King Lear title page 1619Title page 1619 quarto

King Lear

Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Also called
The Tragedy of King Lear

Written
c. 1603–1606

First performance
c. 1606

First publication
1608

Type of publication
Play

Genres
Tragedy

Language
English

Author's country
England

Length
Five acts, 3,487 lines, approx. 25,000 words

King Lear

THE PLAY | THE TEXT

Notable lines

First line

I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.

Great lines

Although the last, not least.

How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is,
To have a thankless child!

OSWALD. What dost thou know me for?
KENT. A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.

I am a man,
More sinn'd against than sinning.

...the worst is not,
So long as we can say, This is the worst. 

As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, —
They kill us for their sport.

Fool: The reason why the seven stars are no more than seven is a pretty reason.
Lear: Because they are not eight?
Fool: Yes, indeed. Thou wouldst make a good fool.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!

Oh, that way madness lies.

Last lines

The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Excerpt

Act II, Scene II. Another part of the heath

Storm continues. Enter Lear and Fool.

LEAR. Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

FOOL. O nuncle, court holy-water in a dry house is better than this rain-water out o’ door. Good nuncle, in; and ask thy daughters blessing: here’s a night pities neither wise men nor fools.

LEAR. Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire are my daughters;
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.
I never gave you kingdom, call’d you children;
You owe me no subscription: then let fall
Your horrible pleasure. Here I stand your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despis’d old man:
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That will with two pernicious daughters join
Your high-engender’d battles ’gainst a head
So old and white as this! O! O! ’tis foul!

FOOL. He that has a house to put’s head in has a good head-piece.

The codpiece that will house
Before the head has any,
The head and he shall louse:
So beggars marry many.
The man that makes his toe
What he his heart should make
Shall of a corn cry woe,
And turn his sleep to wake.

For there was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass.

LEAR. No, I will be the pattern of all patience;
I will say nothing.

Enter Kent.

KENT. Who’s there?

FOOL. Marry, here’s grace and a codpiece; that’s a wise man and a fool.

KENT. Alas, sir, are you here? Things that love night
Love not such nights as these; the wrathful skies
Gallow the very wanderers of the dark,
And make them keep their caves. Since I was man,
Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain I never
Remember to have heard. Man’s nature cannot carry
Th’affliction, nor the fear.

LEAR. Let the great gods,
That keep this dreadful pudder o’er our heads,
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch,
That hast within thee undivulged crimes
Unwhipp’d of justice. Hide thee, thou bloody hand;
Thou perjur’d, and thou simular of virtue
That art incestuous. Caitiff, to pieces shake
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practis’d on man’s life: close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents, and cry
These dreadful summoners grace. I am a man
More sinn’d against than sinning.

KENT. Alack, bareheaded!
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel;
Some friendship will it lend you ’gainst the tempest:
Repose you there, whilst I to this hard house,—
More harder than the stones whereof ’tis rais’d;
Which even but now, demanding after you,
Denied me to come in,—return, and force
Their scanted courtesy.

LEAR. My wits begin to turn.
Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold?
I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow?
The art of our necessities is strange,
That can make vile things precious. Come, your hovel.
Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart
That’s sorry yet for thee.

FOOL. [Singing.]

He that has and a little tiny wit,
With heigh-ho, the wind and the rain,
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
Though the rain it raineth every day.

LEAR. True, boy. Come, bring us to this hovel.

Exeunt Lear and Kent.

FOOL. This is a brave night to cool a courtezan. I’ll speak a prophecy ere I go:

When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailors’ tutors;
No heretics burn’d, but wenches’ suitors;
When every case in law is right;
No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues;
Nor cut-purses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold i’ the field;
And bawds and whores do churches build,
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion:
Then comes the time, who lives to see’t,
That going shall be us’d with feet.

This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time.

— based on Project Gutenberg text

THE PLAY | THE TEXT

See also:

Play
Edward II

Play
the Country Wife

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