King Lear
Play Summary and Full Text: Full Text with Clips: Act II Scene 2a

Kent in disguise and Oswald come on stage together. Oswald attempts a pleasant greeting, but Kent reviles and abuses him, finally drawing his sword to fight him. Oswald’s screams for help bring Edmund, Cornwall, Regan, and Gloucester to his rescue. Kent continues his tirade, Oswald explains as best he can that Kent was in the service of Lear and had tripped him two days before. Cornwall attempts to calm him down, but Kent then turns his abuse to Cornwall. With some justice, Cornwall orders the stocks brought out, and, over Gloucester’s objection that Kent serves the King, places Kent in them. After everyone else leaves, Gloucester consoles Kent and promises to intervene on his behalf, a gesture Kent refuses. When alone, Kent takes out a letter from Cordelia, who according to Kent knows of his present state of disguise and service. The play does not reveal its contents. Content, Kent sleeps after saying, “Fortune, good night: smile once more; turn they wheel.”

Act II Scene 1 . . . Act II Scene 2b

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ACT II. SCENE II. SEGMENT A. Before Gloucester’s house.

Enter Kent and Steward severally

OSWALD   Good dawning to thee, friend.
Art of this house?

KENT    Ay.

OSWALD   Where may we set our horses?

KENT   I’th’mire.     [5]

OSWALD   Prithee, if thou lov’st me, tell me.

KENT    I love thee not.

OSWALD   Why then, I care not for thee.

KENT   If I had thee in Lipsbury pinfold, I would make thee
care for me.    [10]

OSWALD   Why dost thou use me thus? I know thee not.

KENT    Fellow, I know thee.

OSWALD    What dost thou know me for?

KENT
A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,    [15]
hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave,
a 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    [20]
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
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.

OSWALD
Why, what a monstrous fellow art thou, thus to rail    [25]
on one that is neither known of thee nor knows thee.

KENT
What a brazen-faced varlet art thou, to deny thou
knowest me. Is it two days ago since I tripped up
thy heels and beat thee before the king? Draw, you
rogue, for though it be night, yet the moon    [30]
shines, I’ll make a sop o’the moonshine of you.
Draw, you whoreson cullionly barber-monger. Draw.

OSWALD    Away. I have nothing to do with thee.

KENT Draw, you rascal. You come with letters against the
king, and take Vanity the puppet’s part against the    [35]
royalty of her father.
Draw, you rogue, or I’ll so
carbonado your shanks—draw, you rascal, come your ways.

OSWALD   Help, ho! Murder! Help!

KENT
Strike, you slave. Stand, rogue, stand, you neat
slave, strike.
[Beats him] [40]

OSWALD   Help, ho! Murder! Murder!

Enter Bastard [Edmund], Cornwall, Regan, Gloucester, Servants.

EDMUND   How now! What’s the matter?

KENT
With you goodman boy. If you please, come, I’ll
flesh ye; come on, young master.

GLOUCESTER   Weapons? Arms? What ’s the matter here?    [45]

CORNWALL
Keep peace, upon your lives. He dies that strikes again.
What is the matter?

REGAN  The messengers from our sister and the king.

CORNWALL   What is your difference? Speak.

OSWALD   I am scarce in breath, my lord.     [50]

KENT
No marvel, you have so bestirred your valor, you
cowardly rascal. Nature disclaims in thee—a
tailor made thee.

CORNWALL   Thou art a strange fellow—a tailor make a man?

KENT
Ay, a tailor, sir. A stonecutter or painter could     [55]
not have made him so ill though he had been but two
hours at the trade.

CORNWALL   Speak yet. How grew your quarrel?

OSWALD
This ancient ruffian, sir, whose life I have spared
at suit of his gray beard—    [60]

KENT
Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter! My
lord, if you will give me leave, I will tread this
unbolted villain into mortar and daub the wall of
a jakes with him. [to Oswald] Spare my gray beard, you wagtail?

CORNWALL   Peace, sirrah!   [65]
You beastly knave, know you no reverence?

KENT   Yes, sir, but anger hath a privilege.

CORNWALL   Why art thou angry?

KENT
That such a slave as this should wear a sword,
Who wears no honesty. Such smiling rogues as these,    [70]
Like rats, oft bite the holy cords atwain
Which are too intrince t’unloose; smooth every passion
That in the natures of their lords rebel,
Bring oil to fire, snow to their colder moods,
Renege, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks    [75]
With every gall and vary of their masters,
Knowing nought, like dogs, but following.
[to Oswald]
A plague upon your epileptic visage.
Smile you my speeches as I were a fool?
Goose, if I had you upon Sarum plain,    [80]
I’d drive ye cackling home to Camelot.

CORNWALL   Why, art thou mad, old fellow?

GLOUCESTER    How fell you out? Say that.

KENT
No contraries hold more antipathy
Than I and such a knave.    [85]

CORNWALL   Why dost thou call him a knave? What is his fault?

KENT   His countenance likes me not.

CORNWALL   No more perchance does mine, nor his, nor hers.

KENT
Sir, ’tis my occupation to be plain.
I have seen better faces in my time   [90]
Than stands on any shoulder that I see
Before me at this instant.

CORNWALL                     This is some fellow
Who, having been praised for bluntness, doth affect
A saucy roughness, and constrains the garb    [95]
Quite from his nature. He cannot flatter, he.
An honest mind and plain, he must speak truth.
An they will take it, so; if not, he’s plain.
These kind of knaves I know, which in this plainness
Harbor more craft and more corrupter ends    [100]
Than twenty silly-ducking observants
That stretch their duties nicely.

KENT
Sir, in good faith, in sincere verity,
Under th’allowance of your great aspect,
Whose influence, like the wreath of radiant fire    [105]
On flickering Phoebus’ front—

CORNWALL   What mean’st by this?

KENT
To go out of my dialect, which you
discommend so much. I know, sir, I am no
flatterer. He that beguiled you in a plain    [110]
accent was a plain knave, which for my part
I will not be, though I should win your displeasure
to entreat me to’t.

CORNWALL [to Oswald] What was th’offence you gave him?

OSWALD
I never gave him any.    [115]
It pleased the King his master very late
To strike at me upon his misconstruction,
When he, conpact and flattering his displeasure,
Tripped me behind. Being down, insulted, railed,
And put upon him such a deal of man,    [120]
That worthied him, got praises of the King
For him attempting who was self-subdued,
And, in the fleshment of this dread exploit,
Drew on me here again.

KENT
None of these rogues and cowards    [125]
But Ajax is their fool.

CORNWALL
Fetch forth the stocks. [exeunt servants]
You stubborn, ancient knave, you reverend braggart,
We’ll teach you.

KENT Sir, I am too old to learn.    [130]
Call not your stocks for me. I serve the King,
On whose employment I was sent to you.
You shall do small respect, show too bold malice
Against the grace and person of my master,
Stocking his messenger.    [135]

CORNWALL    Fetch forth the stocks!
As I have life and honor, there shall he sit till noon.

REGAN   Till noon? Till night, my lord, and all night too.

KENT
Why, madam, if I were your father’s dog,
You should not use me so.    [140]

REGAN   Sir, being his knave, I will. Stocks brought on

CORNWALL
This is a fellow of the selfsame color
Our sister speaks of. Come, bring away the stocks!

GLOUCESTER
Let me beseech your grace not to do so.
[His fault is much, and the good King his master    [145]
Will check him for ‘t. Your purposed low correction
Is such as basest and contemnedst wretches
For pilferings and most common trespasses
Are punished with.]
The King his master needs must take it ill,    [150]
That he’s so slightly valued in his messenger,
Should have him thus restrained.

CORNWALL   I’ll answer that.

REGAN
My sister may receive it much more worse
To have her gentleman abused, assaulted,    [155]
[For following her affairs. Put in his legs.]

CORNWALL    Come, my good lord, away.

Exit [all but Gloucester and Kent]

GLOUCESTER
I am sorry for thee, friend. ‘Tis the duke’s pleasure,
Whose disposition, all the world well knows,
Will not be rubbed nor stopped. I’ll entreat for thee.    [160]

KENT
Pray, do not, sir. I have watched and traveled hard.
Some time I shall sleep out; the rest I’ll whistle.
A good man’s fortune may grow out at heels.
Give you good morrow!

GLOUCESTER
The duke’s to blame in this. ‘Twill be ill taken. Exit    [165]

KENT
Good king, that must approve the common saw,
Thou out of heaven’s benediction com’st
To the warm sun.

Approach, thou beacon to this under-globe,
That by thy comfortable beams I may    [170]
Peruse this letter. Nothing almost sees miracles
But misery. I know
’tis from Cordelia,
Who hath most fortunately been informed
Of my obscured course, [reading letter] and “shall find time
From this enormous state, seeking to give    [175]
Losses their remedies.” All weary and o’erwatched,
Take vantage, heavy eyes, not to behold
This shameful lodging.
Fortune, good night. Smile once more. Turn thy wheel. [Sleeps]

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