King Lear
Background on King Lear: King Leir the Play: Scene 12

Cornwall wonders at Leir’s absence.  Gonorill says he has gone to visit her sister, unannounced, to see how she fares and that he’ll be back.  To make sure, Cornwall decides to send a message asking if Leir has arrived there, and exits.  Gonorill sees her chance.  She will intercept the messenger, get him to report back falsely, and, by the way, murder Leir, as Ragan will no more want him than a broken ship wants water.

The messenger comes in, she takes the letter from him, flatters him; he responds with pledges of faith and service to be all hers, she gives him a bag of money (“a strong Bond, a firm obligation, good in law” he says), and gets him first to agree to a different letter and a false one in response, and then to rid the world of the cause of the difficulty.  He agrees.

Scene 11 . . . Directory . . . Scene 13

Scene 12

Enter Cornwall, Gonorill, and attendants.

CORNWALL: Ah, Gonorill, what dire unhappy chance
Hath sequestered thy father from our presence,
That no report can yet be heard of him?
Some great unkindness hath been offered him,
Exceeding far the bounds of patience:
Else all the world shall never me persuade,
He would forsake us without notice made.

GONORILL: Alas, my Lord, whom doth it touch so near,
Or who hath interest in this grief, but I,
Whom sorrow hath brought to her longest home, … [12.10]
But that I know his qualities so well?
I know, he is but stolen upon my sister
At unawares, to see her how she fares,
And spend a little time with her, to note
How all things go, and how she likes her choice:
And when occasion serves, he’ll steal from her,
And unawares return to us again.
Therefore, my Lord, be frolic, and resolve
To see my father here again e’re long.

CORNWALL: I hope so too; but yet to be more sure, … [12.20]
I’ll send a Post immediately to know
Whether he be arrived there or no.   Exit.

GONORILL: But I will intercept the Messenger,
And temper him before he doth depart,
With sweet persuasions, and with sound rewards,
That his report shall ratify my speech,
And make my Lord cease further to inquire.
If he be not gone to my sister’s Court,
As sure my mind presageth that he is,
He happily may, by traveling unknown ways, … [12.30]
Fall sick, and as a common passenger,
Be dead and buried: would God it were so well;
For then there were no more to do, but this,
He went away, and none knows where he is.
But say he be in Cambria with the King,
And there exclaim against me, as he will:
I know he is as welcome to my sister,
As water is unto a broken ship.
Well, after him I’ll send such thunderclaps
Of slander, scandal, and invented tales, … [12.40]
That all the blame shall be removed from me,
And unperceived rebound upon himself.
Thus with one nail another I’ll expel,
And make the world judge, that I used him well.

Enter the Messenger that should go to Cambria, with a letter in his hand.

My honest, friend, whither away so fast?

MESS: To Cambria, Madam, with letters from the king.

GONORILL: To whom?

MESS: Unto your father, if he be there.

GONORILL: Let me see them.   She opens them.

MESS: Madam, I hope your Grace will stand … [12.50]
Between me and my neck-verse, if I be
Called in question, for opening the Kings letters.

GONORILL: ‘Twas I that opened them, it was not thou.

MESS: Aye, but you need not care: and so must I,
A hansom man, be quickly trust up,
And when a man’s hanged, all the world cannot save him.

GONORILL: He that hang thee, were better hang his father,
Or that but hurts thee in the least degree.
I tell thee, we make great account of thee.

MESS: I am o’erjoyed, I surfeit of sweet words: … [12.60]
Kind Queen, had I a hundred lives, I would
Spend ninety-nine of them for you, for that word.

GONORILL: Aye, but thou wouldst keep one life still,
And that’s as many as thou art like to have.

MESS: That one life is not too dear for my good Queene;
this sword, this buckler, this head, this heart, these
hands, arms, legs, tripes, bowels, and all the members else
whatsoever, are at your dispose; use me, trust me, command
me: if I fail in anything, tie me to a dung-cart, and make a
Scavenger’s horse of me, and whip me, so long as I have any … [12.70]
skin on my back.

GONORILL: In token of further employment, take that.

Flings him a purse.

MESS: A strong Bond, a firm Obligation, good in law,
good in law: if I keep not the condition, let my neck be the
forfeiture of my negligence.

GONORILL: I like thee well, thou hast a good tongue.

MESS: And as bad a tongue if it be set on it, as any Oyster-
wife at Billingsgate hath: why, I have made many of my
neighbors forsake their homes with railing upon them, and
go dwell elsewhere: and so by my means houses have been good … [12.80]
cheap in our parish: My tongue being well whetted with choler,
is more sharp than a Razor of Palerno.

GONORILL: O, thou art a fit man for my purpose.

MESS: Commend me not, sweet Queen, before you try me.
As my deserts are, so do think of me.

GONORILL: Well said, then this is thy trial: Instead of carrying
the King’s letters to my father, carry thou these letters to my
sister, which contain matter quite contrary to the other:
there shall she be given to understand, that my father hath
detracted her, given out slanderous speeches against her; and … [12.90]
that he hath most intolerably abused me, set my Lord and
me at variance, and made mutinies amongst the commons.
These things (although it be not so)
Yet thou must affirm them to be true,
With oaths and protestations as will serve,
To drive my sister out of love with him,
And cause my will accomplished to be.
This do, thou winst my favor forever,
And makest a highway of preferment to thee
And all my friends. … [12.100]

MESS: It sufficeth, conceit, it is already done:
I will so tongue-whip him, that I will
Leave him as bare of credit, as a Poulter
Leaves a Cony, when she pulls off his skin.

GONORILL: Yet there is a further matter.

MESS: I thirst to hear it.

GONORILL: If my sister thinketh convenient, as my letters
importeth, to make him away, hast thou the heart to effect it?

MESS: Few words are best in so small a matter:
These are but trifles. By this book I will. Kisses the paper. … [12.110]

GONORILL: About it presently, I long till it be done.

MESS: I fly, I fly.    Exeunt.

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