The scene begins with the introduction of a plot concurrent to that of Lear and Cordelia- that of Edgar, Edmund and Gloucester. Although the twenty-eight lines tell us little about Edmund himself, much can be drawn from them as to Gloucester's to his bastard son.

Whilst he claims that Edmund is just as dear to him as Edgar, he evidently regards Edmund as someone not to be taken too seriously. He seems more concerned that 'was his mother fair', and that 'there was good sport at his making' (1:1:18). Gloucester further devalues Edmund next to Edgar calling him a knave and a whoreson. Although these are spoken in a jocular tone, they also convey a lack of respect for his son. Edmund is clearly accustomed to his father's constant barracking, and the few words from him in this scene are filled with practised subservience, even addressing his father as 'my Lord'. Edmund's two speeches to Kent are positively servile, although his 'Sir, I shall study deserving' seethes with repressed rage at constantly being put down by all and sundry, (as encouraged by Gloucester) and sounds ominous.

Gloucester quite possibly seals his own doom in two speeches in this early part of the scene, 'I have so often blushed to acknowledge him that now I am brazed to't' (1.1.8-9) Saying directly in front of one's son that one feels ashamed to acknowledge him, combined with the threat that 'He hath been out these nine years, and away he shall again.' (1.1.27-8) makes Edmund's later behaviour far more understandable.

Shakespeare prevents any such suspicion by forcing the audience to sympathise with this poor maltreated wretch, whilst keeping us unaware of his evil machinations, only revealed to us in scene two.

Lear's second line reveals the folly that will hound him throughout the play. 'we shall express our darker purpose' (1:1:31): he had not told his Earls everything of his plan to divide the Kingdom. With the entry of King Lear and the King of France, the assembled company speak in verse, as opposed to the previous gathering between a father, son, and a friend, and the final section of the scene, both of which are in prose.

Lear further elucidates the extent of his scheming when he says 'Know that we have dived...' (1:1:32); the use of the past tense indicates that the outcome of the competition to come is predetermined.

Lear is unconsciously deeply ironic when he says 'We have this hour a constant will to publish/Our daughter's several dowers, that future strife/May be prevented now.' unaware of just how much future strife there'll be because of this 'constant will', and how much of the strife will be his own. It is as his two daughters later remark; 'He hath ever but slenderly known himself.'

Lear's journey to self-knowledge and acceptance of his own folly is one of the principal themes of the play, but in truth Cordelia is not entirely blameless. Her pride is arguably vain and unnecessary: she was not required to destabilize and old man, but merely to indulge his whimsical vanity and to humour him. It is possible to say that Cordelia is every bit as hubristic as her octogenarian father. Personally, I have difficulty finding fault with integrity as a character trait. Thus my blame falls upon Lear for having placed Cordelia in such a position. Like the Fool in 1:4, she hates having so to hurt her father, but feels that it's absolutely necessary.

Lear's ensuing rage is explicable on several counts. Firstly, he believes he is feeling 'How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is/ To have a thankless child' , a line which is, ironically enough, thrown by Lear at one of the supposedly thankful children later in the Act.

That the party for whom the most opulent share in the kingdom had been reserved should refuse to compromise her principles to gain it infuriates Lear. Cordelia's refusal to lower herself to her father's base level in line with her sisters also serves to expose the ridiculous charade for what it truly is; an exercise in the satisfaction of Lear's extraordinary vanity by rewarding 'the glib and oily art' of flattery. It's quite probable that this exposure by his youngest and most prized daughter of his moral bankruptcy is what angers Lear more than anything.

In this scene, Shakespeare uses a variety of contrasting religious imagery. Classical references litter the play as it was written in a period steeped in the legacy of the Renaissance. Lear refers to 'The mysteries of Hecate…' (1:1:104), swears 'by Jupiter' and Kent swears 'by Apollo'. Lear also talks prophetically of 'The barbarous Scythian' (1:1:110). This reference to cannibalism is telling, as the two main families will variously destroy each other over the course of the play.

In contrast to these pagan and classical references, Christian thought underpins the scene. Very broadly, Christian thought holds that one must first become 'nothing' in order to become more meaningfully 'something'. A rich man must renounce all his worldly goods in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Similarly, Cordelia, disowned and dowerless, ('Let it be so, thy truth be thy dower.' (102)) is only then taken by France;' 'Tis strange that from their cold'st neglect, / My love should kindle to inflamed respect.' (249-250) and he also says that Cordelia is 'most rich being poor'. Only after becoming nothing does Cordelia become something - a wife and a queen. Kent is also a Christian figure; 'Now by Apollo, King, / Thou swear'st thy gods in vain.' (133-5). He show his Christianity both now and later, stepping where he's nothing to gain on Cordelia, and in 1:4, where he shows his loyalty and unconditional love for Lear despite his folly and the fact that Lear has contravened all his grounds for true service as he sets them out in 1:4:12-5.

Shakespeare briefly introduces the theme of sight and blindness, one of the play's chief recurring motifs. Lear orders Kent 'Out of my sight!' but Kent tells him only to 'See better, Lear' (1:1:151-2). Earlier Lear says 'The bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft.' (157) Kent then refers back to this saying '… let me still remain/ The true blank of thine eye.' (152-3). This draws together the 'bow' quotation; the 'true blank' referring to a target, and 'Out of my sight!' as Kent asks to remain Lear's counsellor. Lear replies appropriately enough; 'Now by Apollo-' (153) Apollo being the god of clear sight and archery. Kent finishes this run of word-play by talking of curing foul disease, of which Apollo is also a God.

The register of Kent's speech drops sharply after line 137, saying '…Lear is mad. What would'st thou do, old man?' (140). This, to the King, in public, is disrespect of a remarkable order. So soon after Kent has said 'Royal, whom I have ever honoured as my King,' (133-4) this is especially surprising. Interestingly, Kent does not go so far as to break the protocol and speak frankly to Lear in prose, although he is agitated enough for enjambements to occur in his verse, one sentence running of the end of one line and into another, quite frequently in his speech from line 138 to line 148. In his final speech in the scene, Kent has regained his composure sufficiently to speak in well measured rhyming couplets, with the metre of each fitting qith its twin. After only a short pause has recovers himself and exits graciously, highlighting Lear's apoplectic rage in a speech that has announced the banishment of reason.

When Lear and his entourage leave and Cordelia is left to bid her sisters farewell, it is interesting to note that although the group comprises three sisters and a fiancé, the continued presence of the King of France maintains the verse in the scene, even from the disdainful and antagonistic pair of Goneril and Regan. This taboo on speaking prose in the presence of a King seems to be something that no-one is willing to break, even when inflamed to heights of passion and impertinence, as Kent was. The sisters do not want for ire; 'Prescribe not to us our duty … You have obedience scanted,/ And well are worth the want that you have wanted.' (270-3) and France seems eager enough to leave with Cordelia before their dialogue descends into further spleen.

When equals are finally together again, as at the beginning of the scene, (Kent and Gloucester- two Earls) the two sisters of equal status may converse in frank and open prose. This is rather refreshing following the two hundred and forty-six lines of verse that precede the episode. Regan and Goneril acknowledge to each other the absurdity of Kent's banishment and Lear's unfair treatment of Cordelia, although neither would step in on either's behalf as they'd nothing to gain by doing so. Plain, pragmatic and scheming in contrast to their flattering verse, they foresee the impending disaster if 'our father carry authority with such disposition as he bears,' (294-5) and say that 'we must do something, and I'th'heat.' (297)

(SCENE I. King Lear's palace.)

I thought the king had more affected the Duke of
Albany than Cornwall.

It did always seem so to us: but now, in the
division of the kingdom, it appears not which of
the dukes he values most; for equalities are so
weighed, that curiosity in neither can make choice
of either's moiety.

Is not this your son, my lord?

His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge: I have
so often blushed to acknowledge him, that now I am
brazed to it.

I cannot conceive you.

Sir, this young fellow's mother could: whereupon
she grew round-wombed, and had, indeed, sir, a son
for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed.
Do you smell a fault?

I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it
being so proper.

But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year
elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account:
though this knave came something saucily into the
world before he was sent for, yet was his mother
fair; there was good sport at his making, and the
whoreson must be acknowledged. Do you know this
noble gentleman, Edmund?

No, my lord.

My lord of Kent: remember him hereafter as my
honorable friend.

My services to your lordship.

I must love you, and sue to know you better.

Sir, I shall study deserving.

He hath been out nine years, and away he shall
again. The king is coming.


Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester.

I shall, my liege.


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

Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
As much as child e'er loved, or father found;
A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

(Aside) What shall Cordelia do?
Love, and be silent.

Of all these bounds, even from this line to this,
With shadowy forests and with champains rich'd,
With plenteous rivers and wide-skirted meads,
We make thee lady: to thine and Albany's issue
Be this perpetual. What says our second daughter,
Our dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall? Speak.

Sir, I am made
Of the self-same metal that my sister is,
And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
I find she names my very deed of love;
Only she comes too short: that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness' love.

(Aside) Then poor Cordelia!
And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love's
More richer than my tongue.

To thee and thine hereditary ever
Remain this ample third of our fair kingdom;
No less in space, validity, and pleasure,
Than that conferr'd on Goneril. Now, our joy,
Although the last, not least; to whose young love
The vines of France and milk of Burgundy
Strive to be interess'd; what can you say to draw
A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

Nothing, my lord.



Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
According to my bond; nor more nor less.

How, how, Cordelia! mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.

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

But goes thy heart with this?

Ay, good my lord.

So young, and so untender?

So young, my lord, and true.

Let it be so; thy truth, then, be thy dower:
For, by the sacred radiance of the sun,
The mysteries of Hecate, and the night;
By all the operation of the orbs
From whom we do exist, and cease to be;
Here I disclaim all my paternal care,
Propinquity and property of blood,
And as a stranger to my heart and me
Hold thee, from this, for ever. The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour'd, pitied, and relieved,
As thou my sometime daughter.

Good my liege--

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

(Giving the crown)

Royal Lear,
Whom I have ever honour'd as my king,
Loved as my father, as my master follow'd,
As my great patron thought on in my prayers,--

The bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft.

Let it fall rather, though the fork invade
The region of my heart: be Kent unmannerly,
When Lear is mad. What wilt thou do, old man?
Think'st thou that duty shall have dread to speak,
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honour's bound,
When majesty stoops to folly. Reverse thy doom;
And, in thy best consideration, cheque
This hideous rashness: answer my life my judgment,
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least;
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound
Reverbs no hollowness.

Kent, on thy life, no more.

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

Out of my sight!

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

Now, by Apollo--

Now, by Apollo, king,
Thou swear'st thy gods in vain.

O, vassal! miscreant!

(Laying his hand on his sword)

Dear sir, forbear.

Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
Upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy doom;
Or, whilst I can vent clamour from my throat,
I'll tell thee thou dost evil.

Hear me, recreant!
On thine allegiance, hear me!
Since thou hast sought to make us break our vow,
Which we durst never yet, and with strain'd pride
To come between our sentence and our power,
Which nor our nature nor our place can bear,
Our potency made good, take thy reward.
Five days we do allot thee, for provision
To shield thee from diseases of the world;
And on the sixth to turn thy hated back
Upon our kingdom: if, on the tenth day following,
Thy banish'd trunk be found in our dominions,
The moment is thy death. Away! by Jupiter,
This shall not be revoked.

Fare thee well, king: sith thus thou wilt appear,
Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here.


The gods to their dear shelter take thee, maid,
That justly think'st, and hast most rightly said!


And your large speeches may your deeds approve,
That good effects may spring from words of love.
Thus Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu;
He'll shape his old course in a country new.


(Flourish. Re-enter GLOUCESTER, with KING OF FRANCE, BURGUNDY, and Attendants)

Here's France and Burgundy, my noble lord.

My lord of Burgundy.
We first address towards you, who with this king
Hath rivall'd for our daughter: what, in the least,
Will you require in present dower with her,
Or cease your quest of love?

Most royal majesty,
I crave no more than what your highness offer'd,
Nor will you tender less.

Right noble Burgundy,
When she was dear to us, we did hold her so;
But now her price is fall'n. Sir, there she stands:
If aught within that little seeming substance,
Or all of it, with our displeasure pieced,
And nothing more, may fitly like your grace,
She's there, and she is yours.

I know no answer.

Will you, with those infirmities she owes,
Unfriended, new-adopted to our hate,
Dower'd with our curse, and stranger'd with our oath,
Take her, or leave her?

Pardon me, royal sir;
Election makes not up on such conditions.

Then leave her, sir; for, by the power that made me,
I tell you all her wealth.


For you, great king,
I would not from your love make such a stray,
To match you where I hate; therefore beseech you
To avert your liking a more worthier way
Than on a wretch whom nature is ashamed
Almost to acknowledge hers.

This is most strange,
That she, that even but now was your best object,
The argument of your praise, balm of your age,
Most best, most dearest, should in this trice of time
Commit a thing so monstrous, to dismantle
So many folds of favour. Sure, her offence
Must be of such unnatural degree,
That monsters it, or your fore-vouch'd affection
Fall'n into taint: which to believe of her,
Must be a faith that reason without miracle
Could never plant in me.

I yet beseech your majesty,--
If for I want that glib and oily art,
To speak and purpose not; since what I well intend,
I'll do't before I speak,--that you make known
It is no vicious blot, murder, or foulness,
No unchaste action, or dishonour'd step,
That hath deprived me of your grace and favour;
But even for want of that for which I am richer,
A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue
As I am glad I have not, though not to have it
Hath lost me in your liking.

Better thou
Hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better.

Is it but this,--a tardiness in nature
Which often leaves the history unspoke
That it intends to do? My lord of Burgundy,
What say you to the lady? Love's not love
When it is mingled with regards that stand
Aloof from the entire point. Will you have her?
She is herself a dowry.

Royal Lear,
Give but that portion which yourself proposed,
And here I take Cordelia by the hand,
Duchess of Burgundy.

Nothing: I have sworn; I am firm.

I am sorry, then, you have so lost a father
That you must lose a husband.

Peace be with Burgundy!
Since that respects of fortune are his love,
I shall not be his wife.

Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor;
Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despised!
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon:
Be it lawful I take up what's cast away.
Gods, gods! 'tis strange that from their cold'st neglect
My love should kindle to inflamed respect.
Thy dowerless daughter, king, thrown to my chance,
Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France:
Not all the dukes of waterish Burgundy
Can buy this unprized precious maid of me.
Bid them farewell, Cordelia, though unkind:
Thou losest here, a better where to find.

Thou hast her, France: let her be thine; for we
Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see
That face of hers again. Therefore be gone
Without our grace, our love, our benison.
Come, noble Burgundy.

(Flourish. Exeunt all but KING OF FRANCE, GONERIL, REGAN, and CORDELIA )

Bid farewell to your sisters.

The jewels of our father, with wash'd eyes
Cordelia leaves you: I know you what you are;
And like a sister am most loath to call
Your faults as they are named. Use well our father:
To your professed bosoms I commit him
But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,
I would prefer him to a better place.
So, farewell to you both.

Prescribe not us our duties.

Let your study
Be to content your lord, who hath received you
At fortune's alms. You have obedience scanted,
And well are worth the want that you have wanted.

Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides:
Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.
Well may you prosper!

Come, my fair Cordelia.


Sister, it is not a little I have to say of what
most nearly appertains to us both. I think our
father will hence to-night.

That's most certain, and with you; next month with us.

You see how full of changes his age is; the
observation we have made of it hath not been
little: he always loved our sister most; and
with what poor judgment he hath now cast her off
appears too grossly.

'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever
but slenderly known himself.

The best and soundest of his time hath been but
rash; then must we look to receive from his age,
not alone the imperfections of long-engraffed
condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness
that infirm and choleric years bring with them.

Such unconstant starts are we like to have from
him as this of Kent's banishment.

There is further compliment of leavetaking
between France and him. Pray you, let's hit
together: if our father carry authority with
such dispositions as he bears, this last
surrender of his will but offend us.

We shall further think on't.

We must do something, and i' the heat.


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