Shakespeare For White Trash: King Lear
October 2, 2010
(Index to the Series appears on Oct. 7, 2010 — https://cradkilodney.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/ )
Lear — King of Britain
Goneril, Regan, Cordelia — his daughters
Duke of Albany — Goneril’s husband
Duke of Cornwall — Regan’s husband
Earl of Gloucester
Edgar and Edmund — sons of Gloucester (Edmund is illegitimate)
Earl of Kent
Oswald — Goneril’s steward
Fool — Lear’s jester
Duke of Burgundy
King of France
Curan — a courtier
Gist of the story: King Lear is old and wants to step down and relinquish his kingdom to his daughters. Goneril and Regan put on a big show of affection, which wins them big shares. But modest, pure-hearted Cordelia refuses to indulge in flattery. The King misinterprets her attitude as a lack of love for him, so he cuts her out and rejects her. She marries the King of France. Now at the mercy of his other two daughters, Lear is treated like a useless old man and a pain in the ass. He loses his mind over their bad treatment of him and runs away, accompanied by his Fool and his new servant, who is actually the banished Earl of Kent returned in disguise. Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester is deceived by his illegitimate son, Edmund, into believing that good son Edgar intends to kill him. Edgar flees and disguises himself as a mad beggar. Gloucester is betrayed by Edmund as a spy for France and for helping Lear, and his eyes are gouged out by the Duke of Cornwall, Regan’s husband. Cornwall is killed by an enraged servant. The blind Gloucester, kicked out of his own house, is rescued by the still-disguised Edgar and led to safety. Lear is led to the French forces now landed in Dover by the loyal, protective Kent, still disguised as a servant. There is a battle between the French forces, accompanied by Cordelia, who intends to help Lear recover his kingdom, and the British forces, led by Edmund and Albany. Edmund leads Regan’s forces in lieu of the deceased Cornwall; Albany is overall commander, although his sympathies are with Lear, and he’s only in it because the French have invaded. Goneril wants to have Albany killed so she can marry Edmund, but Regan also wants Edmund. So Goneril decides to poison Regan. Albany learns of Goneril’s treachery and exposes both her and Edmund. Edgar arrives and slays his evil brother. Goneril, now exposed, and seeing Edmund fatally wounded, commits suicide. Cordelia is hanged on orders from Edmund conveyed before his death. Her death is too much for Lear — the two having been reconciled — and he dies of grief. Albany is left to rule Britain. (In the words of Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley, “King Lear is the tragedy in which evil is shown in the greatest abundance; and the evil characters are peculiarly repellent from their hard savagery, and because so little good is mingled with their evil. The effect is therefore more startling than elsewhere; it is even appalling.”)
Act 1, Scene 1. King Lear’s palace. Kent, Gloucester, and Edmund come in.
Kent: I always thought the King liked Albany better than Cornwall.
Gloucester: I thought so, too. But looking at the map and the way he wants to divide up the kingdom, the shares look pretty equal.
Kent: So this is your son, eh?
Gloucester: Yup. My boy Edmund. Actually, he’s, uh, what you might call, uh, sort of, well, illegitimate, ha, ha. Technically.
Kent: Not a problem. I’m not prejudiced. He looks like a fine lad.
Gloucester: He is. His brother Edgar is a year older. He is legitimate, ha, ha. But I treat them as equals. My sons and heirs.–Edmund, this is my good friend, the Earl of Kent.
Edmund: It’s an honour to meet you, sir.
Kent: I expect to be hearing more about you in the future, Edmund.
Edmund: Oh, you will, sir.
Gloucester: Ah, here comes the King.
(A trumpet flourish. The King comes in, along with the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall, daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, and Attendants.)
Lear: Gloucester, go and entertain the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy, okay?
Gloucester: Sure thing, my lord.–Come on, Edmund. (Gloucester and Edmund leave.)
Lear: Now, let’s get down to business. Here’s the map. As you can see, I’ve divided the kingdom into three parts. I’m tired, and I want to take it easy in my old age and let the young bloods take over. Cornwall and Albany, you’re my sons-in-law, and I don’t want you to fight about shares later, so we’ll settle it all now. The King of France and the Duke of Burgundy both want to marry Cordelia, so they have an interest in the matter as well. Now, I’m going to give out the shares of the kingdom according to who loves me the most. How’s that? Goneril, you’re the oldest. What do you have to say?
(Goneril smothers the King with hugs and kisses while speaking.)
Goneril: Oh, daddy dearest! I love you more than anyone else in the world! You’re the Number One super-best daddy that ever lived! I’m so lucky to be your little girl! I love you tons and tons and tons! Darling daddy! I love you the most! I love you and only you!
Cordelia (Aside): What a vulgar display.
Lear: Ha, ha, ha, well, well, well! That’s wonderful, sweetheart! What a good daughter you are! So, let’s see now. You’re going to get this part here, from this line to this — all the pretty flowers and trees and meadows and rivers, and no grotty immigrants. That’s for you and your husband, Albany, and your future children and grandchildren forever. And now, Regan, my middle daughter, wife of our good fellow Cornwall, what do you have to say?
(Regan jumps all over the King and smothers him with hugs and kisses as she speaks.)
Regan: Oh, daddy, I love you just as much as Goneril and even more! I adore you! I worship the ground you walk on! I love you with all the love in my heart! I can’t even find words to tell you how much I love you! I’m the one who loves you the most, absolutely, without doubt! I want to kiss every hair on your adorable head! You’re the only one I love!
Cordelia (Aside): Fuck me. I never went to acting school.
Lear: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Oh, my wonderful Regan! What a daughter! To you and your family forever I give this part of the kingdom, from here to here, which is every bit as good as Goneril’s, with lots of trees and flowers and the most expensive birds, and excellent land for future development. And now, last but not least, my youngest daughter, Cordelia, who has not one but two noble suitors who want to marry her, ha, ha. So, what do you say, girl?
Lear: What’s that?
Cordelia: I’m not good at expressing my feelings. I’m your daughter, and I love you the way a daughter should love her father — no more and no less.
Lear: Is that all you can say? Maybe you should try again. We’re talking about a big inheritance here.
Cordelia: Is there something I’m supposed to prove? I’m not going to flatter you. I’ve been a good, obedient daughter. How can my sisters say they love only you when they have husbands? If I were married, half my love would have to go to my husband.
Lear: So that’s the way you feel?
Cordelia: I’m just being honest.
Lear: And you wouldn’t flatter me just a little bit to make me happy?
Lear: Then you don’t love me. That’s obvious. In that case you can keep your honesty as your sole inheritance. You’re out. You’re not my daughter any more. I’m through with you.
Kent: Uh, my lord–
Lear: Stay out of this, Kent.–Cornwall and Albany, you and my daughters will split the portion that Cordelia would have gotten. The two of you will rule jointly, with all the powers and privileges and property, et cetera. I’ll just keep a hundred knights for myself, as befits a retired king, And I’ll take turns living with each of you. As for Cordelia, we’ll see who wants to marry her now.
Kent: My King, to whom I’ve always been loyal, I really must say–
Lear: Forget it, will you!
Kent: My lord, it’s my duty to speak frankly if I think you’re making a mistake. You’re wrong to think Cordelia doesn’t love you. She just doesn’t want to be phony like the other two.
Lear: Kent, I swear, you’d better be quiet!
Kent: The only thing I’ve ever cared about is your best interests.
Lear: Just get out of my sight!
Lear: You’ve lost your common sense! You should take back your kingdom! Don’t give it away to these two! You’ll regret it!
Lear: Kent, you’re a traitor! I’ll give you six days to get out of the country. After that, if you’re found here, I’ll have you executed!
Kent: Very well. I’ll go. (To Cordelia) May God protect you for your honesty.– Gentlemen, goodbye.
(Kent leaves. Then a trumpet flourish announces Gloucester leading in the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy, with Attendants.)
Gloucester: We played some snooker to pass the time, my lord.
Lear: Wonderful. So, Burgundy, you want to marry my daughter. What sort of dowry do you want?
Burgundy: Whatever you’ve given her is fine with me.
Lear: She’s just been disinherited. We’re unhappy with her. She’s getting zero. Nada. Rien.
Lear: If you want her, you can have her as is — no extras.
Burgundy: Oh….Well….That sort of changes things, doesn’t it?
Lear: Right. You don’t want her. (To the King of France) And as for your Majesty, I wouldn’t expect you to want her either with no dowry.
France: Well, this is weird. I always thought she was the one you loved most. Now you’re disowning her. What did she do, murder someone? Convert to Islam? Use the wrong fork?
Cordelia: Tell him the truth, dad. You’re disinheriting me because I’m not a phony flatterer like my sisters. They slobbered all over you to get as much as they could.
Lear: That’s not the point. The point is that they knew it would make me happy, so they flattered me. But you wouldn’t. You deliberately didn’t do something to please me, which means you don’t love me the way they do.
France: Now I get it. You wanted to be indulged in your old age. That’s it, right?
Lear: Yes. Why not?
France: Well, Burgundy, do you still love her with no dowry?
Burgundy: My lord Lear, if you would just let Cordelia have what you originally intended–
Lear: Nope. My mind’s made up.
Burgundy: I see….I’m sorry, Cordelia. You’re very sweet, but, you see, I assumed–
Cordelia: It’s quite all right. I understand.
France: I’ll take you just as you are, Cordelia. You’re honest. And brave. Your character is dowry enough for me. I’ll marry you.
Lear: She’s all yours, France. Good riddance to her.–Come on, guys, let’s have a drink.
(Lear, Burgundy, Cornwall, Albany, and Gloucester leave, with Attendants.)
France: Well, say goodbye to your sisters, Cordelia.
Cordelia: Daddy’s darlings. Take good care of our father. I leave him in your benevolent, loving hands.
Regan: Don’t tell us what to do.
Goneril: You take care of your husband. He must have a soft spot for hard luck cases.
Cordelia: May the wicked receive their just desserts. Good luck.
France: Let’s go, my dear.
(France and Cordelia leave.)
Goneril: Well, I’d say we both came out of this better than either of us expected. I think dad will stay with us first.
Regan: Okay. And we’ll take him next month.
Goneril: He’s getting old, you know. And I think he’s losing his marbles. Cordelia was his favorite.
Regan: I don’t think he realizes how he’s changed.
Goneril: We’re going to have our hands full. Old people can be such a pain in the ass.
Regan: And unpredictable. Look at the way he banished Kent — one of his best friends.
Regan: And did you see how rude he was just walking out on the King of France? If this is any indication of how unstable he is, I don’t think it’s wise to let him keep any sort of power.
Regan: I’m with you on that.
Goneril: We’re going to have to do something to rein him in. And I mean sooner rather than later.
Act 1, Scene 2. The Earl of Gloucester’s castle. Edmund comes in, holding a letter.
Edmund: I’m fed up with social discrimination against so-called illegitimate children. I’m every bit as good as my legitimate brother, Edgar — better, in fact. And now I’m going to steal his inheritance. Power to the bastards!
(Gloucester comes in.)
Gloucester: I can’t believe it. Kent has been banished. The King of France went home offended. And Lear has given up practically all his power to Goneril and Regan. And all this in one day. What next? Edmund, have you got some news there?
Edmund (Pretending to hide the letter): No, no. Nothing at all.
Gloucester: What’s that letter?
Edmund: Oh, nothing. Never mind.
Gloucester: Why are you trying to hide it? What is it?
Edmund: It’s, uh…it’s from Edgar. But I haven’t finished reading it. I don’t think you’d want to see it.
Gloucester: Give it here.
Edmund: Okay, but don’t blame me for it.
Gloucester (Reads letter): ‘We could be enjoying ourselves if the old man were out of the way. Why should we wait till he dies of old age? Let’s get rid of him and split the money. Meet with me, and we’ll make our plans. Edgar.’ What the hell? Edgar wrote this? How did you get it?
Edmund: I found it on my window sill.
Gloucester: Is this his handwriting?
Edmund: I’m afraid it is.
Gloucester: Yes….It looks like it….Did he ever say anything like this to you before?
Edmund: No. But I’ve heard him say several times that young men of our age should be able to take control of their parents’ money and let the parents be dependent instead of the children.
Gloucester: That no-good kid! I’ll kick his ass! Wants to get ride of me, eh? Go and find him. Do you know where he is?
Edmund: I don’t know. But, really, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Maybe there’s some explanation for this letter. Could be he just wrote it to test me.
Gloucester: You think so?
Edmund: It’s possible.
Gloucester: Yes. Of course. After all, he couldn’t be that evil, to want to kill his own father.
Edmund: No, I don’t think so. But let me talk to him and find out the truth. Let me do it in my own way. Trust me, okay?
Gloucester: Yes, yes. Good. I leave it to you. Get the truth out of him. I need to know one way or the other.
Edmund: So do I. I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.
Gloucester: God, it must be something in the stars. Nothing makes sense any more. The world’s going to hell. There’s crime, war, the breakdown of the family. And a good guy like Kent getting banished for no reason. Hell, I need a drink.
Edmund: Typical dumbness! It’s all in the stars. We don’t make our own problems. We’re just victims of the stars and planets. Oh! Oh! What’s going to happen? Better look at the stars! Uh, oh, it’s a comet! That’s bad! Which comet is it? Why, it’s Comet…(Edgar comes in.)…Edgar!
Edgar: Hey, bro. Boy, you’ve got a strange look in your eyes. What’s going on?
Edmund: Oh, it’s those eclipses we had recently. Bad omens, you know.
Edgar: Come on. Don’t take that stuff seriously.
Edmund: Oh, you don’t know. Strange events in the sky are signs of strange events to come on earth.
Edgar: I didn’t know you believed in astrology.
Edmund: When did you see dad last?
Edgar: Last night. Why?
Edmund: Was everything all right? He wasn’t angry with you for some reason, was he?
Edgar: Of course, not.
Edmund: Well, you must have done something to piss him off, because he is mad as hell, and I mean right off the scale. Whatever it’s about, just steer clear of him until he calms down.
Edgar: I can’t believe it! I didn’t do anything! Somebody must have told him some kind of lie about me.
Edmund: Yeah, that’s what I think. Just keep away from him for the time being. Tell you what. Go to my room and wait there. At the right time I’ll take you to where you can listen in on dad and me talking. Then you’ll know what it’s about. Here’s my key. You stay in my room. But if you have to go out for any reason, make sure you’ve got your sword.
Edgar: What for?
Edmund: Just trust me, okay, bro? There’s something bad in the wind. You may have to protect yourself. Now go.
Edgar: You’ll come back soon?
Edmund: Yes, yes. Trust me. Whatever I do is for your safety. Remember that. (Edgar leaves.) Perfect. Now I’ve got them both confused. I’ve got them in the palm of my hand. I’m going to get everything I want.
Act 1, Scene 3. The Duke of Albany’s castle. Goneril and her Steward, Oswald, come in.
Goneril: Oswald, did my father slap you for making fun of his Fool?
Oswald: I’m afraid so, madam.
Goneril: He’s really getting on my nerves. It’s one damn thing after another. His knights are disorderly. They don’t wipe their feet when they come into the house. And he nags me about every little thing. He wants this. He wants that. He’s like a child. Listen, when he gets back from hunting, I don’t want to speak to him. Tell him I’m sick. And from now on, if he wants something, make him wait. And tell the staff to do likewise. If he yells at you, I’ll answer for it, don’t worry. (The sound of hunting horns is heard.) And tell the servants not to be too friendly with the knights. Let them fend for themselves. I’m not here to cater to them. If my father doesn’t like it here, he can go to my sister’s place. In fact, I’m going to write to her to tell her to treat him the same way. Now, go get dinner ready.
Oswald: Yes, madam.
Act 1, Scene 4. A hall in Albany’s castle. Kent comes in, disguised, and dressed like a commoner.
Kent: I don’t think the King will recognize me in these clothes and with my beard different, and if I change my voice. I’ve got to try to save him from his own foolishness, even if it means risking my life.
(A sound of horns. Lear comes in with some Knights and Attendants.)
Lear: I’m hungry. Get me some dinner. (Attendant leaves. To Kent) Who are you?
Kent: You can call me Caius. I’m looking for a job as a servant. I’m honest and trustworthy, I go to church, and I don’t smoke.
Lear: Do you know who I am?
Kent: No, sir, but I can tell you’re the sort of master I’d love to work for.
Lear: What can you do?
Kent: I can ride, I can deliver messages, I’m discreet, I’m good with tools, I can do general labor, I can keep accounts, I’m a smart shopper, I’m diligent about details, and I don’t take sick days.
Lear: How old are you?
Kent: I’m forty-eight, sir, and I’ve never made a claim for workers’ compensation.
Lear: Straight or gay?
Kent: Straight, sir.
Lear: Okay, good enough. I’ll give you a try.–Hey, where’s my dinner? And where’s my Fool? (To Attendant) Go get my Fool. (Attendant leaves. Oswald comes in.) You. Oswald. Where’s my daughter?
Oswald: Yes– (Oswald leaves.)
Lear: Yes what? Call him back. (A Knight leaves.) Where the hell is everyone? Where’s my Fool? Where’s my daughter?
(Same Knight returns.)
Knight: My lord, the steward says your daughter is too ill to see you.
Lear: Why didn’t he come back and tell me himself?
Knight: He didn’t want to. He was really rude about it.
Lear: Is that so?
Knight: My lord, it seems to me that everyone is ignoring you, including your daughter and the Duke.
Lear: Yeah, so I’ve noticed. I’m going to have to speak to her about that. But where’s my Fool? I haven’t seen him for two days.
Knight: He hasn’t been himself ever since Madam Cordelia went away, sir. He’s been really down.
Lear: Yeah, I think I’ve noticed that, too. (To Attendant) Go tell my daughter I want to speak to her. And go get my Fool, too. (Attendant leaves. Then Oswald returns.) Oh, there you are. Say, listen, who the hell do you think I am, Steward?
Oswald: My boss’s father.
Lear: Your boss’s father? You disrespectful piece of snot!
Oswald: Don’t call me that.
Lear: Punk! (He slaps Oswald.)
Oswald: You can’t hit me! You’re not the boss of me!
Kent: You white trash! (Kent trips Oswald to the floor.)
Lear: Hey, well done! I like you!
Kent (To Oswald): You should know your place. Go learn some manners. (He pushes Oswald out.)
Lear: I’m glad I hired you. Here’s a bonus. (He gives Kent a gold coin. As this happens, the Fool comes in, wearing the traditional jester’s cap.)
Fool (To Kent): Take my cap, too.
Kent: What for?
Fool: You’ll need it if you’re going to be on this gentleman’s side. You see, he turned two of his daughters against him and did the third one a favor without realizing it — exactly the opposite of what he intended. (To Lear) Uncle, you should ask your daughters for a fool’s cap so you can be their fool.
Lear: Wise guy. I should get my whip and use it on you, you barking dog.
Fool: Don’t whip the dog because he barks. A dog doesn’t know how to lie.
Lear (To Kent): I don’t know why I put up with this guy.
Fool: A dozen peasants may fit into a hut, but a full house cannot contain more than three of anything.
Kent: That’s nothing.
Fool: Can you make no use of nothing?
Lear: Nothing can be made out of nothing.
Fool: Quite so! Why does a person grow taller but a candle grow shorter?
Fool: How can one ass lead another if both are behinds?
Kent: You certainly are a fool.
Fool: But not as big a fool as the one who gave away all his lands.
Lear: What are you insinuating?
Kent: I believe I see a meaning there, my lord.
Fool: Both the man who walks straight and the man who walks crookedly must sooner or later come to a hazard, but the crooked man will wear out his shoes first.
Lear: What the–
Fool: Walk not with the lamb nor with the lemming, for either way you will come to grief. (Lear and Kent exchange puzzled looks.) If an inn becomes too crowded, it may cease to be popular.
Lear: Wait a minute. That doesn’t make any sense.
Fool: Does it make any sense to turn your daughters into your parents? If you give them the rod of authority and pull down your own pants, you are asking for a whipping.
Lear: Oh, shut up!
Fool: Match your socks to your codpiece and your tie to your vest.
Lear: Shut up!
Fool: Never buy stocks in a downtrend.
Lear: Shut up! (Goneril comes in.) Daughter, why do you frown at me so much lately?
Fool: Just think, my lord. Not so long ago it didn’t matter if she frowned. Now you must worry about it.
Goneril: Shut up, Fool! (To Lear) Not only is your Fool insolent, but all of your attendants and knights are becoming a major pain in the ass. And you encourage them. I hate to have to say this to you, but it’s got to stop.
Lear: Hey, what am I?
Fool: A shadow of your former self.
Lear (To Goneril): This can’t be my daughter I’m talking to. Perhaps we need to be properly introduced, madam.
Goneril: Oh, stop it! You have such an attitude. I would expect you to be wiser than that. The whole household is in chaos because all of your people are so badly behaved. I can’t have this. And why do you need a hundred knights? I want you to get rid of half of them within two weeks.
Lear: Are you kidding? What a bitch you’ve turned into all of a sudden! To hell with you! I’m going to move in with Regan!–Saddle the horses! Get everyone packed! (Albany comes in.) Albany, do you want me to go? Are you as ungrateful and cold-hearted as your wife?
Albany: Oh, please, sir. Why are you going?
Lear (To Goneril): All my people are honourable and know how to behave!–Oh, God! Why did I disinherit Cordelia? How could I be so stupid, stupid, stupid!
Albany: My lord, believe me, I don’t know what this quarrel is about.
Lear: I guess you don’t.–Goneril, I hope you never have children. Or if you do, I hope they treat you the way you’ve treated me. With ingratitude!–Where’s my horse? (He leaves.)
Albany: What’s this all about? Why is he angry?
Goneril: It’s none of your business. If he wants to go, let him go.
Lear: You want to take away fifty of my knights in two weeks? You evil, ungrateful bitch! I curse you! I disown you! Thank God I have another daughter to go to! She’ll treat me right, and she’ll claw your eyes out for being so bad to me!
(Lear leaves with Kent and Attendants.)
Goneril: Hear that? Pathetic, isn’t it?
Albany: Really, my dear, this isn’t right. You own father–
Goneril: Never mind. (To Fool) What are you hanging around for?
Fool: Uncle, wait for me! (He runs off.)
Goneril: It’s not safe for us to let the old man keep a hundred knights when it’s obvious he’s becoming senile.
Albany: Well, I think you may be exaggerating.
Goneril: I’m not taking any chances. And I’m telling Regan, too. She mustn’t let him keep a hundred knights.–Oswald!
(Oswald comes in.)
Oswald: Yes, madam.
Goneril: Have you written that letter I told you to write to my sister?
Oswald: Yes, madam.
Goneril: Take an escort and deliver it to her. And emphasize the fact that I don’t want my father to keep a hundred knights. (Oswald leaves.) I would have hoped you’d understand the situation better. You’re much too soft for a man of your position.
Albany: Perhaps you know better than I do.
Goneril: Yes, dear. I generally do.
(She walks off.)
Act 1, Scene 5. In the courtyard outside Albany’s castle, Lear, Kent, and the Fool come in.
Lear: Caius, take this letter to my daughter, the Duchess of Cornwall. If she asks you any questions about it, you can tell her what you know, but don’t volunteer anything else. Go quick, man.
Kent: I’ll be Mercury, sir! (He leaves.)
Fool: I’m sure your other daughter will treat you according to her true nature, Uncle.
Lear: I’m counting on it. I’d lose my mind if she didn’t.
Fool: You should always put your name and address on your mind, Uncle.
Lear: Why is that?
Fool: So that if you lose it, it may be returned to you.
(A Gentleman comes in.)
Gentleman: Your horses are ready, my lord.
Lear: Good. Let’s go.
Act 2, Scene 1. The Earl of Gloucester’s castle. Edmund and Curan come in from opposite directions. Curan has gay mannerisms.
Edmund: Hey, Curan. Wassup?
Curan: Oh, Edmund! The Dude of Cornwall — oh, I mean the Duke of Cornwall, ha ha–
Edmund: Ha, ha!
Curan: –And his wife, Madam Regan, are coming over — right now, in fact.
Edmund: Oh, yeah? What’s the reason?
Curan: Well! Rumor has it — and, of course, it’s just a rumor — that there’s some friction between the Dudes of Cornwall and Albany. And it’s not my preferred kind of friction!
Edmund: No shit!
Curan: Of course, you didn’t hear this from me. Well, I have to go help prepare the canapes. Ta-ta! (He prances off.)
Edmund: So, Cornwall’s coming over. How can I use this to my advantage? (Paces back and forth a few times, then smiles to himself.) Hey, Edgar! Come down! (Edgar comes in, looking worried. He is armed.) Listen. The old man is looking for you. Get out now.
Edgar: What’s the matter? What’s happening?
Edmund: Cornwall and Regan are on their way over. Apparently it’s urgent. Did you say anything against Cornwall?
Edgar: Who, me? No!
Edmund: Because Cornwall and Albany are feuding, and Cornwall thinks you’ve taken sides with Albany. Think! You must have said something.
Edgar: No, I never said anything. I don’t even know anything about it.
Edmund: Dad’s coming. Listen. Do what I say. Take your sword out. We have to pretend that we just fought.–Oh! Stop! No! Don’t! Help!–Now run. Get going. Don’t look back. (Edgar flees.) Oh! Help! Father! (Edmund deliberately cuts himself.) That should look convincing.–Help! Somebody! Please!
(Gloucester and Servants arrive.)
Gloucester: Edmund! What happened?
Edmund: He was hiding in the shadows. He started ranting like a lunatic.
Gloucester: Good God! (To Servants) After him! (Servants run off.)
Edmund: He ordered me to kill you. I told him I would never do such a thing. Then he got angry and stabbed me. I tried to hold him, but he got away.
Gloucester: He won’t get far. When we catch him, we’ll have him hanged. The Duke of Cornwall is coming. He’s my patron. He’ll back me up.
Edmund: I threatened to expose him, father.
Edmund: Edgar. Because of the letter. He said he would pin the whole thing on me — that it was my idea to kill you. He said it would be his word against mine, and no one would believe a bastard like me.
Gloucester: Listen, he’s not my son any more. He’s a damn criminal. You’re my one and only son. (A trumpet call is heard.) That’s Cornwall’s trumpet. I don’t know what he wants to see me about. But anyway, he’ll give me the authority to deal with Edgar. And you, Edmund…you’ll be the next Earl of Gloucester someday. You’ll get everything.
(Cornwall, Regan, and Attendants come in.)
Cornwall: Gloucester! There was a commotion outside just now! We just heard the strangest thing! Did somebody try to kill Edmund?
Regan: Whoever did it, he’ll pay for it! How are you, my lord?
Gloucester: Madam, I don’t know how to tell you. It was my own son, Edgar. He was plotting to kill me.
Regan: Edgar! He’s godson to my father! Wasn’t he hanging around with my father’s knights — those trouble-makers?
Edmund: Yes, he was.
Regan: Well, no wonder! They must have put him up to it — to kill you and get his hands on your money. My sister just sent me a letter warning me about them and saying not to let them into my house.
Cornwall: You were loyal to your father, Edmund. I thank God for that.
Edmund: It was my duty as a son.
Gloucester: See here? He was wounded trying to catch Edgar. I’ve got people out looking for him now.
Cornwall: You have complete discretion to do whatever you want.–And you, Edmund, have proven yourself to be a real man of honour and courage. You’re the sort of fellow I can trust. I’ll be needing you.
Edmund: I’m your servant, sir.
Cornwall: You don’t know why we’re here, do you, Gloucester?
Regan: We’ve got a situation, my lord, and we need your advice. I’ve gotten letters from both my father and my sister complaining about each other, and I wanted to speak to you before I answered them. The messengers are following us, and they’ll be waiting for my replies.
Gloucester: Yes, yes. Let’s sit down and have a drink and talk it over.
Act 2, Scene 2. Outside of Gloucester’s castle. Kent and Oswald come in from opposite directions. It is just before dawn.
Oswald: Good morning. Do you live here?
Oswald: Where can I tie my horse?
Kent: Anywhere in the mud.
Oswald: That’s not very nice. I just asked a simple question.
Kent: The white trash section is around back.
Oswald: Hey, why are you disrespecting me? I don’t even know you.
Kent: Well, I know you. You’re a miserable, low-life slave and a son of a whore.
Oswald: What the fuck?
Kent: You don’t remember me, do you, asshole? I knocked you down two days ago in front of the King. (Draws his sword.) Come on, faggot! Draw your sword!
Oswald: Help! Help! Help!
Kent: Fuckin’ coward! (Kicks Oswald several times.)
Oswald: Help! Help!
(Edmund comes in with sword drawn, followed by Cornwall, Regan, Gloucester, and Servants.)
Edmund: What are you doing to this man?
Kent: Hey, I’ll fight you, too! I don’t care!
Cornwall: You use that sword, and it’ll be the last thing you ever do.
Gloucester: Who are these guys?
Regan: My messenger and my father’s messenger.
Cornwall: Do you guys have a problem, or what?
Kent: He’s a goddamn fucking low-life slave.
Cornwall: Why? What’s he done to you?
Kent: Maybe I don’t like his face. I’m telling you straight. He’s a bum.
Cornwall: I don’t think you’re telling me anything straight. (To Oswald) What did you do to offend him?
Oswald: Nothing, sir! The other day he knocked me down in front of the King just to be a big hero, and now he tells me to tie my horse in the mud, then he starts insulting me, and then he kicks me, and then he draws his sword!
Cornwall (To Kent): You’re going into the stocks!
Kent: I’m the King’s messenger.
Cornwall: I don’t give a fuck what you are. You’re going into the stocks, and you’re going to sit there till noon.–Bring the stocks. (Servants leave.)
Regan: Not just till noon. Make it until tomorrow night.
(The stocks are brought in.)
Gloucester: Please, my lord. I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t think it’s appropriate to treat the King’s messenger so harshly. It’s really up to the King.
Cornwall: Let me worry about that.
Regan: My sister won’t like it if he isn’t punished. After all, he assaulted her steward. (Kent is put in the stocks.) Let’s go, dear. (Regan, Cornwall, and the Servants leave.)
Gloucester: I’m really sorry about this. But the Duke outranks me. And you really pissed him off.
Kent: Never mind. Forget it.
Gloucester: Personally, I think he was wrong. But he’s got a bad temper. You don’t want to get on his bad side. Oh, hell. The King’s not going to like this. Anyway, bear with it. (He leaves.)
Kent: Oh, fucking hell. If only Cordelia were here. She’d set things straight again. She sent me a letter. She knows what I’m doing. She’ll come back someday. (He falls asleep.)
Act 2, Scene 3. Edgar is in the woods.
Edgar: People are after me like I’m some kind of criminal. There’s only one way I’m going to stay alive, and that’s by disguising myself. I’ll be a mad beggar. I’ll be Poor Tom. Yeah, that’s it. A mentally disturbed homeless person. Plenty of people will feed me and give me stuff. Thank God for liberals.
Act 2, Scene 4. Kent is in the stocks in front of Gloucester’s castle. Lear, his Fool, and a Gentleman come in.
Lear: Regan left her house and never sent back my messenger. That’s strange.
Gentleman: And nobody could say why she and the Duke were coming here to Gloucester’s.
Kent: Master, it’s me!
Lear: What the fuck! Are you joking around?
Fool: No, Uncle. That’s my job.
Kent: Your daughter and her husband had me locked up like this.
Lear: What the hell for?
Kent: I’ll tell you the whole story. I had just delivered your letter to your daughter when this other messenger arrived from Madam Goneril. And as soon as Madam Regan read that letter, she and her husband got their attendants together to come here. She gave me a real dirty look, and she told me to follow her and wait for a reply to you. When I got here, I bumped into Madam Goneril’s messenger, and when I realized he was the same guy who talked back to you the other day, I picked a fight with him — which I guess was not very smart on my part. Well, the Duke and Duchess got pissed off, and here I am.
Lear: I’m going to go speak to that daughter of mine. (He leaves.)
Kent: How come the King is here with so few people?
Fool: Well, he’s not as rich and powerful as he used to be, now, is he?
Fool: But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Fool: Ah, well, only a fool would remain loyal to a master whose fortunes have declined so much. (Kent and the Fool share a long, knowing look. Then Lear returns with Gloucester.)
Lear: She refuses to speak to me! Oh, but they’re tired after traveling all night, you see! What a crock!
Gloucester: The Duke is a stubborn guy.
Lear: What’s he being so stubborn for? I only wanted to speak to him and my daughter.
Gloucester: Yes. I told him.
Lear: Of all the fucking nerve. You go back and tell the Duke of Cornwall–No, on second thought, forget it. Maybe they are tired. Maybe he’s got a headache. I shouldn’t confront him when I’m angry like this. (Looking at Kent) Damn it! Get my guy out of those stocks! This is such an insult to me! I’m not going to listen to their fake excuses. I demand to speak to the two of them right now. You go tell them to come right here, right now, or I’ll break their door down.
Gloucester: Oh, God. I hope this doesn’t turn into an ugly scene. (He leaves.)
Lear: I can feel my blood pressure going up. If I don’t watch it, I’ll end up having a stroke.
(Gloucester returns with Cornwall, Regan, and Servants. The Servants release Kent from the stocks.)
Lear: Well! Good morning!
Cornwall: Good morning.
Regan: Glad to see you, dad.
Lear: I’ve been anxious to speak to you, Regan. First things first. It’s your sister. She’s turned into a total bitch. She’s treating me like dirt.
Regan: Take it easy, dad. I think you’re misjudging her.
Lear: You do?
Regan: I think whatever she’s done — like curbing the bad behavior of your knights, for instance — she’s probably justified.
Lear: She’s a bitch! That’s all she is!
Regan: Dad, calm down. You know, you’re getting old, and I think maybe you’re not seeing things clearly. I do see things clearly. You should go back and tell her you’re sorry.
Lear: Go back and tell her I’m sorry? Don’t you understand how degrading that would be? I can’t go back! Regan, please! I’m begging you! Take me in!
Regan: Dad, I don’t want to hear any more of this. Go back to Goneril.
Lear: Never! I’ll never go back to that evil bitch!
Regan: Jesus! Is that what you’re going to say about me the next time you’re in a bad mood?
Lear: Of course, not. You’re good, not evil like your sister. You wouldn’t be bad to me like she has.
(A trumpet call is heard.)
Regan: That’s her. She told me she was coming. (Oswald comes in.) Is your mistress here?
Lear: This is your sister’s pet iguana.–Take off, loser!
Cornwall: Oh! My lord! What a thing to say!
Lear: Second thing. Who put my man in the stocks, Regan? Tell me it wasn’t you. (Goneril arrives. To Goneril) Aren’t you ashamed to show your face here?–Regan, don’t tell me you’re on her side.
Goneril: Why shouldn’t she be? I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s all in your mind.
Lear: Who put my man in the stocks?
Cornwall: I did. He deserved it.
Lear: You did?
Regan: Dad, look, you’re not in power any more, okay? If you go back to Goneril’s for a month and get rid of half your knights, then you can come and stay with me. I don’t have enough food in the house to feed a crowd right now.
Lear: Go back to her and lose half my knights? Bullshit! I’d sooner be homeless! Or maybe I should go to the King of France and beg him for an old-age pension! I’d sooner be this asshole’s servant (Indicating Oswald) than move back in with her.
Goneril: If that’s your preference–
Lear: Don’t piss me off any more than you already have. You may be my daughter, but I’m through with you forever. I’ll stay with Regan — me and all one hundred of my knights.
Regan: Dad, you’re not listening. I can’t take you in yet. You’re being very unreasonable. Some people get like this when they get old. You should just do whatever Goneril wants.
Lear: You mean that?
Regan: Yes. Why do you need a hundred knights? Aren’t fifty enough? You don’t even need that many, for that matter.
Goneril: My servants and Regan’s are perfectly capable of looking after you.
Regan: Yes. That’s the most sensible arrangement. Just bring, say, twenty-five knights. That’s all I can feed.
Lear: I gave the two of you my whole kingdom!
Regan: Yes, which was perfectly reasonable.
Lear: Twenty-five knights. You’re worse than she is. (To Goneril) I’ll stay with you and keep fifty knights. You said I could.
Goneril: Frankly, I don’t see why you need any at all.
Regan: Nor do I.
Lear: Oh, sure! Take away everything I’ve got left that I don’t actually need. Hell, I don’t need a bed, do I? I can sleep in the stable with the horses. Leave me just one pair of socks and one shirt. That’ll be fine. Turn your own father into a wretched beggar, why don’t you. I swear to God, I will get my revenge on both of you! (A storm breaks. Lightning and thunder and wind.) Yes, break my heart into a million pieces! Come, Fool, and watch me go mad!
(Lear, Gloucester, Kent, and the Fool leave.)
Cornwall: Let’s go before we get drenched.
Regan: I don’t know what the old man expects from us.
Goneril: Let him stew in his own juices. I have no sympathy for him.
Regan: I mean, I’d be willing to take him in just by himself, but not with a whole crew.
Goneril: Same here.
Gloucester: The King is mad as hell. He wants his horse, but he won’t say where he’s going.
Cornwall: Oh, let him go.
Goneril: Yes. Don’t try to stop him.
Gloucester: But to go out in a storm like this? There’s no shelter for miles.
Regan: Let him go with his people and get into whatever trouble he’s looking for. Maybe he’ll learn a lesson. Just lock your doors and let the loonies run berserk outside.
Cornwall: Yes. That’s good advice. And we should get inside.
Act 3, Scene 1. On a heath. Storm in progress. Kent and a Gentleman come in from opposite directions.
Kent: Hey, where’s the King?
Gentleman: He’s running around in the storm, tearing his hair out and screaming like a lunatic.
Kent: All by himself?
Gentleman: He’s got his Fool with him.
Kent: Listen, bro, I have to trust you, and you have to trust me. There’s a secret conflict between Albany and Cornwall. There are spies for the French among their servants. The French army has already landed secretly, and they’re getting ready to launch an invasion. Now listen carefully. If you go to Dover and report what’s happened with the King, the right people will thank you for the information. I come from a noble family — never mind how I look — so you can believe what I’m telling you.
Gentleman: I need to know more about this.
Kent: There’s no time. Here. Take this ring. Find Cordelia and show it to her. She’ll know who it’s from. Now you get going. I’m going to look for the King.
Gentleman: All right.
(They leave in different directions.)
Act 3, Scene 2. Elsewhere on the heath. Storm in progress. Lear and the Fool come in.
Lear: Blow, winds, blow! Rain, thunder, and lightning…wreck everything! Let’s have the biggest storm of all time! I don’t care any more!
Fool: Are you sure you wouldn’t rather suck up to your daughters just a little so we can get out of the rain?
Lear: The elements despise me the same way that my daughters despise me. There’s no justice for me, in heaven or on earth.
Fool: No man can stand up to the elements for long, Uncle.
Lear: And why is that?
Fool: Because an element never forgets.
Fool: A wise man might suggest that your present circumstances are the result of your own actions. But, of couse, I’m just a fool, so I’d never think of that.
Lear: I’m not listening.
(Kent comes in.)
Kent: My lord, are you all right? I don’t think the devil himself would come out of hell to be in a storm like this.
Lear: This storm was meant to make sinners tremble from the guilt of their sins. Those who have sinned against me will be exposed for what they are.
Kent: You’re a mess, my lord. There’s a miserable hovel nearby where we can take shelter. You need to calm down and collect yourself.
Lear: Yes, yes. All right.–Come on, Fool, let’s get out of the rain.
Fool: A hovel? Did he say a hovel? Oh, goody! I’ve always wanted to stay in a hovel!
Act 3, Scene 3. Gloucester’s castle. Gloucester and Edmund come in.
Gloucester: I don’t like this at all, Edmund. Just because I wanted to help the King. I’ve always been close to the King. And now Cornwall and Regan have taken over the house — my own house! And they’ve threatened to punish me if I try to help the King any more.
Edmund: Yeah, it totally sucks.
Gloucester: I must tell you something in confidence, boy. There’s trouble brewing between Cornwall and Albany. And what’s more, I’ve gotten word that the French have landed. You’re to say nothing about this, of course.
Edmund: Of course.
Gloucester: The King’s been treated very badly, but he’s going to get the relief he deserves. And we have to stand with him. Now I want you to keep Cornwall company and let him think everything is fine. If he asks about me, I’ve gone to bed, get it? I’m going to go out and look for the King and see what I can do for him. You be careful.
Edmund: Right. (Gloucester leaves.) Perfect. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’ll tell the Duke everything, and that’ll be the end of my father. The Duke will reward me, and I’ll inherit everything.
Act 3, Scene 4. On the heath. Lear, Kent, and the Fool stand before a shack.
Kent: Well, here it is. Let’s go in.
Lear: You go in. I don’t even feel the storm any more. All I can think of is getting even with those two rotten daughters of mine. (To the Fool) You go on in, boy. No need for you to stand out here. (The Fool goes into the shack.) Now I know what it feels like to be homeless. How they must suffer on a night like this. If I ever regain my power, I’ll build plenty of bridges for them to sleep under.
Fool: Uncle, there’s a weirdo in the hovel!
Kent: Who’s in there?
Fool: He calls himself Poor Tom.
Kent (Toward the shack): You come out of there now!
(Edgar emerges, dressed in rags.)
Edgar: Watch out! The evil ones are after me. They want to kill me. I’m hunted like an animal. I’m cold. I’ve lost my mind. Ah-bluh-bluh-bluh-bluh….
Lear: I know just how you feel. Your daughters did this to you, did they?
Kent: No, sir. He doesn’t have any daughters.
Edgar: Keep the Commandments. Hunour thy parents. Don’t serve red wine with fish. Ooh…brrr!
Lear: Who are you, man? Or what were you?
Edgar: A sinner and a degenerate, guilty of every vice.
Lear: Oh, then you’d be better off dead.
(Gloucester comes in, bearing a torch.)
Edgar: The bogey man!
Kent: Who’s there?
Gloucester: It’s me. Gloucester. (To Lear) What are you doing here, my lord? Come back to my house. Your daughters have turned into tyrants. They’ve taken over the house and have ordered me to keep you out. But I can’t leave you here like this.
Lear: I don’t want to leave this Poor Tom fellow. I feel sorry for him.
Kent (To Gloucester): The King’s lost his mind.
Gloucester: I’m not surprised. His own daughters want him dead. Kent tried to warn him, but the King banished him. And I’m about to lose my mind, too. My own son Edgar wanted to kill me. (To Lear) Now please, my lord, let’s go.
Lear: Only if Poor Tom comes, too.
Gloucester: Yes, yes, he can come, too. But everyone must keep quiet. If I get caught helping you, God knows what’ll happen to me.
Act 3, Scene 5. In Gloucester’s castle. Cornwall and Edmund come in.
Edmund: I feel terrible about ratting out my own father, but here’s the letter he showed me. (Gives letter to Cornwall.) It proves he was spying for the French.
Cornwall: Find out where he is, and I’ll place him under arrest. And you, of course, will be the new Earl of Gloucester. You’re on my side from now on.
Edmund: Thank you, my lord.
Act 3, Scene 6. A farmhouse beside Gloucester’s castle. Kent and Gloucester come in.
Gloucester: You sit tight. I’ll try to get a few things so the King will be comfortable.
(Gloucester leaves. Then Lear, Edgar, and the Fool come in.)
Lear (To Edgar): I’ve decided I like you, you Poor Tom. You can be one of my knights. But you’ve got to find some better clothes.
Kent: Try and rest, my lord.
Lear: Yes, yes. I think I’ll have a nice nap before supper.
(Gloucester returns with a small bundle.)
Gloucester (To Kent): How is he?
Kent: The same. (Makes “crazy” gesture with finger twirling around the ear.) He needs to rest.
Gloucester: No. You’ve got to get him out of here now. I overheard them talking. They intend to kill him. There’s a cart outside. You’ve got to put him in it and drive to Dover. You’ll be safe there.
Kent (To the Fool): You’d better give me a hand with the King.
Act 3, Scene 7. In Gloucester’s castle. Cornwall, Regan, Goneril, Edmund, and Servants come in.
Cornwall (To Goneril): Take this letter to your husband at once. The French have landed. (To Servants) Find that traitor Gloucester. (Servants leave.)
Regan: Hang him.
Goneril: No. Pluck his eyes out.
Cornwall: Leave him to me.–Edmund, I don’t want you to be here when I deal with your father. You go with Goneril. (Oswald comes in. To Oswald) Where’s the King?
Oswald: Gloucester helped him get away — to Dover. And thirty-six of his knights are on their way to Dover, too.
Cornwall: Get horses for your mistress.
Goneril: Goodbye, both of you.
Cornwall and Regan: Goodbye.
(Goneril and Edmund leave.)
Cornwall: When I get my hands on that Gloucester–Where are those servants?
Regan: Are you going to hang him?
Cornwall: Mm…I don’t think so. I’d have to give him a formal trial. I don’t want that. But short of hanging him, I can still punish him severely, and, boy, will I ever!
(Gloucester is brought in by Servants.)
Gloucester: My lord! My lady! Are we not friends? You’re guests in my house. You wouldn’t hurt me, would you?
Cornwall (To Servants): Tie him good and tight.
(Servants tie him.)
Regan: Gloucester, you’re a traitor!
Gloucester: No, no! I’m not!
Cornwall: What letters did you get from the King of France?
Regan: And don’t try to lie. We know the truth.
Cornwall: You arranged for the French to land, didn’t you?
Regan: You sent my father to them, to tell dirty lies about us, didn’t you?
Gloucester: If I got any letter from the King of France, it was nothing bad. I can’t even remember the details.
Cornwall: Liar! We’ve seen the letter! Why did you send the King to Dover?
Gloucester: To get him away from the whole lot of you! I couldn’t bear to see you treat him so badly! And you were even going to kill him! I’ll see you punished by God for your wickedness!
Cornwall: Oh, no, you won’t. You won’t see anything ever again.
(Cornwall kicks Gloucester, who ends up on his back. Cornwall then gouges out Gloucester’s eyes with the heel of his boot. Gloucester screams.)
(A Servant): No! Stop!
Cornwall: How dare you! (Draws his sword. The Servant draws his in reply.)
Servant: Fiend! Monster!
(They fight. The Servant strikes Cornwall with a fatal blow. Then Regan picks up a sword and stabs the Servant in the back.)
Gloucester: Edmund! Edmund! Where is my son?
Regan: You asshole! Edmund was the one who ratted you out!
Gloucester: Oh, no! Then he lied to me about Edgar! It was Edmund who wanted me dead!
Regan (To Servants): Drag this dog out of the house and let him smell his way to Dover! (A Servant helps the staggering Gloucester out. To Cornwall) Are you hurt bad?
Cornwall: Oh shit. Help me out of here. I think I’m gonna die.
(Regan helps Cornwall out.)
Second Servant (To Third Servant): What bastards! Get some first aid for the Earl. I’ll see if I can help him.
(They leave in opposite directions.)
Act 4, Scene 1. On the heath. Edgar comes in.
Edgar: After all the shit I’ve been through, things have to start getting better. Wait. Who’s that? It’s my father and some old guy. Oh, it’s one of the tenants.
(Gloucester and the Old Man come in. The Old Man is leading him by the arm.)
Old Man: My lord, I’ve been your tenant and your father’s tenant for eighty years.
Gloucester: Go away, I tell you. Just leave me. I know you mean well, but it’s pointless. Oh, my son Edgar! I was so wrong. I feel so bad about it. If only I could touch him now.
Edgar (Aside): Oh, my God. He’s blind.
Old Man: There’s someone here, sir. It’s that mad beggar Poor Tom. He’s practically naked.
Gloucester: Go fetch him some clothes, then. I’ll let him lead me, and you can catch up with us later.
Old Man: I shouldn’t leave you with a madman, sir.
Edgar: He’s mad, and I’m blind. So what? Go find him some clothes.
(Old Man leaves.)
Edgar: I’m so cold, sir. And the devils are after me, sir.
Gloucester: Here. Take this purse. I won’t be needing money any more.
Edgar: Bless you, sir.
Gloucester: Do you know the way to Dover?
Edgar: Yes, sir.
Gloucester: There’s a high cliff overlooking the water. I’m sure you know it. Lead me there so I can end my life.
Edgar: Give me your arm, sir. I’ll take you.
Act 4, Scene 2. Before the Duke of Albany’s castle. Goneril and Edmund come in.
Goneril: Here’s our place. I wonder where my husband is. (Oswald comes in.) Where’s the Duke?
Oswald: Inside, madam. I must tell you, he’s acting very strangely. When I told him the French had landed, he smiled. Then when I told him you were coming, he frowned. And when I told him about Gloucester’s disloyalty and the good work Edmund did for you, he called me an idiot.
Goneril (To Edmund): You’d better not come in. My husband’s not really with us. He’s got no guts. I should dump him and marry you instead. You go back to Cornwall and tell him to get his troops ready. Oswald will be our messenger. (She gives Edmund a deep kiss.) And there’s more where that came from. Take this and think of me. (She gives him a pair of panties.)
Edmund: It’ll be just you and me, baby — forever! (He leaves.)
Goneril (Aside): I can’t wait to fuck that handsome stud. I’m wasting my time with Albany.
Oswald: Here comes the Duke, madam.
(Albany comes in.)
Goneril: You know, I think you’ve lost interest in me.
Albany: I don’t know who you are any more. You turn against your own father. You and your sister. What are you — monsters? And what about Cornwall? Is he one, too? I’m disgusted with the lot of you.
Goneril: You spineless twerp! You’ve got your head up your ass! Don’t you know the French are on our soil? Don’t you realize that we’re threatened?
Albany: Look in the mirror and you’ll see the devil in a dress. If you weren’t my wife, I’d strangle you.
Goneril: Oooh…what a man!
(A Messenger arrives.)
Messenger: My lord, the Duke of Cornwall is dead.
Albany: What happened?
Messenger: He was killed by one of Gloucester’s servants.
Messenger: He gouged out Gloucester’s eyes.
Albany: Who did?
Messenger: Cornwall did, sir. To punish him. The servant couldn’t bear it, and he struck Cornwall with a sword. The Duchess killed the servant herself, but the Duke died later.
Albany: Cornwall got what he deserved. And poor Gloucester lost both his eyes?
Messenger: Yes, he did.–Madam, this letter is from your sister. She wants a reply right away.
Goneril (Aside): If Regan’s a widow now and Edmund is with her, that could be bad for me. On the other hand, if something were to happen to her, I’d get her share of the kingdom.–Yes. Thank you. I’ll write to my sister now. (She leaves.)
Albany: Where was Edmund when the Duke put out his father’s eyes?
Messenger: He wasn’t there, sir. He came here with your wife.
Albany: I never saw him.
Messenger: I passed him as he was going back.
Albany: Does he know what Cornwall did to his father?
Messenger: Sir, it was Edmund who betrayed his father to Cornwall. He left so that wouldn’t have to see what happened.
Albany: Poor Gloucester. Good, loyal Gloucester. Now, I want you to tell me everything you know.
Act 4, Scene 3. The French camp near Dover. Kent and a Gentleman come in. (Same Gentleman as in Act 3, Scene 1.)
Kent: Why has the King of France gone back to France so suddenly?
Gentleman: Something urgent, but I don’t know what. But Cordelia is still here.
Kent: How did she take the news about her father?
Gentleman: She took it hard, although she tried not to show it. She’s very worried about him.
Kent: He’s safe in Dover now, but he’s too overwhelmed with guilt to face her. What’s the latest news about Albany’s and Cornwall’s forces?
Gentleman: Rumor has it they’re on the march.
Kent: I’ll take you to Lear, and I want you to stick with him. I have some business to attend to.
Act 4, Scene 4. A tent in the French camp. Cordelia, a Doctor, an Officer, and Soldiers come in.
Cordelia (To Officer): My father’s been seen, and he’s out of his mind. Round up as many men as you can and find him. (Officer leaves with some Soldiers. To Doctor) Is there any way to restore his sanity?
Doctor: Yes, madam. Herbal medicine. We have some natural cures that I think will help. You know, some doctors are slaves to the big drug companies, and they only want to push those expensive drugs. But I’m not like that.
Cordelia: Yes, yes. Please try your best. Do anything you can.
(Messenger comes in.)
Messenger: Madam, the British forces are heading this way.
Cordelia: Yes, we know. Our forces are ready. We have to fight the British for my father’s sake, and that’s the only reason. France never intended to conquer Britain.
Act 4, Scene 5. Gloucester’s castle. Regan and Oswald come in.
Regan: Are Albany’s forces on the march?
Oswald: Yes, madam.
Regan: Is Albany commanding personally?
Oswald: Yes, but he’s not really into it. Your sister would be a better general.
Regan: And Edmund never spoke to Albany?
Oswald: No, madam. But I have a letter from your sister that I’m supposed to deliver to him.
Regan: Do you know what it’s about?
Regan: Edmund went to find his father and kill him. We should have killed him when we had the chance. As long as he’s alive, he’s a threat. He’ll turn people against us. And Edmund wants to spy on the French as well.
Oswald: I should chase after him and deliver the letter.
Regan: No, you’d be safer here with us. Our troops march tomorrow.
Oswald: But I have to deliver the letter. Your sister’s orders.
Regan: I don’t understand why she would write a letter when she could just as easily give you the message by word. Unless there’s something secret in the letter. Give it to me.
Oswald: Please, I’m not supposed to–
Regan: I know my sister doesn’t love her husband. And I know that she has her eye on Edmund. And you know all her secrets, after all.
Oswald: Who, me?
Regan: Of course. I know you do. Now listen. I’m a widow. Edmund and I have, shall we say, talked about things. I’m a better match for him than my sister is. When you find him, tell him straight out that I said so. And when you report back to my sister — which I’m sure you’ll do — you tell her she should be sensible about it and forget about Edmund. Now, if you insist on delivering that letter, you keep a lookout for Gloucester while you’re out there. If you find him, kill him. There’ll be a big reward in it for you.
Oswald: Yes, madam! Thank you, madam!
Act 4, Scene 6. In the fields near Dover, Edgar, still in the guise of Poor Tom but wearing somewhat better clothes, is leading Gloucester.
Gloucester: Are we getting near that cliff?
Edgar: Yes, we’re climbing up to it. Can’t you tell?
Gloucester: No. It feels like we’re on flat ground. And I don’t hear the sea.
Edgar: Your senses are deceiving you, that’s all.
Gloucester: You sound different than before. I mean your voice. You’re speaking better — more like a gentleman.
Edgar: Oh, no, I’m just the same. Here we are at the edge of the cliff. Boy, it sure is high up!
Gloucester: Put me right on the edge where you’re standing now.
Edgar: Okay. There you are. You’re one step from going over.
Gloucester: You can let go of me now. Here’s another purse for you. There’s a valuable jewel in it. Now just say goodbye and let me hear you walking away.
Edgar: Goodbye, sir. I’m going. (Aside) This little trick is for his own good.
Gloucester: Goodbye, cruel world. I can’t bear this suffering any longer. God bless my good son Edgar. (He steps forward and falls to the ground, then lies there motionless.)
Edgar (No longer speaking like Poor Tom): Are you all right, sir?
Gloucester: Let me die.
Edgar: It’s a miracle, sir! You’re alive! By the grace of God!
Gloucester: But didn’t I fall?
Edgar: Yes! All the way from the top of the cliff! It’s amazing! I can’t believe it!
Gloucester: Christ. I can’t even commit suicide.
Edgar: Who was up there on the cliff with you?
Gloucester: Just a poor beggar.
Edgar: Oh. I thought it was some criminal who wanted to kill you. You mean you wanted to die?
Edgar: Then God saved you. Don’t you see? You were meant to live.
Gloucester: Yes….Yes….You must be right. How else–Now I want to live. Now I want to live.
Edgar: Good for you, sir! (Lear comes in, fantastically dressed with flowers and tree branches.) Oh. We have company, sir. Looks like a crazy man.
Lear: They can’t arrest me for minting coins. I’m the King. Yes. Give the mouse some cheese now. And get me some extra-large underwear, and make sure it’s not made in goddamn Pakistan. They don’t know their sizes over there. Everything they make is too small. I can take on a giant. I will take on a giant! I’ll show him what for!
Edgar: What a wacko.
Gloucester: I recognize that voice.
Lear: They flattered me. They lied. They were phony. They threw me out in the storm. Then I knew what they really were. I found out too late.
Gloucester: It’s Lear! My King!
Lear: Yes. I was the King. But what am I now? Even Gloucester’s bastard son was not as bad as my daughters. They pretend to be so good, but under the surface they’re nothing but snakes.
Gloucester: Sir, don’t you know me?
Lear (Long pause): Yes. My old friend Gloucester. Your eyes are gone, but you see well enough what evil there is in this world.
Gloucester: Oh, my poor King!
(A Gentleman comes in with Attendants. This is the same Gentleman as Act 4, Scene 3.)
Gentleman: There he is! Thank God!–Sir, your dearest daughter–
Lear: What? Am I a prisoner?
Gentleman: No, no, sir!
Lear: I will die bravely, like a king.
Gentleman: Yes, yes, we know you’re the King, sir. And we’re loyal to you, sir!
Lear: Oh! Well! Then there’s still hope, isn’t there! Come on, then! See if you can catch the old jack rabbit! (He runs off, and the Attendants chase after him.)
Gentleman: Pitiful, isn’t it? Thank God he has one daughter left who still loves him.
Edgar: Sir, have you heard anything about an impending battle?
Gentleman: Everyone knows by now.
Edgar: How close is the other army?
Gentleman: Very close. It’s just a matter of hours at the most. The Queen is staying here, but the French army has already set off. Marshal La Fer is commanding. I have to go. (He leaves.)
Gloucester: You haven’t told me who you are.
Edgar: Just a poor man who has been through terrible times. Give me your hand, and I’ll take you somewhere where you’ll be safe.
Gloucester: God bless you, whoever you are.
(Oswald comes in, drawing his sword.)
Oswald: There you are, you traitor! I’ll get a big reward for killing you!
(Edgar draws his sword and jumps in front of Gloucester.)
Edgar: Back off!
Oswald: You peasant! Are you on his side? Then I’ll kill you, too!
(They fight. Edgar stabs Oswald, who falls.)
Oswald: Oh!…I’m going to die!…Listen to me….Do me this favor….I have a letter….It’s for Edmund…Earl of Gloucester….He’s with the British…oh…oh…(He dies.)
Edgar: I know this bastard.
Gloucester: Is he dead?
Edgar: Yes. Let’s see what that letter is all about. (Reads letter) ‘Don’t forget what we promised each other. If you truly want to marry me, you’ve got to kill my husband. If he comes back from the battle alive, I’ll be stuck with him forever. Don’t disappoint me.–Goneril.’ That fucking bitch! She wants to bump off her husband! Wait till I show him this letter!
Gloucester: Oh, my God! Edmund will murder Albany! I can’t take it! I wish I were as mad as the King. Then maybe I wouldn’t feel my grief.
(Sound of distant drums.)
Edgar: Come on. Give me your hand. I’ll take you to a friend. You’ll be all right.
Act 4, Scene 7. A tent in the French camp. Cordelia, Kent, the Doctor, and a Gentleman come in.
Cordelia: Kent, I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done. Now please stop wearing those clothes. I want to see you as the Earl of Kent again, not my father’s servant.
Kent: Not yet. At the right time. Trust me.
Cordelia: Okay. (To the Doctor) How is the King?
Doctor: He’s had a long sleep. I think it’s okay to wake him up now.
Cordelia: Whatever you think is best.
(Lear is brought in on a chair by Servants. He’s asleep.)
Doctor: With the rest he’s had and the medicines, his mind should be better. At least I hope so.
Cordelia: It tears my heart to think about what he’s been through. It would break any man.
Doctor: He’s waking up. Speak to him, madam.
Cordelia: Father, how do you feel?
Lear: Leave me in my grave. Let me go to hell.
Cordelia: Don’t you know who I am?
Lear: A spirit?
Doctor: He’s still groggy. We should leave him alone a while longer.
Lear: Where am I? Is this daylight? Am I alive or dead?
Cordelia: Give me your hand and bless me.
Lear: Don’t make fun of an old man. I don’t think I’m entirely in my right mind. I don’t know where I am. Why am I wearing these clothes? Where was I last night? I can’t remember. But you look familiar. You look like my daughter Cordelia.
Cordelia: Yes! It’s me!
Lear: Don’t cry for me. Please. You should hate me for what I did.
Cordelia: I don’t hate you.
Lear: Am I in France?
Cordelia: No. Britain. Your own kingdom.
Lear: Don’t lie to me.
Doctor: Madam, it would be best not to upset him. He needs some quiet time.
Cordelia: I’ll walk you to your bed, father.
Lear: I’ve been very stupid. Forgive me, Cordelia. Forgive me.
(All leave except Kent and the Gentleman.)
Gentleman: Is it true that the Duke of Cornwall was killed?
Gentleman: Who’s commanding his forces?
Kent: Supposedly, Edmund.
Gentleman: I think it’s going to be a bloody fight.
Kent: I believe you’re right. Good luck to you.
Gentleman: And you, too.
Act 5, Scene 1. The British camp near Dover. Edmund, Regan, Gentleman, and Soldiers come in, with drums and colours.
Edmund (To Gentleman): I need to know if Albany is still with us. Go find out. (Gentleman leaves.)
Regan: I think something must have happened to my sister’s steward, Oswald. He had a letter for you.
Edmund: Which I never got.
Regan: Listen. You know how I feel about you. Tell me the truth. Do you love my sister?
Edmund: Purely in a Platonic way.
Regan: So you’ve never fucked her?
Edmund: Of course, not. How could you even think that?
Regan: I think you have.
Edmund: Have not.
Regan: I would never stand for it. Promise me you’ll stay away from her.
Edmund: Of course. Oh! Here they come.
(Albany, Goneril, and Soldiers come in, with drums and colours.)
Goneril (Aside): I’d rather lose the battle than lose Edmund to my sister.
Albany: Hello, Regan. Edmund. Well, it seems that the King is reunited with Cordelia, and everyone who is really pissed off with us — that is, pissed off with you — is ready to fight us. But just so there’s no misunderstanding, I have nothing to do with family issues. Your grievances are not mine. The only reason I’m here is that the French have landed on British soil. They have forced our hand.
Edmund: Right! It’s all about duty to the nation.
Goneril: Of course.
Albany: As for the tactics, we should leave it to the experienced commanders to decide what to do.
Edmund: I’ll meet you in your tent.
Regan: Coming, sister?
Regan: I think you should.
Goneril (Long pause): All right. If you insist.
(Everyone leaves, except Albany, who is intercepted by Edgar coming in, still disguised.)
Edgar: Please, your Grace. I must have a word with you.
Albany (To Others): Go on. I’ll catch up with you. (To Edgar) What is it?
Edgar: Sir, before you join the battle, you should read this letter. If you win, I’ll be nearby, and I’ll back up what’s in the letter. Just have a herald call out, and I’ll appear. If you lose the battle, it won’t matter.
Albany: Stay while I read it.
Edgar: I can’t. Just remember that when you need me, I’ll be there. You can trust me.
(Edgar leaves. Then Edmund comes in.)
Edmund: The enemy’s in sight. We’ve got to get moving right now.
Albany: Yes, yes, all right. (He leaves.)
Edmund: I’ve told both Regan and Goneril that I love them. But they’re so jealous of each other, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy either one if the other were still alive. In any case, I need Albany dead and out of the way. Let Goneril figure out how. For the sake of appearances, this is his battle and his command. But once we capture Lear and Cordelia, I’ll see to it that they die. After that, well, under the right circumstances, I can see myself as the next King.
Act 5, Scene 2. A field between the two camps. A trumpet call. Lear, Cordelia, and Soldiers enter and exit across the stage. Then Edgar and Gloucester come in.
Edgar: You sit under this tree and pray for us to win. I’ll be back as soon as I can.
Gloucester: Good luck.
(Edgar leaves. Sounds of battle. Then a trumpet sounds the retreat. Edgar returns.)
Edgar: Come on! I’ve got to get you out of here! The French army has lost, and Lear and Cordelia have been taken prisoner!
Gloucester: Let me die here, then.
Edgar: Like hell! Come on!
(He leads Gloucester off hurriedly.)
Act 5, Scene 3. The British camp near Dover. Edmund comes in with victorious drums and colours. Lear and Cordelia are brought in as prisoners. Also present: a Captain and Soldiers.
Edmund: Take these two away. They’ll be judged later.
Cordelia (To Lear): I don’t care what happens to me. It’s you I’m worried about.
Lear: I’m not afraid of being a prisoner. We can be in prison together. If you can forgive me, I’ll sit in prison for the rest of my life and not mind at all. We’ll live to see the bastards rot.
(Lear and Cordelia are led away by Soldiers.)
Edmund: Captain, take this note and follow them to the prison. There are instructions here for you. Just do what you have to do, and don’t be squeamish about it, understand?
Captain: I understand.
Edmund: Good. There’ll be a reward in this for you. Now get going.
(Captain leaves. A trumpet flourish. Albany, Goneril, and Regan come in, with another Captain and Soldiers.)
Albany: Congratulations, Edmund. You were brilliant in the field. Now I need to take the prisoners off your hands so I can deal with them properly.
Edmund: Uh, yes. Right. I took the liberty of having Lear and Cordelia put under guard where there’s no risk of them stirring up a rebellion against us. You can take charge of them tomorrow, or whenever you want to put them on trial. Besides, we ought to wait a bit before we do anything, so that we can deal with things calmly. You understand. So soon after the battle, with all our emotions running high.
Albany: I thought I was in charge here.
Regan: Yes, but Edmund commanded my forces, and he represented me. So I’d say that makes him your equal.
Goneril: He’s equal because of what he did on the battlefield, not because he represented you.
Regan: It’s by my authority that he’s equal.
Goneril: Well, that would be the case if you were married to him.
Regan: Which I might be.
Goneril: Ha! You’re dreaming, girl!
Regan: Sister, if I didn’t have a stomach ache, I’d really tell you where to go.–Edmund, everything I have is yours. I’m yours.
Goneril: Do you honestly think you’re going to marry him?
Albany: I don’t see that you can stop her.
Edmund: Neither can you, for that matter.
Albany: Oh, yes, I can, you illegitimate bastard.
Regan (To Edmund): Fight him if you want to marry me!
Albany: Don’t get your hopes up, Duchess.–Edmund, you’re under arrest for treason. And you, Goneril, are under arrest as an accessory.–So you see, Duchess, your offer of marriage is null and void, since Edmund has already agreed to marry my wife.
Goneril: What a joke!
Albany: So, Edmund? Do you want to fight me — you goddamn traitor?
Regan: You’re making me sick!
Goneril (Aside): No, that’s the poison I gave you.
Edmund: Nobody calls me a traitor and gets away with it!
Albany: Your soldiers have all been dismissed. You’re on your own.–Herald! Herald!
Regan: I’m feeling really sick.
Albany: Take her to my tent. (Regan is led off by a Soldier. Then a Herald comes in.) Come here, Herald. Read this out to the general camp.
Captain: Sound the trumpet! The Herald will speak!
(A trumpet sounds.)
Herald (Reads): ‘If any man wants to accuse Edmund, the supposed Earl of Gloucester, of being a traitor, scoundrel, villain, knave, et cetera, let him appear right here by the third sound of the trumpet.’
Edmund: Go ahead. Sound your damned trumpet. I want to see how this joke ends.
(Third trumpet. This is answered by another trumpet, which trumpeter then comes in, immediately followed by Edgar, who is armed. He is still dressed in poor clothes.)
Albany: Ask him why he’s here.
Herald: Why are you here?
Edgar: I’ve come to fight it out with that fucking traitor Edmund — or whichever slave speaks for him!
Edmund: I speak for myself! What do you have to say to me?
Edgar: Draw your sword! You are a traitor to heaven, a traitor to your father, a traitor to your brother, a traitor to your King, and a traitor to the honourable Duke! And you are a low-down, vile piece of shit and a rotten, miserable, plague-carrying rat!
Edmund: I don’t even know who you are, you asshole! Under the law, I don’t have to fight a commoner like you, but for your lies and insults, I will!
(Edmund and Edgar duel. Edmund receives a mortal blow and falls.)
Albany: Stop! No more!
Goneril: This is a trick, Edmund! You didn’t have to fight him!
Albany: Shut up, bitch! I have the letter you wrote to Edmund. Here it is. Recognize it?
Goneril: So what? You can’t prove any crime against me with that! (She runs out.)
Albany (To Soldiers): Don’t let her leave the camp. (Soldiers leave.)
Edmund (To Edgar): I’m going to die….It’s all true…I confess…But who are you?
Edgar: You don’t recognize me like this, do you? I’m your brother, Edgar. My father lost his eyes because of you.
Edmund: Then I deserve this.
Albany: Edgar! I should have known. Believe me, I never had anything against you or your father.
Edgar: I know.
Albany: But where have you been? How did you know about your father?
Edgar: I was with him when he was blind. He didn’t know who I was. I should have told him then. I’m sorry I didn’t. But I had to stay in disguise. I finally told him just a little while ago. His heart was too weak for the shock. But he was happy, and he blessed me before he died. And there’s something else you should know. Someone else recognized me when I spoke to my father. He remembered seeing me as Poor Tom, a mad beggar living in a miserable shack. And when he realized who I was, he couldn’t contain himself. He told my father and me the most awful story of what he went through for Lear’s sake — how bad it was for both of them.
Albany: Who was it?
Edgar: It was Kent — the man Lear banished, who came back in disguise at the risk of his life to watch over his King.
(A Gentleman rushes in, holding a bloody knife.)
Gentleman: Help! Help! She’s dead! She killed herself!
Gentleman: Your wife, sir! She confessed to poisoning her sister! They’re both dead!
Edmund: And I’m next.
Albany: Bring in the bodies.
Edgar: Here comes Kent.
(Kent comes in.)
Albany: So you’re Kent. I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.
Kent: I came to say good night to the King. Isn’t he here?
Albany: The King! We forgot all about him! Edmund! Where’s the King? Where’s Cordelia?–Look, Kent. See what’s happened.
(The bodies of Goneril and Regan are brought in.)
Kent: Oh, God. Why?
Edmund: Goneril loved me. She poisoned her sister for my sake. Then she took her own life. She knew I wasn’t going to live.
Albany: Cover them. Please. (The bodies are covered.)
Edmund: Before I die….Listen….Quick….To the castle….I gave orders…to have Lear and Cordelia hanged….Hurry….
Edgar: To who? We need a sign of authority!
Edmund: Take my sword….Show it to the Captain….He has orders from Goneril and me…to hang Cordelia in the prison…and make it look like suicide.
Edgar (To Messenger): Hurry! Go!
(Messenger leaves with the sword.)
Albany: Let’s hope it’s not too late! Take Edmund away.
(Edmund is borne off. Then Lear comes in, carrying the dead Cordelia in his arms, with a Gentleman and others following.)
Lear: She’s dead! Dead! Give me all your voices so I can crack the vault of heaven! She is dead!
Kent: It’s the end of the world.
Albany: Let the world take us all with it.
Lear: If she could only live, it would make up for all the sorrows of my life.
Kent: My poor King.
Lear: Leave me alone. I might have saved her. Too late. My Cordelia. But I killed the villain that hanged her.
Gentleman: It’s true. He did.
Lear: I used to be quite good with a sword. But now I’m old. And I don’t see too well….Aren’t you Kent?
Kent: Yes, my lord. It’s me. And do you know where your servant, Caius, is?
Lear: Oh, he’s dead, I suppose. He was a good man.
Kent: He’s not dead. It’s me.
Lear: Oh, well, then, welcome — whoever you are.
(A Messenger comes in.)
Messenger: Edmund has died, my lord.
Albany: That’s a small matter now. As for the rest of us, we must do what we can for the King. As long as he’s alive, he will rule Britain. Everyone will be restored to his proper position and title. Those who deserve rewards will be rewarded. And those who were our enemies will get what they deserve.
Lear: My sweet girl….Why should lowly animals have life and not you?….Ohh…I feel faint….It’s so hot in here….See? Her lips….She’s trying to speak….She wants to tell me–(He dies.)
Edgar: My lord! My lord! (He tries to revive Lear.) My lord! My lord!
Kent: Let him go. Let him be with his good daughter.
Albany: Take them away. (The Gentleman and others carry out the bodies. To Kent and Edgar) Who’s going to rule Britain now? It’s an awful burden for me alone. The three of us could share it. Kent? You were as true to him as any man could be. He would approve.
Kent: I can’t. I’ll be going away soon. There is a master who needs me.
Albany: Edgar? You were his godson.
Edgar: No. I have no desire to rule. I’ve been through too much. My heart and mind wouldn’t be fit for it. But you, my lord. You will be a fine king. All of Britain will love you and bless you. And so will the spirit of our King Lear.
Copyright@ 2010 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org