King Lear
Play Summary and Full Text: Full Text with Clips: Act I Scene 1b

King Lear enters with his daughters, their husbands and suitors, and retinue. He announces his intention to divide his kingdom, so he may “unburdened crawl toward death” and, ironically, to avoid future strife. He then insures the strife by asking each daughter to declare who loves him best. Goneril the eldest stands and flatters him outrageously. She gets her share. Regan follows with claims of greater love. She gets her share. But Cordelia cannot bring herself to false flattery, saying “nothing” instead. Lear avers that “nothing will come of nothing.” She persists, even making an argument that her love must be shared, not given to one only. Lear becomes irrationally enraged, and redistributes his kingdom. He “digests” Cordelia’s portion into the other two, declares that he will with his hundred knights rotate between the estates of Goneril and Regan, and “still retain the name and all the additions of a king.” Kent rebukes him, they have a bitter argument, and Lear banishes his most loyal gentleman, on pain of death. He is still in his mind the King.

Act I Scene 1a . . . Act I Scene 1c

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Sennet. Enter King Lear, Cornwall, Albany, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, and attendants.

KING LEAR   Attend the lords of France and Burgundy,

GLOUCESTER   I shall, my lord. Exit

Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.

Give me the map there. Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom,
  and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburdened crawl toward death. Our son of Cornwall,    [40]
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now. The princes France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,    [45]
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters—
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state—
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,    [50]
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge? Goneril,
Our eldest born, speak first.

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter,

Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty,    [55]
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare,
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor.

As much as child e’er loved, or father found,
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable,
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.    [60]


What shall Cordelia speak?
Love and be silent.

Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,
With shadowy forests and with champaigns riched,
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,    [65]

We make thee lady. To thine and Albany’s issue
Be this perpetual. What says our second daughter,
Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall? Speak.

Sir, I am made of that self metal as my sister,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart    [70]
I find she names my very deed of love.
Only she comes too short, that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys
Which the most precious square of sense possesses,
And find I am alone felicitate    [75]
In your dear highness’ love.

CORDELIA [Aside] Then poor Cordelia.
And yet not so, since, I am sure my love’s
More ponderous than my tongue

To thee and thine hereditary ever    [80]
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom,
No less in space, validity, and pleasure,
Than that conferred on Goneril. Now our joy,
Although the last and least, to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy    [85]
Strive to be interessed, what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

CORDELIA   Nothing, my lord.

KING LEAR   Nothing

CORDELIA   Nothing.    [90]

KING LEAR   Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less

How, how, Cordelia. Mend your speech a little,    [95]
Lest you may mar your fortunes.

CORDELIA                                   Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.    [100]
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,    [105]
[To love my father all.]

KING LEAR   But goes thy heart with this?

CORDELIA   Ay, good my lord.

KING LEAR   So young and so untender?

CORDELIA   So young, my lord, and true.    [110]

Let it be so. Thy truth then be thy dower.
For by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate, and the night,
By all the operation of the orbs

From whom we do exist and cease to be,    [115]
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee from this for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes    [120]
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.

KENT                                    Good my liege—

KING LEAR      Peace, Kent.    [125]
Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
I loved her most, and thought to set my rest
On her kind nursery. [to Cordelia] Hence, and avoid my sight.
So be my grave my peace, as here I give
Her father’s heart from her.
Call France. Who stirs?    [130]
Call Burgundy. Cornwall and Albany,
With my two daughters’ dowers digest this third.
Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.
I do invest you jointly with my power,
Pre-eminence, and all the large effects    [135]
That troop with majesty. Ourself by monthly course,
With reservation of an hundred knights,
By you to be sustained, shall our abode
Make with you by due turn. Only we shall retain
The name, and all th’additions to a king.  The sway    [140]
Revenue, execution of the rest,
Beloved sons, be yours, which to confirm,
This coronet part between you.

KENT                                       Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honored as my king,    [145]
Loved as my father, as my master followed,
As my great patron thought on in my prayers—

KING LEAR   The bow is bent and drawn; make from the shaft.

Let it fall rather, though the fork invade
The region of my heart. Be Kent unmannerly    [150]
When Lear is mad. What wilt thou do, old man?
Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak,
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honor’s bound
When majesty falls to folly. Reverse thy state,
And in thy best consideration check    [155]
This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgment,
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least,
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound
Reverb no hollowness

LEAR                            Kent, on thy life, no more.    [160]

My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thine enemies, nor fear to lose it,
Thy safety being the motive.

KING LEAR   Out of my sight!

See better, Lear, and let me still remain    [165]
The true blank of thine eye.

KING LEAR                         Now, by Apollo—

KENT   Now, by Apollo, King, thou swear’st thy gods in vain.

KING LEAR   O, vassal! Miscreant!

ALBANY CORNWALL                      Dear sir, forbear.    [170]

Do. Kill thy physician, and thy fee bestow
Upon the foul disease.
Revoke thy gift,
Or whilst I can vent clamor from my throat,
I’ll tell thee thou dost evil.

Hear me, recreant. On thine allegiance, hear me.    [175]
Since thou hast sought to make us break our vows,
Which we durst never yet, and with strained pride
To come betwixt our sentences and our power,
Which nor our nature nor our place can bear,
Our potency made good,
take thy reward.    [180]
Five days we do allot thee for provision
To shield thee from diseases of the world,
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom. If on the tenth day following,
Thy banished trunk be found in our dominions,    [185]
The moment is thy death. Away! By Jupiter,
This shall not be revoked.

Fare thee well, King. Since thus thou wilt appear,
Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here.
[to Cordelia] The gods to their dear shelter take thee, maid,    [190]
That justly think’st, and hast most rightly said.
[to Regan and Goneril] And your large speeches may your deeds approve,
That good effects may spring from words of love.
Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu;
He’ll shape his old course in a country new.    [195]


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