The History of King Lear icon

The History of King Lear



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The History of King Lear

Prologue.

Since by Mistakes your best Delights are made,
(For ev'n your Wives can please in Masquerade)
'Twere worth our While t' have drawn you in this day
By a new Name to our old honest Play;
But he that did this Evenings Treat prepare
Bluntly resolv'd before-hand to declare
Your Entertainment should be most old Fare.

Yet hopes, since in rich Shakespear's soil it grew,
'Twill relish yet with those whose Tasts are True,
And his Ambition is to please a Few.
If then this Heap of Flow'rs shall chance to wear
Fresh Beauty in the Order they now bear,
Ev'n this
Shakespear's Praise; each Rustick knows
'Mongst plenteous Flow'rs a Garland to Compose,
Which strung by his course Hand may fairer Show,
But 'twas a Pow'r: Divine first made 'em Grow.
Why shou'd these Scenes lie hid, in which we find
What may at Once divert and teach the Mind?
Morals were alwaies proper for the Stage,
But are ev'n necessary in this Age.
Poets must take the Churches Teaching Trade,
Since Priests their Province of Intrigue invade;
But We the worst in this Exchange have got,
In vain our Poets Preach, whilst Church-men Plot.


The Persons.


King Lear, Mr. Betterton.
Gloster, Mr. Gillo.
Kent, Mr. Wiltshire.
Edgar, Mr. Smith.
Bastard, Mr. Jo. Williams.
Cornwall, Mr. Norris.
Albany, Mr. Bowman.
Gentleman-Usher, Mr. Jevon.

Gonerill, Mrs. Shadwell.
Regan, Lady Slingsby.
Cordelia, Mrs. Barry.

Guards, Officers, Messengers, Attendants.


Act I

[Enter Bastard solus.]

Bast.

Thou Nature art my Goddess, to thy Law

My Services are bound, why am I then

Depriv'd of a Son's Right because I came not

In the dull Road that custom has prescrib'd?

Why Bastard, wherefore Base, when I can boast

A Mind as gen'rous and a Shape as true

As honest Madam's Issue? why are we

Held Base, who in the lusty stealth of Nature

Take fiercer Qualities than what compound

The scanted Births of the stale Marriage-bed?

Well then, legitimate Edgar, to thy right

Of Law I will oppose a Bastard's Cunning.

Our Father's Love is to the Bastard Edmund

As to Legitimate Edgar: with success

I've practis'd yet on both their easie Natures:

Here comes the old Man chaf't with th' Information

Which last I forg'd against my Brother Edgar,

A Tale so plausible, so boldly utter'd

And heightned by such lucky Accidents,

That now the slightest circumstance confirms him,

And Base-born Edmund spight of Law inherits.

[Enter Kent and Gloster.]

Glost.

Nay, good my Lord, your Charity

O'reshoots it self to plead in his behalf;

You are your self a Father, and may feel

The sting of disobedience from a Son

First-born and best Belov'd: Oh Villain Edgar!

Kent.

Be not too rash, all may be forgery,

And time yet clear the Duty of your Son.

Glost.

Plead with the Seas, and reason down the Winds,

Yet shalt thou ne're convince me, I have seen

His foul Designs through all a Father's fondness:

But be this Light and Thou my Witnesses

That I discard him here from my Possessions,

Divorce him from my Heart, my Blood and Name.

Bast.

It works as I cou'd wish; I'll shew my self.

Glost.

Ha Edmund! welcome Boy; O Kent see here

Inverted Nature, Gloster's Shame and Glory,

This By-born, the wild sally of my Youth,

Pursues me with all filial Offices,

Whilst Edgar, begg'd of Heaven and born in Honour,

Draws plagues on my white head that urge me still

To curse in Age the pleasure of my Youth.

Nay weep not, Edmund, for thy Brother's crimes;

O gen'rous Boy, thou shar'st but half his blood,

Yet lov'st beyond the kindness of a Brother.

But I'll reward thy Vertue. Follow me.

My Lord, you wait the King who comes resolv'd

To quit the Toils of Empire, and divide

His Realms amongst his Daughters, Heaven succeed it,

But much I fear the Change.

Kent.

I grieve to see him

With such wild starts of passion hourly seiz'd,

As renders Majesty beneath it self.

Glost.

Alas! 'tis the Infirmity of his Age,

Yet has his Temper ever been unfixt,

Chol'rick and suddain; hark, They approach.

[Exeunt Gloster and Bast.]


[Flourish. Enter Lear, Cornwall, Albany, Burgundy, Edgar, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Edgar speaking to Cordelia at Entrance.]


Edgar.

Cordelia, royal Fair, turn yet once more,

And e're successfull Burgundy receive

The treasure of thy Beauties from the King,

E're happy Burgundy for ever fold Thee,

Cast back one pitying Look on wretched Edgar.

Cord.

Alas what wou'd the wretched Edgar with

The more Unfortunate Cordelia;

Who in obedience to a Father's will

Flys from her Edgar's Arms to Burgundy's?

Lear.

Attend my Lords of Albany and Cornwall

With Princely Burgundy.

Alb.

We do, my Liege.

Lear.

Give me the Mapp — know, Lords, We have divided

In Three our Kingdom, having now resolved

To disengage from Our long Toil of State,

Conferring All upon your younger years;

You, Burgundy, Cornwall and Albany

Long in Our Court have made your amorous sojourn

And now are to be answer'd — tell me my Daughters

Which of you Loves Us most, that We may place

Our largest Bounty with the largest Merit.

Gonerill, Our Eldest-born, speak first.

Gon.

Sir, I do love You more than words can utter,

Beyond what can be valu'd, Rich or Rare,

Nor Liberty, nor Sight, Health, Fame, or Beauty

Are half so dear, my Life for you were vile,

As much as Child can love the best of Fathers.

Lear.

Of all these Bounds, ev'n from this Line to this

With shady Forests and wide-skirted Meads,

We make Thee Lady, to thine and Albany's Issue

Be this perpetual — What says Our Second Daughter?

Reg.

My Sister, Sir, in part exprest my Love,

For such as Hers, is mine, though more extended;

Sense has no other Joy that I can relish,

I have my All in my dear Lieges Love!

Lear.

Therefore to thee and thine Hereditary

Remain this ample Third of our fair Kingdom.

Cord. [Aside]

Now comes my Trial, how am I distrest,

That must with cold speech tempt the chol'rick King

Rather to leave me Dowerless, than condemn me

To loath'd Embraces!

Lear.

Speak now Our last, not least in Our dear Love,

So ends my Task of State, — Cordelia speak,

What canst Thou say to win a richer Third

Than what thy Sisters gain'd?

Cord.

Now must my Love in words fall short of theirs

As much as it exceeds in Truth — Nothing my Lord.

Lear.

Nothing can come of Nothing, speak agen.

Cord.

Unhappy am I that I can't dissemble,

Sir, as I ought, I love your Majesty,

No more nor less.

Lear.

Take heed Cordelia,

Thy Fortunes are at stake, think better on't

And mend thy Speech a little.

Cord.

O my Liege,

You gave me Being, Bred me, dearly Love me,

And I return my duty as I ought,

Obey you, Love you, and most Honour you!

Why have my Sisters Husbands, if they love you All?

Happ'ly when I shall Wed, the Lord whose Hand

Shall take my Plight, will carry half my Love,

For I shall never marry, like my Sisters,

To Love my Father All.

Lear.

And goes thy Heart with this?

'Tis said that I am Chol'rick, judge me Gods,

Is there not cause? now Minion I perceive

The Truth of what has been suggested to Us,

Thy Fondness for the Rebel Son of Gloster,

False to his Father, as Thou art to my Hopes:

And oh take heed, rash Girl, lest We comply

With thy fond wishes, which thou wilt too late

Repent, for know Our nature cannot brook

A Child so young and so Ungentle.

Cord.

So young my Lord and True.

Lear.

Thy Truth then be thy Dow'r,

For by the sacred Sun and solemn Night

I here disclaim all my paternal Care,

And from this minute hold thee as a Stranger

Both to my Blood and Favour.

Kent.

This is Frenzy.

Consider, good my Liege —

Lear.

Peace Kent.

Come not between a Dragon and his Rage.

I lov'd her most, and in her tender Trust

Design'd to have bestow'd my Age at Ease!

So be my Grave my Peace as here I give

My Heart from her, and with it all my Wealth:

My Lords of Cornwall and of Albany,

I do invest you jointly with full Right

In this fair Third, Cordelia's forfeit Dow'r.

Mark me, My Lords, observe Our last Resolve,

Our Self attended with an hundred Knights

Will make Aboad with you in monthly Course,

The Name alone of King remain with me,

Yours be the Execution and Revenues,

This is Our final Will, and to confirm it

This Coronet part between you.

Kent.

Royal Lear,

Whom I have ever honour'd as my King,

Lov'd as my Father, as my Master follow'd,

And as my Patron thought on in my Pray'rs—

Lear.

Away, the Bow is bent, make from the Shaft.

Kent.

No, let it fall and drench within my Heart,

Be Kent unmannerly when Lear is mad:

Thy youngest Daughter—

Lear.

On thy Life no more.

Kent.

What wilt thou doe, old Man?

Lear.

Out of my sight!

Kent.

See better first.

Lear.

Now by the gods—

Kent.

Now by the gods, rash King, thou swear'st in vain.

Lear.

Ha Traytour—

Kent.

Do, kill thy Physician, Lear,

Strike through my Throat, yet with my latest Breath

I'll Thunder in thine Ear my just Complaint,

And tell Thee to thy Face that Thou dost ill.

Lear.

Hear me rash Man, on thy Allegiance hear me;

Since thou hast striv'n to make Us break our Vow

And prest between our Sentence and our Pow'r,

Which nor our Nature nor our Place can bear,

We banish thee for ever from our Sight

And Kingdom; if when Three days are expir'd

Thy hated Trunk be found in our Dominions

That moment is thy Death; Away.

Kent.

Why fare thee well, King, since thou art resolv'd,

I take thee at thy word, and will not stay

To see thy Fall: the gods protect the Maid

That truly thinks, and has most justly said.

Thus to new Climates my old Truth I bear,

Friendship lives Hence, and Banishment is Here.

[Exit.]

Lear.

Now Burgundy, you see her Price is faln,

Yet if the fondness of your Passion still

Affects her as she stands, Dow'rless, and lost

In our Esteem, she's yours, take her or leave her.

Burg.

Pardon me, Royal Lear, I but demand

The Dow'r your Self propos'd, and here I take

Cordelia by the Hand Dutchess of Burgundy.

Lear.

Then leave her Sir, for by a Father's rage

I tell you all her Wealth. Away.

Burg.

Then Sir be pleas'd to charge the breach

Of our Alliance on your own Will

Not my Inconstancy.

[Exeunt. Manent Edgar and Cordelia.]

Edg.

Has Heaven then weigh'd the merit of my Love,

Or is't the raving of my sickly Thought?

Cou'd Burgundy forgoe so rich a Prize

And leave her to despairing Edgar's Arms?

Have I thy Hand Cordelia, do I clasp it,

The Hand that was this minute to have join'd

My hated Rivals? do I kneel before thee

And offer at thy feet my panting Heart?

Smile, Princess, and convince me, for as yet

I doubt, and dare not trust the dazling Joy.

Cord.

Some Comfort yet that 'twas no vicious Blot

That has depriv'd me of a Father's Grace,

But meerly want of that that makes me rich

In wanting it, a smooth professing Tongue:

O Sisters, I am loth to call your fault

As it deserves; but use our Father well,

And wrong'd Cordelia never shall repine.

Edg.

O heav'nly Maid that art thy self thy Dow'r,

Richer in Vertue than the Stars in Light,

If Edgar's humble fortunes may be grac't

With thy Acceptance, at thy feet he lays 'em.

Ha my Cordelia! dost thou turn away?

What have I done t'offend Thee?

Cord.

Talk't of Love.

Edg.

Then I've offended oft, Cordelia too

Has oft permitted me so to offend.

Cord.

When, Edgar, I permitted your Addresses,

I was the darling Daughter of a King,

Nor can I now forget my royal Birth,

And live dependent on my Lover's Fortune.

I cannot to so low a fate submit,

And therefore study to forget your Passion,

And trouble me upon this Theam no more.

Edg.

Thus Majesty takes most State in Distress!

How are we tost on Fortune's fickle flood!

The Wave that with surprising kindness brought

The dear Wreck to my Arms, has snatcht it back,

And left me mourning on the barren Shore.

Cord. [Aside]

This Baseness of th' ignoble Burgundy

Draws just suspicion on the Race of Men,

His Love was Int'rest, so may Edgar's be

And He but with more Complement dissemble;

If so, I shall oblige him by Denying:

But if his Love be fixt, such Constant flame

As warms our Breasts, if such I find his Passion,

My Heart as gratefull to his Truth shall be,

And Cold Cordelia prove as Kind as He.

[Exit.]

[Enter Bastard hastily.]

Bast.

Brother, I've found you in a lucky minute,

Fly and be safe, some Villain has incens'd

Our Father against your Life.

Edg.

Distrest Cordelia! but oh! more Cruel!

Bast.

Hear me Sir, your Life, your Life's in Danger.

Edg.

A Resolve so sudden

And of such black Importance!

Bast.

'Twas not sudden,

Some Villain has of long time laid the Train.

Edg.

And yet perhaps 'twas but pretended Coldness,

To try how far my passion would pursue.

Bast.

He hears me not; wake, wake Sir.

Edg.

Say ye Brother?—

No Tears good Edmund, if thou bringst me tidings

To strike me dead, for Charity delay not,

That present will befit so kind a Hand.

Bast.

Your danger Sir comes on so fast

That I want time t'inform you, but retire

Whilst I take care to turn the pressing Stream.

O gods! for Heav'ns sake Sir.

Edg.

Pardon me Sir, a serious Thought

Had seiz'd me, but I think you talkt of danger

And wisht me to Retire; must all our Vows

End thus!— Friend I obey you— O Cordelia!

[Exit.]

Bast.

Ha! ha! fond Man, such credulous Honesty

Lessens the Glory of my Artifice,

His Nature is so far from doing wrongs

That he suspects none: if this Letter speed

And pass for Edgar's, as himself wou'd own

The Counterfeit but for the foul Contents,

Then my designs are perfect— here comes Gloster.

[Enter Gloster.]

Glost.

Stay Edmund, turn, what paper were you reading?

Bast.

A Trifle Sir.

Glost.

What needed then that terrible dispatch of it

Into your Pocket, come produce it Sir.

Bast.

A Letter from my Brother Sir, I had

Just broke the Seal but knew not the Contents,

Yet fearing they might prove to blame

Endeavour'd to conceal it from your sight.

Glost.

'Tis Edgar's Character.

[Reads.] This Policy of Fathers is intollerable that keeps our Fortunes from us till Age will not suffer us to enjoy 'em; I am weary of the Tyranny: Come to me that of this I may speak more: if our Father would sleep till I wak't him, you shou'd enjoy half his Possessions, and live beloved of your Brother

Edgar.

Slept till I wake him, you shou'd enjoy

Half his possessions — Edgar to write this

'Gainst his indulgent Father! Death and Hell!

Fly, Edmund, seek him out, wind me into him

That I may bite the Traytor's heart, and fold

His bleeding Entrals on my vengefull Arm.

Bast.

Perhaps 'twas writ, my Lord, to prove my Vertue.

Glost.

These late Eclipses of the Sun and Moon

Can bode no less; Love cools, and friendship fails,

In Cities mutiny, in Countrys discord,

The bond of Nature crack't 'twixt Son and Father:

Find out the Villain, do it carefully

And it shall lose thee nothing.

[Exit.]

Bast.

So, now my project's firm, but to make sure

I'll throw in one proof more and that a bold one;

I'll place old Gloster where he shall o're-hear us

Confer of this design, whilst to his thinking,

Deluded Edgar shall accuse himself.

Be Honesty my Int'rest and I can

Be honest too, and what Saint so Divine

That will successfull Villany decline!

[Exit.]

[Enter Kent disguis'd.]

Kent.

Now banisht Kent, if thou canst pay thy duty

In this disguise where thou dost stand condemn'd,

Thy Master Lear shall find thee full of Labours.

[Enter Lear attended.]

Lear.

In there, and tell our Daughter we are here

Now; What art Thou?

Kent.

A Man, Sir.

Lear.

What dost thou profess, or wou'dst with us?

Kent.

I do profess to be no less then I seem, to serve him truly that puts me in Trust, to love him that's Honest, to converse with him that's wise and speaks little, to fight when I can't choose; and to eat no Fish.

Lear.

I say, what art Thou?

Kent.

A very honest-hearted fellow, and as poor as the King.

Lear.

Then art thou poor indeed — What can'st thou do?

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