From King Lear. As with Othello and The Tempest, Shakespeare in King Lear examines the father-daughter relationship, in this instance leaving off any mention whatsoever of the mother. About the playwright and his play, George Bernard Shaw estimated, “No man will ever write a better tragedy.” In the five years between 1599 and 1604, Shakespeare wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Othello.
Lear: Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom; and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburdened crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now. The princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters,
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state,
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. Goneril,
Our eldest-born, speak first.
Goneril: Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter;
Dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor;
As much as child ever loved, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
Cordelia: [aside] What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.
Lear: Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,
With shadowy forests and with champaigns riched,
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,
We make thee lady. To thine and Albany’s issue
Be this perpetual. What says our second daughter,
Our dearest Regan, wife of Cornwall?
Regan: I am made of that self-mettle as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short: that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense professes,
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness’ love.
Cordelia: [aside] Then poor Cordelia!
And yet not so, since I am sure my love’s
More ponderous than my tongue.
Lear: To thee and thine hereditary ever
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom,
No less in space, validity, and pleasure,
Than that conferred on Goneril. Now, our joy,
Although our last and least, to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interessed, what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
Cordelia: Nothing, my lord.
Lear: Nothing will come of nothing; speak again.
Cordelia: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less.
Lear: How, how, Cordelia! Mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.
Cordelia: Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.
Lear: But goes thy heart with this?
Cordelia: Ay, my good lord.
Lear: So young, and so untender?
Cordelia: So young, my lord, and true.
Lear: Let it be so; thy truth then be thy dower:
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate and the night,
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist and cease to be,
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee from this forever. The barbarous Scythian
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.
Kent: Good my liege,—
Lear: Peace, Kent!
Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
I loved her most, and thought to set my rest
On her kind nursery. Hence, and avoid my sight!
So be my grave my peace, as here I give
Her father’s heart from her! Call France. Who stirs
Call Burgundy. Cornwall and Albany,
With my two daughters’ dowers digest the third.
Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.
I do invest you jointly with my power,
Preeminence, and all the large effects
That troop with majesty. Ourself, by monthly course,
With reservation of a hundred knights,
By you to be sustained, shall our abode
Make with you by due turn. Only we shall retain
The name and all the addition to a king;
The sway, revenue, execution of the rest,
Beloved sons, be yours: which to confirm,
This coronet part between you.
Kent: Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honored as my king,
Loved as my father, as my master followed,
As my great patron thought on in my prayers,—
Lear: The bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft.
Kent: Let it fall rather, though the fork invade
The region of my heart! Be Kent unmannerly
When Lear is mad. What wouldst thou do, old man?
Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound,
When majesty falls to folly. Reserve thy state,
And in thy best consideration check
This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgment,
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound
Reverbs no hollowness.
Lear: Kent, on thy life, no more!
Kent: My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thy enemies, nor fear to lose it,
Thy safety being the motive.
Lear: Out of my sight!
Kent: See better, Lear, and let me still remain
The true blank of thine eye.
Lear: Now, by Apollo—
Kent: Now, by Apollo, king,
Thou swear’st thy gods in vain.
Lear: [laying his hand on his sword] O, vassal! Miscreant!
Albany & Cornwall: Dear sir, forebear.
Kent: Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
Upon the foul disease. Revoke thy gift;
Or, whilst I can vent clamor from my throat,
I’ll tell thee thou dost evil.
Lear: Hear me, recreant!
On thine allegiance, hear me!
That thou hast sought to make us break our vow,
Which we durst never yet, and with strained pride
To come betwixt our sentence and our power,
Which nor our nature nor our place can bear,
Our potency made good, take thy reward.
Five days we do allot thee, for provision
To shield thee from diseases of the world,
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom; if on the tenth day following
Thy banished trunk be found in our dominions,
The moment is thy death. Away! By Jupiter,
This shall not be revoked.
Kent: Fare thee well, king; since thus thou wilt appear,
Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here.
[to Cordelia] The gods to their dear shelter take thee, maid,
That justly think’st and hast most rightly said!
[to Goneril and Regan] And your large speeches may your deeds approve,
That good effects may spring from words of love.
Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu;
He’ll shape his old course in a country new.