Act IV - Scene I

The heath.

[Enter Edgar]

Yet better thus, and known to be contemned,
Than still contemned and flattered. To be worst,
The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune,
Stands still in esperance, lives not in fear:
The lamentable change is from the best;(5)
The worst returns to laughter. Welcome, then,
Thou unsubstantial air that I embrace!
The wretch that thou hast blown unto the worst
Owes nothing to thy blasts. But who comes here?(10)

[Enter Gloucester, led by an Old Man]

My father, poorly led? World, world, O world!
But that thy strange mutations make us hate thee,
Life would not yield to age.
O, my good lord, I have been your tenant, and your
father's tenant, these fourscore years.
Away, get thee away; good friend, be gone:(15)
Thy comforts can do me no good at all;
Thee they may hurt.
Alack, sir, you cannot see your way.
I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;
I stumbled when I saw: full oft 'tis seen,(20)
Our means secure us, and our mere defects
Prove our commodities. O dear son Edgar,
The food of thy abused father's wrath!
Might I but live to see thee in my touch,
I'ld say I had eyes again!
How now! Who's there?
[Aside] O gods! Who is't can say ‘I am at the worst’?(25)
I am worse than e'er I was.
'Tis poor mad Tom.
[Aside] And worse I may be yet: the worst is not
So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’
Fellow, where goest?(30)
Is it a beggar-man?
Madman and beggar too.
He has some reason, else he could not beg.
I' the last night's storm I such a fellow saw;
Which made me think a man a worm: my son(35)
Came then into my mind; and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him: I have heard more since.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport.(40)
[Aside] How should this be?
Bad is the trade that must play fool to sorrow,
Angering itself and others.—Bless thee, master!
Is that the naked fellow?
Ay, my lord.(45)
Then, prithee, get thee gone: if, for my sake,
Thou wilt o'ertake us, hence a mile or twain,
I' the way toward Dover, do it for ancient love;
And bring some covering for this naked soul,
Who I'll entreat to lead me.(50)
Alack, sir, he is mad.
'Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind.
Do as I bid thee, or rather do thy pleasure;
Above the rest, be gone.(55)
I'll bring him the best 'parel that I have,
Come on't what will.

[Exit Old Man.]

Sirrah, naked fellow,—
Poor Tom's a-cold. [Aside] I cannot daub it further.
Come hither, fellow.(60)
[Aside] And yet I must.—Bless thy sweet eyes, they bleed.
Know'st thou the way to Dover?
Both stile and gate, horse-way and foot-path. Poor
Tom hath been scared out of his good wits: bless thee,(65)
good man's son, from the foul fiend! five fiends have been
in poor Tom at once; of lust, as Obidicut; Hobbididence,
prince of dumbness; Mahu, of stealing; Modo, of murder;
Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and mowing, who since possesses
chambermaids and waiting-women. So, bless thee, master!(70)
Here, take this purse, thou whom the heavens' plagues
Have humbled to all strokes. That I am wretched
Makes thee the happier: heavens, deal so still!
Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,(75)
That slaves your ordinance, that will not see
Because he doth not feel, feel your power quickly;
So distribution should undo excess,
And each man have enough. Dost thou know Dover?
Ay, master.(80)
There is a cliff, whose high and bending head
Looks fearfully in the confined deep:
Bring me but to the very brim of it,
And I'll repair the misery thou dost bear
With something rich about me: from that place(85)
I shall no leading need.
Give me thy arm: Poor Tom shall lead thee.



  1. “Sirrah” was an address form in Elizabethan England used to address boys or men over whom the speaker assumed authority. Glocester calls Edgar “sirrah” because he does not realize that this is his son and a noble man.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. This line is a form of dramatic irony. The audience knows that the madman whom Glocester saw in the storm was actually his son Edgar who now stands before him as Poor Tom. Glocester however does not make this connection, further demonstrating his metaphorical blindness along with his literal blindness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Because multiple devastating outbreaks of the bubonic plague ravaged England’s population in the 1590s, the word “plague” would have evoked connotations of chaos, death, and horror. Glocester uses the metaphor “time’s plague” to signal that this is the worst of times: his family, his body, and the country are in disarray and all of the systems that regulated civil life have devolved into chaos.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The verb “to daub” has an archaic meaning that refers to someone or something putting on a false exterior. In this case, the disguised Edgar’s grief at seeing his father is so strong that he worries that he cannot maintain his ruse as Poor Tom for much longer.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Gloucester is saying that it is a tragedy of the time that the mad must lead the blind. To Gloucester, Poor Tom is a mad man, merely one step above being blind. However, recall that Shakespeare has established madness and insight as intertwined on the path to gaining a deeper understanding of a complex world, as we have seen in Lear and the Fool’s interactions. Even while Gloucester could see, he was blind to the character of those around him. When Gloucester puts his faith in a madman, he illustrates that in this chaotic world, being sane does not mean one has greater insight, just as having eyesight does not mean one can “see.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. After Edgar sees his father being led by the Old Man, he alters his earlier sentiment, stating that there are many others worse off than he is. His statement here suggests that someone’s having enough composure and reflection to see how bad a situation is must mean that the situation is not at its absolute worst; being able to say this means that things could still become worse. This shift in Edgar’s character illustrates his capacity to look outside his own problems and sympathize with the feelings of others, similar to Lear’s encounter with the disguised Edgar earlier.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. “Fourscore” is four times twenty, or eighty. If the old man has been Gloucester’s tenant for fourscore years, this means that Gloucester is at least eighty years old.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Now that he has lost his sight, Gloucester begins to despair that he has no purpose left beyond seeing his son Edgar again. This metaphor illustrates how Gloucester now realizes he was blind to Edmund’s betrayal, emphasizing how he couldn’t properly walk or “see” his way when he had eyes.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The word “esperance,” as well as the French esperance, the Spanish esperanza, and the Italian speranza all derive from the late Latin *spērantia, which means “hope” or “expectation.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Gloucester's resignation epitomizes the fatalism present in most of the play. Fate directs the outcome for each character, so it doesn't matter what a person does; his/her end has already been written. Gloucester doesn't need eyes to see that he has nowhere to go—he already knows it.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Gloucester suggests that the gods are malevolent and enjoy torturing humans for sport; they are "wanton boys" and humans are "flies." There is no divine justice—only the sport of vicious gods who delight in suffering and reward cruelty.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. One of the most famous lines of the play, Gloucester compares the gods to thoughtless, mercurial children, and people to mere flies they swat or torment as sport.

    Read more context on this quote at

    — Brad
  13. These five words express a notable truth about life and human nature. When one has lost everything, one has nowhere to go but up and may feel relieved that at least there is nothing more to lose. This ironic fact may actually seem very funny. Both Edgar and Kent meet their cruel fates philosophically. 

    — William Delaney