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she would feign sickness, or anything to get rid of the sight of him;
for it was plain that she esteemed his old age a useless burden, and
his attendants an unnecessary expense: not only she herself slackened
in her expressions of duty to the king, but by her example, and (it is
to be feared) not without her private instructions, her very servants
affected to treat him with neglect, and would either refuse to obey his
orders, or still more contemptuously pretend not to hear them. Lear
could not but perceive this alteration in the behaviour of his
daughter, but he shut his eyes against it as long as he could, as
people commonly are unwilling to believe the unpleasant consequences
which their own mistakes and obstinacy have brought upon them.

True love and fidelity are no more to be estranged by ill, than
falsehood and hollow-heartedness can be conciliated by good, usage.
This eminently appears in the instance of the good earl of Kent, who,
though banished by Lear, and his life made forfeit if he were found in
Britain, chose to stay and abide all consequences, as long as there was
a chance of his being useful to the king his master. See to what mean
shifts and disguises poor loyalty is forced to submit sometimes; yet it
counts nothing base or unworthy, so as it can but do service where it
owes an obligation! In the disguise of a serving man, all his greatness
and pomp laid aside, this good earl proffered his services to the king,
who, not knowing him to be Kent in that disguise, but pleased with a
certain plainness, or rather bluntness in his answers, which the earl
put on (so different from that smooth oily flattery which he had so
much reason to be sick of, having found the effects not answerable in
his daughter), a bargain was quickly struck, and Lear took Kent into
his service by the name of Caius, as he called himself, never
suspecting him to be his once great favourite, the high and mighty earl
of Kent.

This Caius quickly found means to show his fidelity and love to his
royal master: for Goneril's steward that same day behaving in a
disrespectful manner to Lear, and giving him saucy looks and language,
as no doubt he was secretly encouraged to do by his mistress, Caius,
not enduring to hear so open an affront put upon his majesty, made no
more ado but presently tripped up his heels, and laid the unmannerly
slave in the kennel; for which friendly service Lear became more and
more attached to him.

Nor was Kent the only friend Lear had. In his degree, and as far as so
insignificant a personage could show his love, the poor fool, or
jester, that had been of his palace while Lear had a palace, as it was
the custom of kings and great personages at that time to keep a fool
(as he was called) to make them sport after serious business: this poor
fool clung to Lear after he had given away his crown, and by his witty
sayings would keep up his good humour, though he could not refrain
sometimes from jeering at his master for his imprudence in uncrowning
himself, and giving all away to his daughters; at which time, as he
rhymingly expressed it, these daughters

For sudden joy did weep
And he for sorrow sung,
That such a king should play bo-peep
And go the fools among.

And in such wild sayings, and scraps of songs, of which he had plenty,
this pleasant honest fool poured out his heart even in the presence of
Goneril herself, in many a bitter taunt and jest which cut to the
quick: such as comparing the king to the hedge-sparrow, who feeds the
young of the cuckoo till they grow old enough, and then has its head
bit off for its pains; and saying, that an ass may know when the cart
draws the horse (meaning that Lear's daughters, that ought to go
behind, now ranked before their father); and that Lear was no longer
Lear, but the shadow of Lear: for which free speeches he was once or
twice threatened to be whipped.

The coolness and falling off of respect which Lear had begun to
perceive, were not all which this foolish fond father was to suffer
from his unworthy daughter: she now plainly told him that his staying
in her palace was inconvenient so long as he insisted upon keeping up
an establishment of a hundred knights; that this establishment was
useless and expensive, and only served to kill her court with riot and
feasting; and she prayed him that he would lessen their number, and
keep none but old men about him, such as himself, and fitting his age.

Lear at first could not believe his eyes or ears, nor that it was his
daughter who spoke so unkindly. He could not believe that she who had
received a crown from him could seek to cut off his train, and grudge
him the respect due to his old age. But she persisting in her undutiful
demand, the old man's rage was so excited, that he called her a
detested kite, and said that she spoke an untruth; and so indeed she
did, for the hundred knights were all men of choice behaviour and
sobriety of manners, skilled in all particulars of duty, and not given
to rioting or feasting, as she said. And he bid his horses to be
prepared, for he would go to his other daughter, Regan, he and his
hundred knights; and he spoke of ingratitude, and said it was a
marble-hearted devil, and showed more hideous in a child than the
sea-monster. And he cursed his eldest daughter Goneril so as was
terrible to hear; praying that she might never have a child, or if she
had, that it might live to return that scorn and contempt upon her
which she had shown to him that she might feel how sharper than a
serpent's tooth it was to have a thankless child. And Goneril's
husband, the duke of Albany, beginning to excuse himself for any share
which Lear might suppose he had in the unkindness, Lear would not hear
him out, but in a rage ordered his horses to be saddled, and set out
with his followers for the abode of Regan, his other daughter. And Lear
thought to himself how small the fault of Cordelia (if it was a fault)
now appeared, in comparison with her sister's, and he wept; and then he
was ashamed that such a creature as Goneril should have so much power
over his manhood as to make him weep.

Regan and her husband were keeping their court in great pomp and state
at their palace; and Lear despatched his servant Caius with letters to
his daughter, that she might be prepared for his reception, while he
and his train followed after. But it seems that Goneril had been
beforehand with him, sending letters also to Regan, accusing her father
of waywardness and ill humours, and advising her not to receive so
great a train as he was bringing with him. This messenger arrived at
the same time with Caius, and Caius and he met: and who should it be
but Caius's old enemy the steward, whom he had formerly tripped up by
the heels for his saucy behaviour to Lear. Caius not liking the
fellow's look, and suspecting what he came for, began to revile him,
and challenged him to fight, which the fellow refusing, Caius, in a fit
of honest passion, beat him soundly, as such a mischief-maker and
carrier of wicked messages deserved; which coming to the ears of Regan
and her husband, they ordered Caius to be put in the stocks, though he
was a messenger from the king her father, and in that character
demanded the highest respect: so that the first thing the king saw when
he entered the castle, was his faithful servant Caius sitting in that
disgraceful situation.

This was but a bad omen of the reception which he was to expect; but a
worse followed, when, upon inquiry for his daughter and her husband, he
was told they were weary with travelling all night, and could not see
him; and when lastly, upon his insisting in a positive and angry manner
to see them, they came to greet him, whom should he see in their
company but the hated Goneril, who had come to tell her own story, and
set her sister against the king her father!

This sight much moved the old man, and still more to see Regan take her
by the hand; and he asked Goneril if she was not ashamed to look upon
his old white beard. And Regan advised him to go home again with
Goneril, and live with her peaceably, dismissing half of his
attendants, and to ask her forgiveness; for he was old and wanted
discretion, and must be ruled and led by persons that had more
discretion than himself. And Lear showed how preposterous that would
sound, if he were to go down on his knees, and beg of his own daughter
for food and raiment, and he argued against such an unnatural
dependence, declaring his resolution never to return with her, but to
stay where he was with Regan, he and his hundred knights; for he said
that she had not forgot the half of the kingdom which he had endowed
her with, and that her eyes were not fierce like Goneril's, but mild
and kind. And he said that rather than return to Goneril, with half his
train cut off, he would go over to France, and beg a wretched pension
of the king there, who had married his youngest daughter without a

But he was mistaken in expecting kinder treatment of Regan than he had
experienced from her sister Goneril. As if willing to outdo her sister
in unequal behaviour, she declared that she thought fifty knights too
many to wait upon him: that five-and-twenty were enough. Then Lear,
nigh heart-broken, turned to Goneril and said that he would go back
with her, for her fifty doubled five-and-twenty, and so her love was
twice as much as Regan's. But Goneril excused herself, and said, what
need of so many as five-and-twenty? or even ten? or five? when he might
be waited upon by her servants, or her sister's servants? So these two
wicked daughters, as if they strove to exceed each other in cruelty to
their old father, who had been so good to them, by little and little
would have abated him of all his train, all respect (little enough for
him that once commanded a kingdom), which was left him to show that he
had once been a king! Not that a splendid train is essential to
happiness, but from a king to a beggar is a hard change, from
commanding millions to be without one attendant; and it was the
ingratitude in his daughters' denying it, more than what he would
suffer by the want of it, which pierced this poor king to the heart;
insomuch, that with this double ill-usage, a vexation for having so
foolishly given away a kingdom, his wits began to be unsettled, and
while he said e knew not what, he vowed revenge against those
unnatural hags, and to make examples of them that should be a terror to
the earth!

While he was thus idly threatening what his weak arm could never
execute, night came on, and a loud storm of thunder and lightning with
rain; and his daughters still persisting in their resolution not to
admit his followers, he called for his horses, and chose rather to
encounter the utmost fury of the storm abroad, than stay under the same
roof with these ungrateful daughters: and they, saying that the
injuries which wilful men procure to themselves are their just
punishment, suffered him to go in that condition and shut their doors
upon him.

The wind were high, and the rain and storm increased, when the old man
sallied forth to combat with the elements, less sharp than his
daughters' unkindness. For many miles about there was scarce a bush;
and there upon a heath, exposed to the fury of the storm in a dark
night, did king Lear wander out, and defy the winds and the thunder;
and he bid the winds to blow the earth into the sea, or swell the waves
of the sea till they drowned the earth, that no token might remain of
any such ungrateful animal as man. The old king was now left with no
other companion than the poor fool, who still abided with him, with his
merry conceits striving to outjest misfortune, saying it was but a
naughty night to swim in, and truly the king had better go in and ask
his daughter's blessing:

But he that has a little tiny wit
With heigh ho, the wind and the rain!
Must make content with his fortunes fit
Though the rain it raineth every day:

and swearing it was a brave night to cool a lady's pride.

Thus poorly accompanied, this once great monarch was found by his
ever-faithful servant the good earl of Kent, now transformed to Caius,
who ever followed close at his side, though the king did not know him
to be the earl; and he said: 'Alas! sir, are you here? creatures that
love night, love not such nights as these. This dreadful storm has
driven the beasts to their hiding places. Man's nature cannot endure
the affliction or the fear.' And Lear rebuked him and said, these
lesser evils were not felt, where a greater malady was taxed. When the
mind is at ease, the body has leisure to be delicate, but the temper in
his mind did take all feeling else from his senses, but of that which
beat at his heart. And he spoke of filial ingratitude, and said it was
all one as if the mouth should tear the hand for lifting food to it;
for parents were hands and food and everything to children.

But the good Caius still persisting in his entreaties that the king
would not stay out in the open air, at last persuaded him to enter a
little wretched hovel which stood upon the heath, where the fool first
entering, suddenly ran back terrified, saying that he had seen a
spirit. But upon examination this spirit proved to be nothing more than
a poor Bedlam beggar, who had crept into this deserted hovel for
shelter, and with his talk about devils frighted the fool, one of those
poor lunatics who are either mad, or feign to be so, the better to
extort charity from the compassionate country people, who go about the
country, calling themselves poor Tom and poor Turlygood, saying: 'Who
gives anything to poor Tom?' sticking pins and nails and sprigs of
rosemary into their arms to make them bleed; and with such horrible
actions, partly by prayers, and partly with lunatic curses, they move
or terrify the ignorant countryfolks into giving them alms. This poor
fellow was such a one; and the king seeing him in so wretched a plight,
with nothing but a blanket about his loins to cover his nakedness,
could not be persuaded but that the fellow was some father who had
given all away to his daughters, and brought himself to that pass: for
nothing he thought could bring a man to such wretchedness but the
having unkind daughters.

And from this and many such wild speeches which he uttered, the good
Caius plainly perceived that he was not in his perfect mind, but that
his daughters' ill usage had really made him go mad. And now the
loyalty of this worthy earl of Kent showed itself in more essential
services than he had hitherto found opportunity to perform. For with
the assistance of some of the king's attendants who remained loyal, he
had the person of his royal master removed at daybreak to the castle of
Dover, where his own friends and influence, as earl of Kent, chiefly
lay; and himself embarking for France, hastened to the court of
Cordelia, and did there in such moving terms represent the pitiful
condition of her royal father, and set out in such lively colours the
inhumanity of her sisters, that this good and loving child with many
tears besought the king her husband that he would give her leave to
embark for England, with a sufficient power to subdue these cruel
daughters and their husbands, and restore the old king her father to
his throne; which being granted, she set forth, and with a royal army
landed at Dover.

Lear having by some chance escaped from the guardians which the good
earl of Kent had put over him to' take care of him in his lunacy, was
found by some of Cordelia's train, wandering about the fields near
Dover, in a pitiable condition, stark mad, and singing aloud to himself
with a crown upon his head which he had made of straw, and nettles, and
other wild weeds that he had picked up in the corn-fields. By the
advice of the physicians, Cordelia, though earnestly desirous of seeing
her father, was prevailed upon to put off the meeting, till by sleep
and the operation of herbs which they gave him, he should be restored
to greater composure. By the aid of these skilful physicians, to whom
Cordelia promised all her gold and jewels for the recovery of the old
king, Lear was soon in a condition to see his daughter.

A tender sight it was to see the meeting between this father and
daughter; to see the struggles between the joy of this poor old king at
beholding again his once darling child, and the shame at receiving such
filial kindness from her whom he had cast off for so small a fault in
his displeasure; both these passions struggling with the remains of his
malady, which in his half-crazed brain sometimes made him that he
scarce remembered where he was, or who it was that so kindly kissed him
and spoke to him; and then he would beg the standers-by not to laugh at
him, if he were mistaken in thinking this lady to be his daughter
Cordelia! And then to see him fall on his knees to beg pardon of his
child; and she, good lady, kneeling all the while to ask a blessing of
him, and telling him that it did not become him to kneel, but it was
her duty, for she was his child, his true and very child Cordial! and
she kissed him (as she said) to kiss away all her sisters' unkindness,
and said that they might be ashamed of themselves, to turn their old
kind father with his white beard out into the cold air, when her
enemy's dog, though it had bit her (as she prettily expressed it),
should have stayed by her fire such a night as that, and warmed
himself. And she told her father how she had come from France with
purpose to bring him assistance; and he said that she must forget and
forgive, for he was old and foolish, and did not know what he did, but
that to be sure she had great cause not to love him, but her sisters
had none. And Cordelia said that she had no cause, no more than they

So we will leave this old king in the protection of his dutiful and
loving child, where, by the help of sleep and medicine, she and her
physicians at length succeeded in winding up the untuned and jarring
senses which the cruelty of his other daughters had so violently
shaken. Let us return to say a word or two about those cruel daughters.

These monsters of ingratitude, who had been so false to their old
father, could not be expected to prove more faithful to their own
husbands. They soon grew tired of paying even the appearance of duty
and affection, and in an open way showed they had fixed their loves
upon another. It happened that the object of their guilty loves was the
same. It was Edmund, a natural son of the late earl of Gloucester, who
by his treacheries had succeeded in disinheriting his brother Edgar,
the lawful heir, from his earldom, and by his wicked practices was now
earl himself; a wicked man, and a fit object for the love of such
wicked creatures as Goneril and Regan. It falling out about this time
that the duke of Cornwall, Regan's husband, died, Regan immediately
declared her intention of wedding this earl of Gloucester, which
rousing the jealousy of her sister, to whom as well as to Regan this
wicked earl had at sundry times professed love, Goneril found means to
make away with her sister by poison; but being detected in her
practices, and imprisoned by her husband, the duke of Albany, for this
deed, and for her guilty passion for the earl which had come to his
ears, she, in a fit of disappointed love and rage, shortly put an end
to her own life. Thus' the justice of Heaven at last overtook these
wicked daughters.

While the eyes of all men were upon this event, admiring the justice
displayed in their deserved deaths, the same eyes were suddenly taken
off from this sight to admire at the mysterious ways of the same power
in the melancholy fate of the young and virtuous daughter, the lady
Cordelia, whose good deeds did seem to deserve a more fortunate
conclusion: but it is an awful truth, that innocence and piety are not
always successful in this world. The forces which Goneril and Regan had
sent out under the command of the bad earl of Gloucester were
victorious, and Cordelia, by the practices of this wicked earl, who did
not like that any should stand between him and the throne, ended her
life in prison. Thus, Heaven took this innocent lady to itself in her
young years, after showing her to the world an illustrious example of
filial duty. Lear did not long survive this kind child.

Before he died, the good earl of Kent, who had still attended his old
master's steps from the first of his daughters' ill usage to this sad
period of his decay, tried to make him understand that it was he who
had followed him under the name of Caius; but Lear's care-crazed brain
at that time could not comprehend how that could be, or how Kent and
Caius could be the same person: so Kent thought it needless to trouble
him with explanations at such a time; and Lear soon after expiring,
this faithful servant to the king, between age and grief for his old
master's vexations, soon followed him to the grave.

How the judgment of Heaven overtook the bad earl of Gloucester, whose
treasons were discovered, and himself slain in single combat with his
brother, the lawful earl; and how Goneril's husband, the duke of
Albany, who was innocent of the death of Cordelia, and had never
encouraged his lady in her wicked proceedings against her father,
ascended the throne of Britain after the death of Lear, is needless
here to narrate; Lear and his Three Daughters being dead, whose
adventures alone concern our story.


When Duncan the Meek reigned king of Scotland, there lived a great
thane, or lord, called Macbeth. This Macbeth was a near kinsman to the
king, and in great esteem at court for his velour and conduct in the
wars; an example of which he had lately given, in defeating a rebel
army assisted by the troops of Norway in terrible numbers.

The two Scottish generals, Macbeth and Banquo, returning victorious
from this great battle, their way lay over a blasted heath, where they
were stopped by the strange appearance of three figures like women,
except that they had beards, and their withered skins and wild attire
made them look not like any earthly creatures. Macbeth first addressed
them, when they, seemingly offended, laid each one her choppy finger
upon her skinny lips, in token of silence; and the first of them
saluted Macbeth with the title of thane of Glamis. The general was not
a little startled to find himself known by such creatures; but how much
more, when the second of them followed up that salute by giving him the
title of thane of Cawdor, to which honour he had no pretensions; and
again the third bid him 'All hail! king that shalt be hereafter!' Such
a prophetic greeting might well amaze him, who knew that while the
king's sons lived he could not hope to succeed to the throne. Then
turning to Banquo, they pronounced him, in a sort of riddling terms, to
be lesser than Macbeth and greater! not so happy, but much happier! and
prophesied that though he should never reign, yet his sons after him
should be kings in Scotland. They then turned into air, and vanished:
by which the generals knew them to be the weird sisters, or witches.

While they stood pondering on the strangeness of this adventure, there
arrived certain messengers from the king, who were empowered by him to
confer upon Macbeth the dignity of thane of Cawdor: an event so
miraculously corresponding with the prediction of the witches
astonished Macbeth, and he stood wrapped in amazement, unable to make
reply to the messengers; and in that point of time swelling hopes arose
in his mind that the prediction of the third witch might in like manner
have its accomplishment, and that he should one day reign king in

Turning to Banquo, he said: 'Do you not hope that your children shall
be kings, when what the witches promised to me has so wonderfully come
to pass?' 'That hope,' answered the general, 'might enkindle you to aim
at the throne; but oftentimes these ministers of darkness tell us
truths in little things, to betray us into deeds of greatest

But the wicked suggestions of the witches had sunk too deep into the
mind of Macbeth to allow him to attend to the warnings of the good
Banquo. From that time he bent all his thoughts how to compass the
throne of Scotland.

Macbeth had a wife, to whom he communicated the strange prediction of
the weird sisters, and its partial accomplishment. She was a bad,
ambitious woman, and so as her husband and herself could arrive at
greatness, she cared not much by what means. She spurred on the
reluctant purpose of Macbeth, who felt compunction at the thoughts of
blood, and did not cease to represent the murder of the king as a step

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Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 10 of 23)