Leir discusses with noble advisors his intent to divide his kingdom among his daughters, lamenting the loss of his wife, that he really cannot parent them, and his failure to bear a son before his loins were withered. He sees Gonorill and Ragan capitalizing on their new power to obtain husbands already in sight, but he worries about Cordella, who wishes to marry someone of her own choosing. He decides on a test of love. If Cordelia does what would be expected, to love him best, then she can hardly refuse with her grant of land a husband picked by Leir.
Enter King Leir and Nobles.
LEIR: Thus to our grief the obsequies performed
Of our (too late) deceased and dearest Queen,
Whose soul I hope, possessed of heavenly joys,
Doth ride in triumph ‘mongst the Cherubins;
Let us request your grave advice, my Lords,
For the disposing of our princely daughters,
For whom our care is specially employed,
As nature bindeth to advance their states,
In royal marriage with some princely mates:
For wanting now their mother’s good advice, … [1.10]
Under whose government they have received
A perfect pattern of a virtuous life:
Lest as it were a ship without a stern,
Or silly sheep without a Pastor’s care;
Although ourselves do dearly tender them,
Yet are we ignorant of their affairs:
For fathers best do know to govern sons;
But daughters’ steps the mothers counsel turns.
A son we want for to succeed our Crown,
And course of time hath canceled the date … [1.20]
Of further issue from our withered loins:
One foot already hangeth in the grave,
And age hath made deep furrows in my face:
The world of me, I of the world am weary,
And I would fain resign these earthly cares,
And think upon the welfare of my soul:
Which by no better means may be effected,
Than by resigning up the Crown from me,
In equal dowry to my daughters three.
SKALLIGER: A worthy care, my Liege, which well declares, … [1.30]
The zeal you bare unto our quondam Queen:
And since your Grace hath licensed me to speak,
I censure thus; Your Majesty knowing well,
What several Suitors your princely daughters have,
To make them each a Jointure more or less,
As is their worth, to them that love profess.
LEIR: No more, nor less, but even all alike,
My zeal is fixed, all fashioned in one mold:
Wherefore unpartial shall my censure be,
Both old and young shall have alike for me. … [1.40]
NOBLE: My gracious Lord, I heartily do wish,
That God had lent you an heir indubitate,
Which might have set upon your royal throne,
When fates should loose the prison of your life,
By whose succession all this doubt might cease;
And as by you, by him we might have peace.
But after-wishes ever come too late,
And nothing can revoke the course of fate:
Wherefore, my Liege, my censure deems it best,
To match them with some of your neighbor Kings, … [1.50]
Bord’ring within the bounds of Albion,
By whose united friendship, this our state
May be protected ‘gainst all foreign hate.
LEIR: Herein, my Lords, your wishes sort with mine,
And mine (I hope) do sort with heavenly powers:
For at this instant two near neighboring Kings
Of Cornwall and of Cambria, motion love
To my two daughters, Gonorill and Ragan.
My youngest daughter, fair Cordella, vows
No liking to a Monarch, unless love allows. … [1.60]
She is solicited by divers Peers;
But none of them her partial fancy hears.
Yet, if my policy may her beguile,
I’ll match her to some King within this Isle,
And so establish such a perfect peace,
As fortune’s force shall ne’re prevail to cease.
PERILLUS: Of us & ours, your gracious care, my Lord,
Deserves an everlasting memory,
To be enrolled in Chronicles of fame,
By never-dying perpetuity: … [1.70]
Yet to become so provident a Prince,
Lose not the title of a loving father:
Do not force love, where fancy cannot dwell,
Lest streams, being stopped, above the banks do swell.
LEIR: I am resolved, and even now my mind
Doth meditate a sudden stratagem,
To try which of my daughters loves me best:
Which till I know, I cannot be in rest.
This granted, when they jointly shall contend,
Each to exceed the other in their love: … [1.80]
Then at the vantage will I take Cordella,
Even as she doth protest she loves me best,
I’ll say, Then, daughter, grant me one request,
To show thou lovest me as thy sisters do,
Accept a husband, whom myself will woo.
This said, she cannot well deny my suit,
Although (poor soul) her senses will be mute:
Then will I triumph in my policy,
And match her with a King of Brittany.
SKALLIGER: I’ll to them before, and bewray your secrecy. … [1.90]
LEIR: Thus fathers think their children to beguile,
And oftentimes themselves do first repent,
When heavenly powers do frustrate their intent. Exeunt.