King Lear
Play Summary and Full Text: Full Text with Clips: Act I Scene 4b

At last the Fool appears, continuing the mood. His first jest is on a common subject, his coxcomb, a jester’s peaked hat. He offers it to Kent because Kent has joined with a man out of favor who has banished his two daughters and done his third a blessing against his will. After another joke, he sings a song of advice about the advantages of modesty. Kent calls it nothing, the Fool says he got nothing for it, and asks Lear if can make use of nothing. Lear repeats what he said to Cordelia, which the Fool says is what he gets in rent. They banter on like this, the Fool harping on Lear forsaking Cordelia and giving his kingdom away, inverting his natural relationship to his daughters.

Act I Scene 4a . . . Act I Scene 4c

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ACT I. SCENE IV. SEGMENT B. At Albany’s palace.

Enter Fool

Fool    Let me hire him too. Here’s my coxcomb.

KING LEAR    How now, my pretty knave, how dost thou?

Fool    Sirrah, you were best take my coxcomb.

KENT    Why, my boy?

Fool
Why, for taking one’s part that’s out of favor.     [85]
Nay, an thou canst not smile as the wind sits,
thou’lt catch cold shortly. There, take my coxcomb.
Why, this fellow has banished two on’s daughters,
and did the third a blessing against his will. If
thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.    [90]
How now, nuncle? Would I had two coxcombs and two daughters.

KING LEAR    Why, my boy?

Fool
If I gave them all my living, I’d keep my coxcombs
myself. There’s mine. Beg another of thy daughters.

KING LEAR    Take heed, sirrah, the whip.    [95]

Fool
Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped
out, when the Lady Brach may stand by the fire and stink.

KING LEAR   A pestilent gall to me.

Fool   Sirrah, I’ll teach thee a speech.

KING LEAR   Do.     [100]

Fool
Mark it, nuncle:

Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,     [105]

Learn more than thou trowest,
Set less than thou throwest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore,
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more    [110]
Than two tens to a score.

KENT   This is nothing, fool.

Fool
Then ’tis like the breath of an unfee’d lawyer, you
gave me nothing for’t. Can you make no use of
nothing, nuncle?    [115]

KING LEAR   Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.

Fool
[To Kent] Prithee, tell him, so much the rent of
his land comes to; he will not believe a fool.

KING LEAR   A bitter fool!

Fool
Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a    [120]
bitter fool and a sweet fool?

KING LEAR    No, lad. Teach me.

[Fool
That lord that counselled thee
To give away thy land,
Come place him here by me,     [125]
Do thou for him stand.
The sweet and bitter fool
Will presently appear,
The one in motley here,
The other found out there.   [130]

KING LEAR   Dost thou call me fool, boy?

Fool
All thy other titles thou hast given away; that
thou wast born with.

KENT   This is not altogether fool, my lord.

Fool
No, faith, lords and great men will not let me. If    [135]
I had a monopoly out, they would have part on’t;
and ladies too, they will not let me have all fool
to myself. They’ll be snatching.]
Nuncle, give me an egg
and I’ll give thee two crowns.

KING LEAR   What two crowns shall they be?    [140]

Fool
Why, after I have cut the egg i’ the middle, and eat
up the meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou
clovest thy crown i’the middle, and gav’st away
both parts, thou bor’st thy ass on thy back o’er
the dirt. Thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown,     [145]
when thou gav’st thy golden one away. If I speak
like myself in this, let him be whipped that first
finds it so.
[singing]

Fools had ne’er less wit in a year;
For wise men are grown foppish,     [150]
They know not how their wits to wear,
Their manners are so apish.

KING LEAR   When were you wont to be so full of songs, sirrah?

Fool
I have used it, nuncle, e’er since thou mad’st thy
daughters thy mothers, for when thou gav’st them [155]
the rod, and putt’st down thine own breeches,  [singing]

Then they for sudden joy did weep,
And I for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep,
And go the fools among. [160]

Prithee, nuncle, keep a schoolmaster that can teach
thy fool to lie. I would fain learn to lie.

KING LEAR   An you lie, sirrah, we’ll have you whipped.

Fool
I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are.
They’ll have me whipped for speaking true, thou’lt    [165]
have me whipped for lying, and sometimes I am
whipped for holding my peace. I had rather be any
kind o’ thing than a fool, and yet I would not be
thee, nuncle. Thou hast pared thy wit o’both sides,
and left nothing i’the middle. Here comes one    [170]
o’the parings.

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