King Lear
Play Summary and Full Text: Full Text with Clips: Act IV Scene 6b

This is the first of two great reconciliation scenes, this one with Lear and Gloucester, the next with Lear and Cordelia. Lear appears on stage as if alone. He is mad, but cannily so, and, depending on the production, will either be wearing a crown of weeds or fashion one during the scene itself. He declares his authenticity—“I am the King himself”—but then communes with his natural surroundings, as “nature is above art in that respect,” including a short conversation with a mouse. Edgar notes his mad state, but Lear then begins to see things right for the first time, admitting that his daughters lied to him — that words were not the same as meanings or deeds. He claims some kind of vision in the storm — he was told he was a god, but he was not immune to human weakness.

Gloucester recognizes his voice (although it should be noted that it is strange that he cannot recognize Edgar’s voice). Lear in turn seems to recognize Gloucester by calling attention to his sin, giving a madcap monologue on sex and adultery. “Let copulation thrive.” Gloucester asks to kiss his hand. Lear replies, “Let me wipe it first, it smells of mortality.” Gloucester’s mood turns apocalyptic, and the two exchange some figures on blindness and insight: “a man may see how this world goes with no eyes.” Lear then gives a long, impassioned, but vernacular speech on justice before asking his boots to be removed (which he may or may not have on, once again depending on the choices in the individual production). Edgar sums up his mood: “reason in madness.” Finally, as the two may embrace, Lear imagines them on a stage of fools, leading an army against his son-in-laws, to “kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.”

Act IV Scene 6a . . . Act IV Scene 6c

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Enter Lear [fantastically dressed with wild flowers]

No, they cannot touch me for coining; I am the
King himself.

EDGAR         O thou side-piercing sight!

Nature’s above art in that respect. There’s your
press-money. That fellow handles his bow like a    [100]
crow-keeper. Draw me a clothier’s yard. Look,
look, a mouse. Peace, peace. This piece of toasted
cheese will do ‘t. There’s my gauntlet. I’ll prove
it on a giant. Bring up the brown bills. O, well
flown, bird! i’ th’ clout, i’ th’ clout. Hewgh!    [105]
Give the word.

EDGAR   Sweet marjoram.


GLOUCESTER   I know that voice.

Ha! Goneril, with a white beard? They flattered   [110]
me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs in my
beard ere the black ones were there.
To say “ay”
and “no” to every thing that I said “ay” and “no”
too was no good divinity. When the rain came to
wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter, when   [115]
the thunder would not peace at my bidding, there I
found ‘em, there I smelt ‘em out. Go to, they are
not men o’their words. They told me I was every
thing. ‘Tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.

The trick of that voice I do well remember.   [120]
Is ‘t not the King?

KING LEAR            Ay, every inch a king.
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.
I pardon that man’s life. What was thy cause? Adultery?
Thou shalt not die—die for adultery? No.     [125]
The wren goes to’t, and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight. Let copulation thrive,
For Gloucester’s bastard son was kinder to his father
Than my daughters got ‘tween the lawful sheets.
To ‘t, luxury, pell-mell, for I lack soldiers.     [130]
Behold yon simp’ring dame,
Whose face between her forks presages snow,
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure’s name—
The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to’t with a    [135]
more riotous appetite. Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
though women all above.
But to the girdle do the gods
inherit, beneath is all the fiends’. There’s hell, there’s
darkness, there’s the sulphurous pit, burning, scalding,
stench, consumption. Fie, fie, fie! Pah, pah! Give me   [140]
an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination.
There’s money for thee.

GLOUCESTER    O, let me kiss that hand!

KING LEAR   Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.

O ruined piece of nature. This great world     [145]
Shall so wear out to nought. Dost thou know me?

I remember thine eyes well enough. Dost thou squiny
at me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid! I’ll not love. Read
thou this challenge; mark but the penning of it.

GLOUCESTER    Were all the letters suns, I could not see.    [150]

EDGAR [aside]
I would not take this from report. It is,
And my heart breaks at it.


GLOUCESTER   What, with the case of eyes?

O, ho, are you there with me? No eyes in your     [155]
head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in
a heavy case, your purse in a light, yet you see how
this world goes.

GLOUCESTER   I see it feelingly.

What, art mad? A man may see how this world goes    [160]
with no eyes. Look with thine ears. See how yon
justice rails upon yon simple thief. Hark, in
thine ear. Change places, and handy-dandy, which
is the justice, which is the thief? Thou hast seen
a farmer’s dog bark at a beggar?     [165]


And the creature run from the cur? There thou
mightst behold the great image of authority—a
dog’s obeyed in office.
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand.    [170]
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back.
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.

Through tattered clothes great vices do appear;
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sins with gold,    [175]
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks.
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.

None does offend, none, I say none. I’ll able ‘em.
Take that of me, my friend, who have the power
To seal the accuser’s lips. Get thee glass eyes,    [180]
And like a scurvy politician seem
To see the things thou dost not. Now, now, now, now.
Pull off my boots; harder, harder; so.

EDGAR   O matter and impertinency mixed. Reason in madness.

If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.    [185]
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester.
Thou must be patient. We came crying hither.
Thou know’st the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry. I will preach to thee: mark.

GLOUCESTER   Alack, alack, the day!    [190]

When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. This a good block.
It were a delicate stratagem to shoe
A troop of horse with felt. I’ll put it in proof,
And when I have stolen upon these sons-in-law,    [195]
Then kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!

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