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

Goneril and Edmund arrive at Goneril’s castle. Oswald notes a severe change in Albany’s mood towards Goneril — now of acute hostility. Albany also sees Edmund’s supposed loyal service as the opposite. (Albany now joins Edgar as the play’s moral voice.) Goneril sends Edmund away with a number of sexual innuendos, and then greets Albany. He condemns her in the harsh language we have by now become accustomed: “You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face.” He reviles her treatment of Lear, to which she responds in kind: “milk-livered man . . .” She urges that France has landed, and he does nothing; he replies by blaming her for the invasion in language reminiscent of Lear’s in Act I, that were he of a mind he would “dislocate and tear thy flesh and bones.” A messenger enters to disclose the death of Cornwall, during which Albany learns of the blinding of Gloucester. His rage increases. But Goneril now sees good and bad in the news, that Regan is now free to claim Edmund, but reduced in power relative to herself. She takes the messenger’s letter from Regan and leaves to answer. The messenger then reveals Edmund’s role in betraying Gloucester.

Act IV Scene 1 . . . Act IV Scene 3

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ACT IV. SCENE II. Before Albany’s palace.
[This scene has been augmented considerably by passages from the Quarto, shown in brackets.]

Enter Goneril, Bastard [Edmund], followed by Steward

Welcome, my lord. I marvel our mild husband
Not met us on the way. [to Oswald] Now, where’s your master?

Madam, within, but never man so changed.
I told him of the army that was landed;
He smiled at it. I told him you were coming;    [5]
His answer was “The worse.” Of Gloucester’s treachery,
And of the loyal service of his son,
When I informed him, then he called me sot,
And told me I had turned the wrong side out.
What most he should dislike seems pleasant to him,    [10]
What like, offensive.

[To Edmund] Then shall you go no further.
It is the cowish terror of his spirit
That dares not undertake. He’ll not feel wrongs
Which tie him to an answer.
Our wishes on the way    [15]
May prove effects. Back, Edmund, to my brother.
Hasten his musters and conduct his powers.
I must change names at home, and give the distaff
Into my husband’s hands. This trusty servant
Shall pass between us.
Ere long you are like to hear,    [20]
If you dare venture in your own behalf,
A mistress’s command. Wear this. [gives him a necklace] Spare speech.
Decline your head. This kiss, if it durst speak,
Would stretch thy spirits up into the air.
Conceive, and fare thee well.     [25]

EDMUND   Yours in the ranks of death. Exit

GONERIL                                                My most dear Gloucester!
O, the difference of man and man.
To thee a woman’s services are due.
My fool usurps my body.    [30]

OSWALD Madam, here comes my lord.   Exit

Enter Albany

GONERIL   I have been worth the whistle.

ALBANY                                                  O Goneril!
You are not worth the dust which the rude wind
Blows in your face. [I fear your disposition.    [35]
That nature which contemns its origin
Cannot be bordered certain in itself.
She that herself will sliver and disbranch
From her material sap perforce must wither
And come to deadly use.    [40]

GONERIL   No more. The text is foolish.

Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile.
Filths savor but themselves.
What have you done?
Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?
A father, and a gracious aged man,    [45]
Whose reverence even the head-lugged bear would lick,
Most barbarous, most degenerate, have you madded.
Could my good brother suffer you to do it,
A man, a prince, by him so benefited?

If that the heavens do not their visible spirits    [50]
Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
It will come.
Humanity must perforce prey on itself,
Like monsters of the deep.]

GONERIL                              Milk-livered man,    [55]
That bear’st a cheek for blows, a head for wrongs,
Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning
Thine honor from thy suffering, [that not know'st
Fools do those villains pity who are punished
Ere they have done their mischief.
Where's thy drum?    [60]
France spreads his banners in our noiseless land.
With plumed helm thy state begins thereat,
Whiles thou, a moral fool, sits still and cries,
“Alack, why does he so?”]

ALBANY                           See thyself, devil!    [65]
Proper deformity seems not in the fiend
So horrid as in woman.

GONERIL                          O vain fool!

Thou changed and self-covered thing, for shame
Bemonster not thy feature.
Were't my fitness    [70]
To let these hands obey my blood,
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
Thy flesh and bones. Howe’er thou art a fiend,
A woman’s shape doth shield thee.

GONERIL    Marry, your manhood now–    [75]

Enter a Messenger

ALBANY                                                 What news?]

O my good lord, the Duke of Cornwall’s dead,
Slain by his servant, going to put out
The other eye of Gloucester.

ALBANY                              Gloucester’s eyes?    [80]

A servant that he bred, thrilled with remorse,
Opposed against the act,
bending his sword
To his great master, who, thereat enraged
Flew on him, and amongst them felled him dead,
But not without that harmful stroke which since    [85]
Hath plucked him after.

ALBANY                        This shows you are above,
You justicers, that these our nether crimes
So speedily can venge. But, O poor Gloucester!
Lost he his other eye?    [90]

Messenger                 Both, both, my lord.
This letter, madam, craves a speedy answer.
‘Tis from your sister.

GONERIL [Aside] One way I like this well.
But being widow, and my Gloucester with her,    [95]
May all the building in my fancy pluck
Upon my hateful life. Another way
The news is not so tart.
[to messenger] I’ll read and answer.  Exit

ALBANY   Where was his son when they did take his eyes?

Messenger   Come with my lady hither    [100]

ALBANY    He is not here

Messenger    No, my good lord; I met him back again.

ALBANY    Knows he the wickedness?

Ay, my good lord. ‘Twas he informed against him
And quit the house on purpose that their punishment    [105]
Might have the freer course.

ALBANY                                 Gloucester, I live
To thank thee for the love thou show’dst the King,
And to revenge thine eyes. Come hither, friend,
Tell me what more thou knowst.    [110]


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