Act V - Scene III

The British camp, near Dover.

[Enter, in conquest, with drum and colors, Edmund, King Lear and Cordelia, prisoners; Captain, Soldiers, etc.]

EDMUND:
Some officers take them away: good guard,
Until their greater pleasures first be known
That are to censure them.
CORDELIA:
We are not the first
Who, with best meaning, have incurred the worst.(5)
For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;
Myself could else out-frown false fortune's frown.
Shall we not see these daughters and these sisters?
KING LEAR:
No, no, no, no! Come, let's away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:(10)
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too,(15)
Who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out;
And take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies: and we'll wear out,
In a walled prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.(20)
EDMUND:
Take them away.
KING LEAR:
Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
The gods themselves throw incense. Have I caught thee?
He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven,
And fire us hence like foxes. Wipe thine eyes;(25)
The good-years shall devour them, flesh and fell,
Ere they shall make us weep: we'll see 'em starved first.
Come.

[Exeunt King Lear and Cordelia, guarded]

EDMUND:
Come hither, captain; hark.
Take thou this note.(30)
[Giving a paper] Go follow them to prison:
One step I have advanced thee; if thou dost
As this instructs thee, thou dost make thy way
To noble fortunes: know thou this, that men
Are as the time is: to be tender-minded(35)
Does not become a sword: thy great employment
Will not bear question; either say thou'lt do 't,
Or thrive by other means.
CAPTAIN:
I'll do 't, my lord.

[Exit Captain.]

[Flourish. Enter Albany, Goneril, Regan, another Captain, and Soldiers]

EDMUND:
About it; and write happy when thou hast done.(40)
Mark, I say, instantly; and carry it so
As I have set it down.
CAPTAIN:
I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats;
If it be man's work, I'll do 't.
ALBANY:
Sir, you have shown to-day your valiant strain,(45)
And fortune led you well: you have the captives
That were the opposites of this day's strife:
We do require them of you, so to use them
As we shall find their merits and our safety
May equally determine.(50)
EDMUND:
Sir, I thought it fit
To send the old and miserable king
To some retention and appointed guard;
Whose age has charms in it, whose title more,
To pluck the common bosom on his side,(55)
An turn our impressed lances in our eyes
Which do command them. With him I sent the queen;
My reason all the same; and they are ready
Tomorrow, or at further space, to appear
Where you shall hold your session. At this time(60)
We sweat and bleed: the friend hath lost his friend;
And the best quarrels, in the heat, are cursed
By those that feel their sharpness:
The question of Cordelia and her father
Requires a fitter place.(65)
ALBANY:
Sir, by your patience,
I hold you but a subject of this war,
Not as a brother.
REGAN:
That's as we list to grace him.
Methinks our pleasure might have been demanded,(70)
Ere you had spoke so far. He led our powers;
Bore the commission of my place and person;
The which immediacy may well stand up,
And call itself your brother.
GONERIL:
Not so hot:(75)
In his own grace he doth exalt himself,
More than in your addition.
REGAN:
In my rights,
By me invested, he compeers the best.
GONERIL:
That were the most, if he should husband you.(80)
REGAN:
Jesters do oft prove prophets.
GONERIL:
Holla, holla!
That eye that told you so looked but a-squint.
REGAN:
Lady, I am not well; else I should answer
From a full-flowing stomach. General,(85)
Take thou my soldiers, prisoners, patrimony;
Dispose of them, of me; the walls are thine:
Witness the world, that I create thee here
My lord and master.
GONERIL:
Mean you to enjoy him?(90)
ALBANY:
The let-alone lies not in your good will.
EDMUND:
Nor in thine, lord.
ALBANY:
Half-blooded fellow, yes.
REGAN:
[To Edmund] Let the drum strike, and prove my title thine.(95)
ALBANY:
Stay yet; hear reason. Edmund, I arrest thee
On capital treason; and, in thine attaint,
This gilded serpent. [Points to Goneril]
For your claim, fair sister,
I bar it in the interest of my wife:(100)
'Tis she is sub-contracted to this lord,
And I, her husband, contradict your bans.
If you will marry, make your loves to me,
My lady is bespoke.
GONERIL:
An interlude!(105)
ALBANY:
Thou art armed, Gloucester: let the trumpet sound:
If none appear to prove upon thy head
Thy heinous, manifest, and many treasons,
There is my pledge; [Throwing down a glove]
I'll make it on thy heart,(110)
Ere I taste bread, thou art in nothing less
Than I have here proclaimed thee.
REGAN:
Sick, O, sick!
GONERIL:
[Aside] If not, I'll ne'er trust medicine.(115)
EDMUND:
There's my exchange. [Throwing down a glove]
What in the world he is
That names me traitor, villain-like he lies:
Call by thy trumpet: he that dares approach,
On him, on you, who not? I will maintain(120)
My truth and honor firmly.
ALBANY:
A herald, ho!
EDMUND:
A herald, ho, a herald!
ALBANY:
Trust to thy single virtue; for thy soldiers,
All levied in my name, have in my name(125)
Took their discharge.
REGAN:
My sickness grows upon me.
ALBANY:
She is not well; convey her to my tent.

[Exit Regan, led. Enter a Herald]

Come hither, herald,—Let the trumpet sound,
And read out this.(130)
CAPTAIN:
Sound, trumpet!

[A trumpet sounds]

HERALD:
[Reads] 'If any man of quality or degree within the lists of the
army will maintain upon Edmund, supposed Earl of Gloucester, that
he is a manifold traitor, let him appear by the third sound of the
trumpet: he is bold in his defense.'(135)
EDMUND:
Sound!

[First trumpet]

HERALD:
Again!

[Second trumpet]

HERALD:
Again!

[Third trumpet]

[Trumpet answers within]

[Enter Edgar, at the third sound, armed, with a trumpet before him]

ALBANY:
Ask him his purposes, why he appears
Upon this call o' the trumpet.(140)
HERALD:
What are you?
Your name, your quality? and why you answer
This present summons?
EDGAR:
Know, my name is lost;
By treason's tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit:(145)
Yet am I noble as the adversary I come to cope.
ALBANY:
Which is that adversary?
EDGAR:
What's he that speaks for Edmund Earl of Gloucester?(150)
EDMUND:
Himself: what say'st thou to him?
EDGAR:
Draw thy sword,
That, if my speech offend a noble heart,
Thy arm may do thee justice: here is mine.
Behold, it is the privilege of mine honors,(155)
My oath, and my profession: I protest,
Maugre thy strength, youth, place, and eminence,
Despite thy victor sword and fire-new fortune,
Thy valor and thy heart, thou art a traitor;
False to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father;(160)
Conspirant 'gainst this high-illustrious prince;
And, from the extremest upward of thy head
To the descent and dust below thy foot,
A most toad-spotted traitor. Say thou ‘No,’
This sword, this arm, and my best spirits, are bent(165)
To prove upon thy heart, whereto I speak,
Thou liest.
EDMUND:
In wisdom I should ask thy name;
But, since thy outside looks so fair and warlike,
And that thy tongue some say of breeding breathes,(170)
What safe and nicely I might well delay
By rule of knighthood, I disdain and spurn:
Back do I toss these treasons to thy head;
With the hell-hated lie o'erwhelm thy heart;
Which, for they yet glance by and scarcely bruise,(175)
This sword of mine shall give them instant way,
Where they shall rest for ever. Trumpets, speak!

[Alarums. They fight. Edmund falls]

ALBANY:
Save him, save him!
GONERIL:
This is practice, Gloucester:(180)
By the law of arms thou wast not bound to answer
An unknown opposite; thou art not vanquished,
But cozened and beguiled.
ALBANY:
Shut your mouth, dame,
Or with this paper shall I stop it: Hold, sir:(185)
Thou worse than any name, read thine own evil:
No tearing, lady: I perceive you know it.

[Gives the letter to Edmund]

GONERIL:
Say, if I do, the laws are mine, not thine:
Who can arraign me for 't?
ALBANY:
Most monstrous! Oh!(190)
Know'st thou this paper?
GONERIL:
Ask me not what I know.

[Exit Goneril.]

ALBANY:
Go after her: she's desperate; govern her.
EDMUND:
What you have charged me with, that have I done;
And more, much more; the time will bring it out:(195)
'Tis past, and so am I. But what art thou
That hast this fortune on me? If thou 'rt noble,
I do forgive thee.
EDGAR:
Let's exchange charity.
I am no less in blood than thou art, Edmund;(200)
If more, the more thou hast wronged me.
My name is Edgar, and thy father's son.
The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us:
The dark and vicious place where thee he got(205)
Cost him his eyes.
EDMUND:
Thou hast spoken right, 'tis true;
The wheel is come full circle: I am here.
ALBANY:
Methought thy very gait did prophesy
A royal nobleness: I must embrace thee:(210)
Let sorrow split my heart, if ever I
Did hate thee or thy father!
EDGAR:
Worthy prince, I know't.
ALBANY:
Where have you hid yourself?
How have you known the miseries of your father?(215)
EDGAR:
By nursing them, my lord. List a brief tale;
And when 'tis told, O, that my heart would burst!
The bloody proclamation to escape,
That followed me so near,—O, our lives' sweetness!
That we the pain of death would hourly die(220)
Rather than die at once!—taught me to shift
Into a madman's rags; to assume a semblance
That very dogs disdained: and in this habit
Met I my father with his bleeding rings,
Their precious stones new lost: became his guide,(225)
Led him, begged for him, saved him from despair;
Never—O fault!—revealed myself unto him,
Until some half-hour past, when I was armed:
Not sure, though hoping, of this good success,
I asked his blessing, and from first to last(230)
Told him my pilgrimage: but his flawed heart,
Alack, too weak the conflict to support!
'Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief,
Burst smilingly.
EDMUND:
This speech of yours hath moved me,(235)
And shall perchance do good: but speak you on;
You look as you had something more to say.
ALBANY:
If there be more, more woeful, hold it in;
For I am almost ready to dissolve,
Hearing of this.(240)
EDGAR:
This would have seemed a period
To such as love not sorrow; but another,
To amplify too much, would make much more,
And top extremity.
Whilst I was big in clamor came there in a man,(245)
Who, having seen me in my worst estate,
Shunned my abhorred society; but then, finding
Who 'twas that so endured, with his strong arms
He fastened on my neck, and bellowed out
As he'ld burst heaven; threw him on my father;(250)
Told the most piteous tale of Lear and him
That ever ear received: which in recounting
His grief grew puissant and the strings of life
Began to crack: twice then the trumpets sounded,
And there I left him tranced.(255)
ALBANY:
But who was this?
EDGAR:
Kent, sir, the banished Kent; who in disguise
Followed his enemy king, and did him service
Improper for a slave.

[Enter a Gentleman, with a bloody knife]

GENTLEMAN:
Help, help, O, help!(260)
EDGAR:
What kind of help?
ALBANY:
Speak, man.
EDGAR:
What means that bloody knife?
GENTLEMAN:
'Tis hot, it smokes;
It came even from the heart of—O, she's dead!(265)
ALBANY:
Who dead? speak, man.
GENTLEMAN:
Your lady, sir, your lady: and her sister
By her is poisoned; she hath confessed it.
EDMUND:
I was contracted to them both: all three
Now marry in an instant.(270)
EDGAR:
Here comes Kent.

[Enter Kent]

ALBANY:
Produce their bodies, be they alive or dead:
This judgment of the heavens, that makes us tremble,
Touches us not with pity.

[Exit Gentleman]

O, is this he?(275)
The time will not allow the compliment
Which very manners urges.
KENT:
I am come
To bid my king and master aye good night:
Is he not here?(280)
ALBANY:
Great thing of us forgot!
Speak, Edmund, where's the king? and where's Cordelia?
See'st thou this object, Kent?

[The bodies of Goneril and Regan are brought in]

KENT:
Alack, why thus?
EDMUND:
Yet Edmund was beloved:(285)
The one the other poisoned for my sake,
And after slew herself.
ALBANY:
Even so. Cover their faces.
EDMUND:
I pant for life: some good I mean to do,
Despite of mine own nature. Quickly send,(290)
Be brief in it, to the castle; for my writ
Is on the life of Lear and on Cordelia:
Nay, send in time.
ALBANY:
Run, run, O, run!
EDGAR:
To who, my lord? Who hath the office? send(295)
Thy token of reprieve.
EDMUND:
Well thought on: take my sword,
Give it the captain.
ALBANY:
Haste thee, for thy life.

[Exit Edgar]

EDMUND:
He hath commission from thy wife and me(300)
To hang Cordelia in the prison, and
To lay the blame upon her own despair,
That she fordid herself.
ALBANY:
The gods defend her! Bear him hence awhile.

[Edmund is borne off]

[Re-enter King Lear, with Cordelia dead in his arms; Edgar, Captain, and others following]

KING LEAR:
Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:(305)
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'ld use them so
That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She's dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;(310)
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.
KENT:
Is this the promised end?
EDGAR:
Or image of that horror?
ALBANY:
Fall, and cease!(315)
KING LEAR:
This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so,
It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.
KENT:
[Kneeling] O my good master!
KING LEAR:
Prithee, away.(320)
EDGAR:
'Tis noble Kent, your friend.
KING LEAR:
A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
I might have saved her; now she's gone for ever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! stay a little. Ha!
What is't thou say'st? Her voice was ever soft,(325)
Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.
I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee.
CAPTAIN:
'Tis true, my lords, he did.
KING LEAR:
Did I not, fellow?
I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion(330)
I would have made them skip: I am old now,
And these same crosses spoil me. Who are you?
Mine eyes are not o' the best: I'll tell you straight.
KENT:
If fortune brag of two she loved and hated,
One of them we behold.(335)
KING LEAR:
This is a dull sight. Are you not Kent?
KENT:
The same, your servant Kent.
Where is your servant Caius?
KING LEAR:
He's a good fellow, I can tell you that;
He'll strike, and quickly too: he's dead and rotten.(340)
KENT:
No, my good lord; I am the very man,—
KING LEAR:
I'll see that straight.
KENT:
That, from your first of difference and decay,
Have followed your sad steps.
KING LEAR:
You are welcome hither.(345)
KENT:
Nor no man else: all's cheerless, dark, and deadly.
Your eldest daughters have fordone themselves,
And desperately are dead.
KING LEAR:
Ay, so I think.
ALBANY:
He knows not what he says: and vain it is(350)
That we present us to him.
EDGAR:
Very bootless.

[Enter a Captain]

CAPTAIN:
Edmund is dead, my lord.
ALBANY:
That's but a trifle here.
You lords and noble friends, know our intent.(355)
What comfort to this great decay may come
Shall be applied: for us we will resign,
During the life of this old majesty,
To him our absolute power:
[To Edgar and Kent] You, to your rights:(360)
With boot, and such addition as your honors
Have more than merited. All friends shall taste
The wages of their virtue, and all foes
The cup of their deservings. O, see, see!
KING LEAR:
And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life!(365)
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,(370)
Look there, look there!

[Lear Dies.]

EDGAR:
He faints! My lord, my lord!
KENT:
Break, heart; I prithee, break!
EDGAR:
Look up, my lord.
KENT:
Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates him much(375)
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.
EDGAR:
He is gone, indeed.
KENT:
The wonder is, he hath endured so long:
He but usurped his life.(380)
ALBANY:
Bear them from hence. Our present business
Is general woe. [To Kent and Edgar] Friends of my soul, you twain
Rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain.
KENT:
I have a journey, sir, shortly to go;(385)
My master calls me, I must not say no.
ALBANY:
The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.(390)

[Exeunt, with a dead march]

Footnotes

  1. The repetition of negative words in this passage adds to the many moments in the story where “nothing” was repeated, beginning with Cordelia’s “nothing” in Act I. Denial and nothingness have culminated in a loss of life that appears to lack meaning. Shakespeare therefore appears to end this tragedy not with violence on a grand scale but with an examination of how “nothing” can bring about such tragic consequences that have no logical explanation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The repetition of “no” at the start of this passage along with the question marks convey Lear’s tone as soft and surprised. His words should be read as being hesitant and slow, asking these confused questions much as an innocent child would. He compares the innocent lives of animals to Cordelia, which shows how he cannot make sense of human injustice, believing that his daughter deserves to be alive simply because other creatures are allowed to live. This infantile questioning recall’s Goneril and Regan’s earlier assumption that as one ages, one reverts to a child-like state.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. “Vex” means to trouble or disturb. After having prayed for Lear’s heart to break so that his suffering could be put to an end, Kent says that Lear’s soul must be left alone to pass peacefully from this world. Kent reveals himself once again as one of the most sympathetic characters of the play, understanding the depth of Lear’s suffering.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Lear evokes an image of an animal in this moment that portrays a more romantic vision of their prison experience that will keep them safe from harm. The connection to animals is appropriate, as Lear has insisted earlier that humans are no more special than animals, so being a caged bird would not be a problem for him. Lear’s desire for this also reflects his hope of fulfilling his initial desire to give away his responsibilities and live without concerns in his old age.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The word “crack” makes a final appearance here as Lear wishes that he could use the voices of others to open “heaven’s vault.” Since the heavens and gods are associated with fate, the idea of cracking the vault suggests that Lear wishes he could alter fate if only he had the power to. This stands in stark contrast with his earlier adherence and reverence of the heavens, and his desire for control over fate echoes Edmund’s. In Lear’s moment of loss, he wishes to overcome the power that nature has over his life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The “promised end” in Kent’s question means something like “doomsday” or “the end of times.” The placement of this line, spoken just after Lear’s heart-wrenching cries, helps emphasize how truly catastrophic the play’s ending is. Characters have been forced to grapple with the disintegration of everything they know—both the good and the bad. Kent’s line thus works on a few different levels. The characters and the audience have both just witnessed any remaining social, political, and familial order crumble into utter chaos. Kent’s words vocalize the culmination of all of these tragic events, expressing a concern that the worst is truly now upon them.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. In this heartbreaking scene, Lear’s language, while difficult to understand, reveals the depth of his emotion. The repetition of “Howl” calls to mind the storm from earlier, with Lear in this moment raging in his emotion. He calls the others “men of stones” because of how emotionless he finds them in this moment of catastrophe and wishes for their “tongues and eyes.” This desire for the sense of others is important because of how blindness and madness have been woven throughout the play: Lear is losing his own senses, and so he wishes those of others to look on Cordelia and express his anguish.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. “Canker-bit” means eaten away by canker grubs, which are insects that feed on the teak tree and shrubs. When Albany asks for Edgar’s name and rank, Edgar (in disguise) says that he has lost his name and title to treason. The term “canker-bit” reminds us of Edmund’s parasitic treachery. Edmund has taken the title of the Earl of Gloucester by any means necessary, even though by traditional political order, Edgar should have been the rightful heir. Edgar once again disguises his identity here, as he feels that it has been stolen from him.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Lear’s speech reveals how he has transitioned from having a superficial, material view of the world toward wanting something deeper and more meaningful. He tells Cordelia that he wants to “sing like birds i' the cage” and laugh at “gilded butterflies,” meaning that he prefers a life outside of politics and power where he can investigate “the mystery of things.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Many scholars have speculated about what happens to King Lear’s fool within this play since he disappears in Act III, scene vi. Lear’s assertion that “my poor fool is hanged” however does not refer to the Fool from the first three Acts. “Fool” was a term of endearment in this time, and in this line Lear uses it to refer to Cordelia who has just been hung by the captain. The “thou” in line 367, which refers to Cordelia, affirms this reading of “fool.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The medieval wheel of fortune, or Rota Fortunae, was a philosophy adopted from antiquity that conceptualized the unpredictable and seemingly random nature of fate. In depictions of the wheel, all men are ordered along the wheel according to their status in life; those with good fortune are at the top and those with miserable fortune lie crushed under the wheel at the bottom. The goddess Fortuna spins the wheel at random, and those at the top can suddenly and easily fall to the bottom. The wheel represented the random nature of fortune and the idea that no matter your class, wealth, or inner piety, your fortune could reverse itself at any moment.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Notice that at the end of the play Edgar, Albany, and Kent are the only people left alive. While the play is overtly a tragedy because the principal characters die, Shakespeare spares these three men to repair the social order: there are still three noblemen who can restore and lead their parts of the country. The final lines of the play reinforce this idea of repair. Albany reminds Kent and Edgar that their job is to “rule in this realm, and the gored state sustain” to remind the audience that the tragedy ends with order.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. Here, Regan states one of the main themes of this play: there is wisdom that comes from standing outside the constraints of society and acting a fool. There is also ominous foreshadowing within this line as Regan suggests that even things said in jest might actually happen. Foolery then becomes a type of omnipotent intuition that knows all by knowing nothing.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Here, Edmund identifies the danger in Lear’s popularity: his old age, and his former title as king endear him to the common people. To prevent the people from turning against Albany, Edmund claims that he has sent Lear and Cordelia to prison. Notice that Edmund uses “pluck” when he describes Lear’s charismatic power over the common people. This “pluck” echoes the “plucking” of Gloucester’s beard, and Goneril’s command to “pluck out his eyes.” In this way, “pluck” seems to suggest violence or signal nefarious action within this play.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. King Lear finally recognizes the chaos and destruction caused by his hubris and self-love. Cordelia, his loyal daughter, would never have been hanged if he hadn't banished her.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. "Full circle" means that the wheel of fortune has completed its circuit and Edmund's horrendous deeds have returned to haunt him. "Full circle" is not karma, however; it is Fate.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. King Lear fantasizes about spending the rest of his life in prison with his daughter, Cordelia. He can't seem to face the reality that neither of them will likely be spared in the British camp.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. There is an extra syllable in this line, suggesting that the actor should let his voice shrink to a fading whisper with the second syllable of the word "ever." It is just dawning on Lear himself that his daughter may be gone forever, but he cannot accept it and immediately tries to wake her and even imagines she says something to him which he cannot quite make out.

    — William Delaney
  19. This word must be one of Shakespeare's many inventions. Goneril is sub-contracted to Edmund because she is already contracted to her husband Albany, whom she despises. But Albany is ironically maintaining that he can prevent Regan from marrying Edmund because his wife has a prior claim on Edmund as a sub-contractor. As Goneril's husband, Albany has supreme power in handling her affairs. Of course, he does not mean this literally.

    In today's usage, a subcontractor is usually a specialist in some kind of construction work who is employed by a general contractor. For example, a contractor may use a subcontractor to install electricity or air-conditioning in a building under construction. 

    — William Delaney
  20. This is a beautiful simile, and so characteristic of Shakespeare in its simple imagery. Lear wants very little from life anymore. He will be happy if he can only have his young daughter with him in prison. He will ask nothing more. Actually, this was what he said he wanted in Act One.

    I loved her most, and thought to set my rest
    On her kind nursery.

    — William Delaney
  21. This metaphor is deceptively simple. It shows Shakespeare at his most awesome. When King Lear enters with Cordelia's dead body, all the men present are so shocked and appalled by the sight that they stand frozen in place and speechless. When Lear says, "O, you are men of stones," they actually seem to be stone statues, especially when Lear describes them as such. This is simultaneously a verbal metaphor and a visual metaphor. Lear is actually perceiving them as so many statues. His metaphor is not exactly a metaphor but a statement of fact which can be seen by every member of the audience. They have all been turned to stone.

    Lear repeats the word "howl" four times. This is because he is addressing four different men in succession, each of whom fails to respond because he seems to have been turned to stone. That is what prompts Lear to tell them, "O, you are men of stones." He uses the plural "stones," not to suggest that each is made of many stones, but to express his opinion that each has been carved out of a separate block of stone, that each is a statue.

    John Milton in his sonnet "On Shakespeare" writes:

    Thou in our wonder and astonishment
    Hast built thy self a live-long Monument.
    .........................................
    Then thou our fancy of it self bereaving,
    Dost make us Marble with too much conceaving;

    — William Delaney
  22. Kent is comparing the world to the kind of rack used as an instrument of torture. The prisoner's limbs would be slowly pulled in opposite directions until the joints in his arms, legs, hips and shoulders would break. This is a striking metaphor because it is so simple. It all depends on the single word "rack." The fact that human beings used such fiendish torture instruments on each other proves that it is indeed a "tough world." An ancient Roman saying still often quoted today is Homo homini lupus (Man is a wolf to man). 

    Here is Schopenhauer on the subject:

    At bottom, man is a hideous wild beast. We know him only as bridled and tamed, a state that is called civilization; and so we are shocked by the occasional outbursts of his nature. But when and where the padlock and chain of law and order are once removed and anarchy occurs, he then shows himself to be what he is. Meanwhile, whoever would like without such occasions to be enlightened on this point can convince himself from hundreds of ancient and modern accounts that man is inferior to no tiger or hyena in cruelty and pitilessness. An important instance from modern times is furnished by the answer which the British Anti-slavery Society received to their question in 1840 from the North American Anti-slavery Society in respect of the treatment of slaves in the slave-holding states of the North American Union: Slavery and the internal slave-trade in the United States of North America, being replies to questions transmitted by the British Anti-slavery Society to the American Anti-slavery Society. London, 1841, 280 pp., price 4s. in cloth. This book constitutes one of the gravest indictments against human nature. None will lay it aside without horror and few without tears. For whatever its reader may have heard, imagined, or dreamt about the unhappy state of the slaves or even human harshness and cruelty in general, will seem to him of no account when he reads how those devils in human form, those bigoted, church-going, strict sabbath-observing scoundrels, especially the Anglican parsons among them, treat their innocent black brothers who through violence and injustice have fallen into their devil’s claws. This book, which consists of dry but authentic and substantiated accounts, inflames to such a degree all human feeling that, with it in our hands, we could preach a crusade for the subjugation and punishment of the slave-holding states of North America. For they are a disgrace to the whole of humanity.    

                     Schopenhauer, "On Ethics"

    — William Delaney