convenience will not allow,
Stand in hard cure.(100)
[To the Fool] Come, help to bear thy master;
Thou must not stay behind.
GLOUCESTER:
Come, come, away.

[Exeunt all but Edgar]

EDGAR:
When we our betters see bearing our woes,
We scarcely think our miseries our foes.(105)
Who alone suffers suffers most i' the mind,
Leaving free things and happy shows behind:
But then the mind much sufferance doth o'er skip,
When grief hath mates, and bearing fellowship.
How light and portable my pain seems now,(110)
When that which makes me bend makes the king bow,
He childed as I fathered! Tom, away!
Mark the high noises; and thyself bewray,
When false opinion, whose wrong thought defiles thee,
In thy just proof, repeals and reconciles thee.(115)
What will hap more to-night, safe 'scape the king!
Lurk, lurk.

[Exit Edgar.]

Footnotes

  1. Gloucester has prepared a “litter” (a carriage or cart) to help get Lear to safety. Gloucester’s willingness to protect Lear, potentially at the expense of his own safety, shows that Gloucester is loyal to Lear. Gloucester is willing to sacrifice himself for Lear, and for what he considers the rightful social and familial order.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. This is the second time we have seen Edgar express his pity for Lear. Earlier, Edgar worried that his tears would give away his disguise, and here, he says that his pity for Lear is so strong that he can barely feel his own pain. However, he does note that there is a similarity between the two, when he says "he childed as I fathered," which is to say that Lear suffers from his children’s actions, and Edgar suffered from his father’s. Edgar's revealing of this moment of personal pain provides one of the most explicit connections between the two family situations.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Revealing just how far he has descended into his madness, Lear begins to carry out an imaginary trial against Goneril and Regan for their betrayal of what Lear considers his gratitude. There are some parallels between the way Lear goes about this imaginary trial and the ceremony in Act I, scene i. However, one noticeable difference is that he refers to his daughters as “she-foxes,” bringing in more animal symbolism and revealing how he is now more aware of their cunning and heartlessness.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Edgar feels such sympathy for Lear that he begins to cry, fearing that his tears will ruin his disguise. Note the imagery of the eyes and tears in association with emotional insight and truth. Though it is Lear’s children who abandon him and Edgar’s situation is the opposite, Edgar is able to relate to Lear’s situation in that he knows all too well the devastating emotional impact of being cut off from one’s family.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. “Hoppedance” refers to “Hoberdidance,” which is the name of a malevolent sprite or fiend that is mentioned in the morris dance. The morris dance is a lively English traditional folk dance, usually accompanied by music.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. In the context of Edgar’s phrase, “Frateretto” likely refers to the name of a devil that is sharing secrets about Nero spending time in the “lake of darkness”—likely a reference to hell or the underworld. Nero, the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty, was the Roman Emperor from 54–68 CE, and his rule is associated with tyranny and extravagance.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. By “impatience,” Kent offers his own explanation for Lear’s madness: it’s due to Lear’s restlessness for answers. We have seen Lear’s behavior associated with his age, anger, and mental health. Kent’s statement suggests that Lear wishes to hurry up and resolve his problems. While this could work on a literal level, with Lear expecting his daughters to make things right, it can also operate on a metaphorical level, with Lear desiring a resolution to his situation. The latter is a little more likely, considering how Shakespeare has established madness and foolery as a path to insight. Regardless, Kent’s statement does suggest that one’s wits must be maintained against the threat of insanity, suggesting that chaos will break through a sound mind without enough resolve—paralleling Regan’s comments that a mind may become breached by outside forces. (See Act II, scene iv.)

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. King Lear's jester, like many of the fools in Shakespeare's plays, is the person who usually perceives situations in the most honest way. Even though Lear is now completely dejected and mad, his jester continues to chide him about his character flaws—namely the arrogance that prompted Lear to give his kingdom to his ungrateful and wicked daughters.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The mad king thinks he is in a castle addressing one of his hundred knights (all of whom have deserted him). He takes Edgar's rags for elegant "Persian attire" but does not like the "fashion" and no doubt would prefer to have all one hundred of his knights dress the same in order to show that they are in his service. In this scene there are many mixtures of comedy and pathos. We feel pity for Lear, and yet sometimes we cannot help laughing at him, which shows how far he has fallen in everyone's estimation. He is a nobody still pretending to be a king. Laughter is often a form of cruelty.

    — William Delaney