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FREE: William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”: A Retelling in Prose


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling Prose — Act 3, Scenes 3-4

— 3.3 —

The Earl of Gloucester and his illegitimate son, Edmund, spoke together in a room in his castle.

“It’s sad, Edmund. I do not like this unnatural treatment of fathers. When I asked for permission from the Duke of Cornwall, Regan, and Goneril to show pity to and help King Lear, they took from me the use of my own house and they ordered me, on pain of their perpetual displeasure with me, not to speak of him, entreat for him, or in any way sustain and help him.”

“This is very savage and unnatural!” Edmund said.

“Quiet!” the Earl of Gloucester said. “You must say nothing about that; it’s dangerous. In addition, there’s a division between the Dukes, and a worse matter than that. I have received a letter tonight; it is dangerous to speak about that, too. I have locked the letter in my private room. These injuries the King now bears will be fully revenged. Part of an army has already landed; we must be on the side of the King. I will leave and seek him, and secretly help him. You go and talk with the Duke of Cornwall to keep him occupied so that he does not learn about my charity. If he asks for me, tell him that I am ill and have gone to bed.

“Even if I die because of it — and they have threatened to do no less to me — the King my old master must be helped.

“Strange things are happening, Edmund; please be careful.”

He exited.

Alone, Edmund said to himself, “This act of charity, which you have been forbidden to do, I shall immediately tell the Duke of Cornwall about, and I will tell him about that letter, too.

“These acts will deserve a reward from the Duke of Cornwall, and I will win what my father loses — that will be everything. The younger rises when the old does fall.”

— 3.4 —

On the heath in front of the hovel stood King Lear, the disguised Kent, and the Fool. The storm continued to rage.

The disguised Kent said, “Here is the place, my lord. My good lord, enter the hovel. The tyranny of the night in the open air is too roughfor human nature to endure.”

King Lear replied, “Let me alone.”

The disguised Kent repeated, “My good lord, enter the hovel.”

“Do you want to break my heart?”

“I had rather break my own,” Kent replied. “My good lord, enter the hovel.”

“You think it is much that this contentious storm invades us to the skin with wind and water,” King Lear said. “So it is much to you, but wherever the greater malady is fixed, the lesser is scarcely felt. You would prefer to run away from a bear, but if your flight lay toward the raging sea, you would face the bear head-on. When the mind is free and unburdened, the body’s delicate. The tempest in my mind takes all feeling from my senses — except for the tempest beating there. Because of the mental pain I feel for my daughters’ ingratitude, I cannot feel any physical pain brought by this storm. Filial ingratitude! Is it not as if this mouth should bite this hand because it lifts food to it? But I will punish them thoroughly.”

He hesitated and said, “No, I will weep no more. On such a night they shut me out of doors! Pour on the pain and the rain; I will endure them. On such a night as this! Oh, Regan, Goneril! Your old kind father, whose generous heart gave you everything — oh, that way madness lies, so let me not think of that. No more of that.”

Worried about King Lear, the disguised Kent again said, “My good lord, enter the hovel.”

“Please, go in yourself,” King Lear replied. “Seek your own comfort. My being outside in this tempest will not allow me to think about things that would hurt me more. But I’ll go in.”

He said to the Fool, “In, boy; you go in first.”

He thought about other poor people outside on this night and said, “You homeless poor —”

Then he said to the Fool, who was waiting for him, “No, you go in first. I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.”

The Fool went inside the hovel. The disguised Kent stayed outside with King Lear.

King Lear said, “Poor naked wretches, wherever you are, who endure the pelting of this pitiless storm, how shall your homeless heads and unfed bellies, and your ragged clothing filled with holes defend you from weather such as this?”

He then blamed himself for not caring more about the poor when he had wealth and power: “Oh, I have been too little concerned about this! Take this medicine, pompous people: Expose yourself so that you feel what poor wretches feel, and you will learn to give the excess of your wealth to them, and show the Heavens how wealth can be more fairly distributed.”

Edgar, now disguised as a Tom o’Bedlam, said in a disguised voice from inside the hovel, where he had taken shelter, “Fathom and a half! Fathom and a half! Poor Tom!”

A fathom is six feet of water. The disguised Edgar was speaking as if he were a sailor taking soundings — measuring the depth of water — in a sinking ship.

The Fool ran out of the hovel.

“Don’t go in there, my uncle,” he cried. “There’s a supernatural spirit inside. Help me! Help me!”

The disguised Kent said, “Give me your hand. Who’s there?”

The Fool replied, “A spirit — a supernatural spirit. He says his name’s poor Tom.”

The disguised Kent yelled, “Who are you who mumbles there in the straw? Come outside.”

Edgar, disguised as a mad man, came outside. He was naked except for a blanket around his waist. He was dirty and his hair was matted, and he had pushed thorns into his arms.

The disguised Edgar, pretending to believe that the Devil tormented him, said, “Stay away! The foul fiend follows me! Through the sharp hawthorn blows the cold wind. You are cold — go to your beds, and warm yourselves.”

King Lear asked him, “Have you given everything to your two daughters? Is that why you have come to this?”

The disguised Edgar replied, “Who gives anything to poor Tom? He is the man whom the foul fiend has led through fire and through flame, and through ford and whirlpool and over bog and quagmire. The foul fiend has tempted poor Tom to commit suicide. He has laid knives under his pillow, and put hangman’s ropes in his church pew, and set rat poison by his soup. The foul fiend has made him proud of heart, and the foul fiend has made him ride on a bay trotting-horse over four-inch-wide bridges in order to chase his own shadow as if it were a traitor. May God bless your five wits! Tom’s a-cold.”

The disguised Edgar shivered and said, “May God bless and protect you from whirlwinds, the influences of evil stars, and infection! Do poor Tom some charity — poor Tom whom the foul fiend vexes.”

The disguised Edgar pretended to fight an invisible demon, saying, “There could I have him now — and there — and there again, and there.”

The storm continued to rage.

King Lear asked, “What, have his daughters brought him to this distress?”

He asked the disguised Edgar, “Couldn’t you save anything and keep it for yourself? Did you give them everything?”

The Fool said, “No, he reserved a blanket, else we had been all embarrassed at seeing his bare butt.”

King Lear had reserved for himself the services of a hundred Knights.

In this society, people believed that diseases hung in the air, waiting until they were poured out to inflict pain on human beings.

King Lear said, “Now, may all the plagues that in the pendulous air hang fated over men’s faults fall and alight on your daughters!”

The disguised Kent said, “He has no daughters, sir.”

“Death to you, traitor!” King Lear shouted. “Nothing could have brought this human to such lowness but his unkind daughters. Is it the fashion that discarded and cast-off fathers should have thus little mercy on their flesh?”

He was looking at the thorns in the disguised Edgar’s arms, but he could also have been thinking of the thorns in his own mind.

He said, “Judicious punishment! It was this flesh that begot those pelican daughters.”

In this society, people believed that the young of pelicans would bite the breast of their parents and feed on the blood that flowed from the wound.

Hearing the word “pelican,” the disguised Edgar said, “Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill.”

A ‘Pillicock” was a cutesy name for a penis, and a “Pillicock-hill” was a cutesy name for a vulva.

The disguised Edgar then sang, “Halloo, halloo, loo, loo!”

The Fool said seriously, “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.”

The disguised Edgar said, “Take heed of the foul fiend. Obey your parents. Keep true to your word. Do not swear. Do not commit adultery with a man’s sworn spouse. Do not set your sweet heart on fancy clothing. Tom’s a-cold.”

King Lear asked him, “What have you been?”

The disguised Edgar replied, “A serving-man, proud in heart and mind. I was a courier. I curled my hair. I wore gloves — favors from my mistress — in my cap. I served the lust of my mistress’ heart, and I did the act of darkness with her. I swore as many oaths as I spoke words, and I broke them openly in the sweet face of Heaven. I was a man who dreamed of lustful acts as he slept and then woke up and did them. Wine I loved deeply, dice and gambling I loved dearly, and when it came to women I had more mistresses than the Turkish Sultan. I was false of heart, light of ear and ready to believe malicious gossip, and bloody of hand. I was like a hog when it came to sloth, a fox when it came to stealth, a wolf when it came to greediness, a dog when it came to madness, and a lion when it came to hunting of prey.

“You may be tempted by the creaking of fashionable shoes and the rustling of the silk clothing of a woman as she meets a lover in a secret assignation, but do not betray your poor heart to that woman. Keep your feet out of brothels, keep your hands out of the openings of petticoats, keep your signature away from contracts in which you borrow money, and defy the foul fiend.”

The disguised Edgar then sang these words:

Still through the hawthorn blows the cold wind:

Says suum, mun, ha, no, nonny.

Dauphin, my boy, my boy, sessa! Be quiet! Let him trot by.”

The Dauphin was the son of a King of France, and Edgar was singing a combination of an old ballad and nonsense syllables. In the old ballad, the King of France wanted the Dauphin to be safe and not gain a reputation for valor by combating a notable opponent during wartime. Every time a notable opponent rode by, the King of France would tell his son, the Dauphin, “Be quiet! Let him trot by.” In Edgar’s version of the ballad, the Dauphin was not even allowed to combat the cold wind because it was too dangerous.

The storm continued to rage.

King Lear said to the disguised Edgar, “Why, you would be better off in your grave than to confront with your naked and uncovered body this extreme severity of the skies.”

He then said to the disguised Kent and to the Fool, “Is man no more than this? Look carefully at him.”

He said to the disguised Edgar, “You owe the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume.”

The disguised Edgar was naked. He did not wear silk or leather or woolen clothing. He also did not wear perfume made from the musk of the civet cat.

King Lear continued, “Ha! The three of us — my servant, the Fool, and me — are wearing clothing. We have disguised our nakedness. You are the natural man himself: a man without the trappings of civilization is no more than such a poor bare, forked-legged animal as you are.”

He started to tear off his clothing, saying, “Off, off, you trappings of civilization! Come! I will unbutton my clothing here.”

The Fool said, “Please, my uncle, control yourself; it is an evil night to go swimming in. Now a little fire in a wild field would be like an old lecher’s heart: a small spark — all the rest of his body would be cold. Look, here comes a walking fire.”

The Earl of Gloucester, carrying a torch, walked up to them.

The disguised Edgar said, “This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock; from dusk to dawn he walks. He gives the web and the pin, aka eye cataracts. He makes the eye squint, and he makes the harelip. He mildews the white wheat that is almost ready for harvest, and he hurts the poor creatures of Earth.”

He then sang this song as protection against the “evil spirit”:

Saint Withold footed thrice the wold,

In other words, Saint Withold went three times around the upland plains,

He met the nightmare, and her nine-fold,

In other words, he met the demon called the nightmare, which sits on the chests of sleeping people and makes it hard for them to breathe, and he met her nine followers,

Bid her alight,

In other words, he ordered her to get off the chest of the sleeper,

And her troth plight,

In other words, and swear to do no more harm,

And, ‘Aroint you, witch, aroint you!’

In other words, and said, ‘Leave, witch, leave!’”

The disguised Kent said to King Lear, “How is your grace?”

King Lear asked about the man with the torch, “Who is he?”

“Who’s there?” the disguised Kent said. “What is it you want?”

The Earl of Gloucester asked, “Who are you there? What are your names?”

The disguised Edgar replied, “Poor Tom, who eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, the wall-lizard, and the water-newt. Poor Tom, who in the fury of his heart, when the foul fiend rages, eats cow-dung for salads, swallows the old rat and the dead dog in the ditch, drinks the green scum of the stagnant pond. Poor Tom, who is whipped from parish to parish, who is put in stocks, and who is imprisoned. Poor Tom, who used to have three suits to his back, six shirts to his body, a horse to ride, and a weapon to wear. But mice and rats, and such small animals, have been Tom’s food for seven long years. Beware the demon who follows me. Peace, Smulkin; peace, you fiend!”

“What, has your grace no better company?” the Earl of Gloucester asked King Lear.

The disguised Edgar said, “The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman. Modo he’s called, and Mahu.”

The Earl of Gloucester said, “Our flesh and blood, aka children, are grown so vile, my lord, that it hates what begets it.”

The disguised Edgar said, “Poor Tom’s a-cold.”

The Earl of Gloucester said to King Lear, “Go inside one of my buildings with me. I must do my duty; I cannot endure to obey all of your daughters’ hard commands. Although they have ordered me to bar my doors and let this tyrannous night take hold upon you, yet I have ventured to find you and bring you where both fire and food are ready.”

King Lear said to the Earl of Gloucester about the disguised Edgar, whom the Earl of Gloucester did not recognize as being his own son, “First let me talk with this natural philosopher.”

He asked the disguised Edgar, “What is the cause of thunder?”

In his madness, King Lear thought that the disguised Edgar was an educated man and a natural philosopher, aka a person who investigated Nature.

The disguised Kent said, “My good lord, take his offer; go into the house.”

King Lear replied, “I’ll talk a word with this same learned Theban.”

The ancient Greeks, including those from Thebes and Athens, were thought to be wise.

King Lear asked the disguised Edgar, “What is your main area of study?”

The disguised Edgar replied, “How to thwart the fiend, and to kill vermin.”

King Lear said, “Let me ask you one word in private.”

The disguised Kent said to the Earl of Gloucester, “Importune him once more to go, my lord. His mind has begun to become unsettled.”

“Can you blame him?” the Earl of Gloucester replied.

The storm continued to rage.

The Earl of Gloucester continued, “King Lear’s daughters seek his death. Ah, I remember the Earl of Kent! He was a good man. He, poor banished man, predicted it would be like this! You say the King grows mad; I’ll tell you, friend, I am almost mad myself. I had a son, who is now an outlaw whom I have disinherited. He sought my life just recently — very recently. I loved him, friend; no father ever loved his son dearer. I tell you the truth: The grief has crazed my wits. What a night’s this!”

He said to King Lear, “I do beg your grace —”

King Lear interrupted and said, “I beg your pardon,” and then he went back to talking to the disguised Edgar, “Noble philosopher, I desire your company.”

The disguised Edgar replied, “Tom’s a-cold.”

The Earl of Gloucester, who did not intend to help the Tom o’Bedlam, said to him, “Go in, fellow, there, into the hovel. Keep yourself warm there.”

King Lear said, “Come, let’s all go in.”

The disguised Kent said, “This way, my lord.”

He wanted King Lear to go away from the hovel and to the building that the Earl of Gloucester had offered as shelter.

King Lear put an arm around the disguised Edgar’s shoulders and said, “I will go with him. I will stay always with my philosopher.”

The disguised Kent said, “My good lord, humor the King; let him take the fellow with him.”

“You accompany the fellow,” the Earl of Gloucester said.

The disguised Kent said to the disguised Edgar, “Sirrah, come on; you can go along with us.”

King Lear said to the disguised Edgar, “Come, good Athenian.”

The Earl of Gloucester said to King Lear, “No words, no words. Hush.”

Edgar sang these words:

Child Roland to the dark tower came,

His motto was always this — Fie, foh, and fum,

I smell the blood of a British man.”

A “child” was a candidate for Knighthood, and child Roland was the nephew of Charlemagne and the hero of the epic poem The Song of Roland. The disguised Edgar was pretending to confuse Roland with the giant in the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Much real confusion was happening in Britain.


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David Bruce: Food Anecdotes

Ice skating coach Frank Carroll (who is now Michelle Kwan’s coach) once explained to a mischievous young skater named Christopher Bowman — at the request of the young boy’s mother, who felt Christopher was growing pudgy — the importance of a good, healthy diet. The very next day, Christopher’s mother came to Mr. Carroll, bringing young Christopher with her — and the four boxes of doughnuts he had been eating. Mr. Carroll decided to teach the boy a lesson. He said, “Christopher, you sit down here. You are going to eat every one of those doughnuts before you get on the ice. And you’re not moving from here until every one is gone.” After the boy had eaten the doughnuts, Mr. Carroll made him practice spins until finally young Christopher exited the ice and vomited.

Eleanor Powell and the black dancer Bill Robinson, aka Mr. Bojangles, once performed at a private party put on by rich people. When the performance was over, Ms. Powell told the butler that she would like a glass of water — but only if Mr. Bojangles were also offered a glass of water. The butler brought them two glasses of water, and Mr. Bojangles broke his glass after drinking the water, and offered to pay for the glass. He told Ms. Powell later that he had broken the glass because he knew that no one would use the glass after he had used it.

As a young child growing up in Ufa, the great dancer Rudolph Nureyev was frequently hungry. When he started kindergarten, he was always late to class each morning, and his teacher asked him why. Young Rudi explained that he had to eat at home. His teacher then reminded him that he could eat at school. What young Rudi didn’t explain was that now he had a chance to eat twice in the morning, he was not going to miss it — especially since he could not be sure that there would food at home in the evening. (One day in class, he actually fainted from hunger.)

In Calcutta, the Missionaries of Charity feed several thousand people every day. However, one day there was no food to feed them. A Sister told Mother Teresa, “We have nothing left. We do not have food for so many people.” However, at 9 a.m. a truck loaded with bread arrived. At the city schools, children are given a slice of bread. That day, the city schools were closed for some reason, and the bread that would have given to the children was instead given to the Missionaries of Charity. All of the hungry people were able to eat bread until they were satisfied.

The Dalai Lama can be very open. Once, he toured Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky. The monastery made its own cheeses and fruitcakes, and the Dalai Lama was offered some cheese. Later, he joked, “I was presented with a piece of the homemade cheese, which was very good, but really I wanted some cake! It was so unfortunate — really I was hoping someone would offer me some cake, but no one did!” The Dalai Lama was able to be happy without fruitcake, and some of his happiness came from being able to laugh at his desire for fruitcake.

While opera singer Mary Garden was sailing on the Alfonso XIII, she walked by — and smelled — the ship’s kitchen, and she resolved never to eat anything that came out of that kitchen. Fortunately, she had some baskets of fruit that friends had given her as going-away gifts, and she lived off those. Whenever there was stormy weather, the fruit would tumble out of the baskets and bounce around the room. Ms. Garden amused herself by watching to see which fruit made it around the room first — it was always the pineapple.

During World War II, some Greek singers, including the very young Maria Callas (who was chaperoned by her mother), were “asked” to sing before some music-loving Italian soldiers in Salonika. The series of concerts was successful, and afterward the singers were asked if they wanted to be paid in food or money. Good food was in short supply because of the war, so all the singers replied, “Food!” They came home well stocked in cheeses, hams, sausages, evaporated milk, and other good things.

Anton Rubinstein once promised the orchestra he would invite them to supper if his new opera would be a success; unfortunately, at the opera’s premiere, the audience made clear their dislike of it. Disgusted, Rubinstein went home and went to bed, but he was aroused later by a knocking at his door. He opened the door, only to see several members of the orchestra, who explained, “You invited us to supper if the opera was a success; we liked it very much.”

At age 18, British comic actress Su Pollard was in a restaurant when a man left, leaving behind an untouched pork chop. Because she was hungry, she took the pork chop and ate it — and was both surprised and embarrassed when the man returned after having deposited coins in a parking meter. The man asked a server, “Where’s my dinner?” — and Ms. Pollard disappeared into the ladies restroom.

According to Mishna Sahedrin 4:5, “Whoever saves one life, it is as if they saved the entire world.” Commenting on this passage, Rabbi Irwin Kula said, “In light of this talmudic statement, we must try to figure out what we must do to fashion a world in which each person is treated as if he or she has infinite value. Indeed, what does it mean to say that every human being is infinitely valuable when people die for lack of a dollar’s worth of food?”

In a 1970s TV commercial, tough guy actor George Raft and 300 other actors playing prisoners sit down to eat in a prison. Mr. Raft is disgusted by the food, so he grabs his tin cup and starts banging on the table and begins shouting, quickly joined by the 300 other prisoners, “Al-ka Selt-zer, Al-ka Selt-zer, Al-ka Selt-zer.”

Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller can be very considerate. Once, her mother needed to bring cookies to work the next day, but she had too much to do to bake them. When she woke up, she discovered that Shannon had baked the cookies for her.


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 1-2

— 3.1 —

The storm raged on the heath. The disguised Kent and the gentleman, who was another of King Lear’s followers, met. The disguised Kent had been separated from King Lear by the storm.

“Who’s there, besides foul weather?” the disguised Kent asked.

“One whose mind is like the weather — very unquiet.”

“I know who you are,” the disguised Kent said. “Where’s the King?”

“Struggling against and competing with the raging elements of the storm. He orders the winds to blow the land into the sea or to swell the curled waves above the mainland so that the entire world might change or cease to exist. He tears his white hair, which the impetuous blasts, with blind rage, catch in their fury and show no respect for. He strives in this little world of man to out-scorn the to-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain. In this night, in which the she-bear, whose milk has been emptied by her cubs, would lie in a cave, and in which the lion and the belly-pinched and starving wolf keep their fur dry, he stays outside without a hat and cries out with desperate defiance like a gambler who is betting all he has left.”

“But who is with him?” the disguised Kent asked.

“None but the Fool, who labors to outdo the King’s heart-struck injuries with extravagant wit.”

“Sir, I know your good character, and I dare, because I know that you are a good man, to entrust an important task to you. There is disagreement, although the two are cunning enough to conceal it, between the Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall. They have — and which enthroned great men do not? — servants, who seem to be no other than servants, but who are spies who send to the King of France information about our state. This information includes the quarrels and plots of the two Dukes, or the harsh treatment both Dukes have borne against old and kind King Lear, or something deeper than these things, of which perhaps these other things conceal the truth of what is really going on.

“But it is true that from France an army comes into this divided Kingdom. This army, taking advantage of our negligence, has already gained a secret stronghold in some of our best ports, and the French soldiers are ready to openly show their military banners.

“Now let me tell you what I want you to do. If you trust me enough to dare to speed to Dover, you shall find men there who will thank you for giving an honest report of the unnatural and maddening sorrow that afflicts the King.

“I am a gentleman by birth and education, and because of some reliable information and confidence, I offer you the opportunity to do this service.”

The gentleman knew the disguised Kent only as a servant, and so he was skeptical and wanted further information before undertaking this task.

He said, “I will talk further with you.”

The disguised Kent knew that the gentleman was skeptical, but he needed the gentleman to quickly go to Dover, and so he needed to quickly give the gentleman enough assurance so the gentleman would quickly leave and do the task.

He said, “No, do not. But for confirmation that I am much more than my outward appearance of a servant suggests, open this wallet, and take the money and ring it contains. If you shall see Cordelia — as you will, don’t worry— show her this ring, and she will tell you who your servant — me — is, whom you yet do not know.

“Damn this storm! I will go seek the King.”

The gentleman was convinced that the disguised Kent was of a good and high-ranking family. He was willing to undertake the mission.

The gentleman said, “Let’s shake hands. Do you have anything else to say to me?”

“Only a few words, but they are more important than all the other words. We need to find the King. You go that way, and I’ll go this way. Whoever first finds the King will shout to the other that the King has been found.”

— 3.2 —

In another part of the heath, with the storm still raging, stood King Lear and the Fool.

King Lear shouted into the storm, “Blow, winds! Puff up your cheeks and blow! Rage! Blow!You cataracts — you flood gates of Heaven — and hurricanes, spoutwater until you have drenched our steeples and drowned the weathercocks!You sulfurous lightning that flashes as quickly as thought, forerunners of thunderbolts that split mighty oaks, singe my white head! And you, all-shaking thunder, smite flat the thick rotundity of the world! Crack Nature’s molds and spill all seeds that make ungrateful Humankind!”

The Fool said, “Oh, my uncle, court holy-water in a dry house is better than this rainwater out of doors.”

Court holy-water was flattery, something that many courts are known for.

The Fool continued, “My good uncle, go inside, and ask for your daughters’ blessing. Here is a night that pities neither wise man nor fool.”

The Fool was concerned about the King and wanted him to be somewhere dry and safe, even if it meant apologizing to his daughters.

Ignoring the Fool, King Lear shouted into the storm, “Rumble your bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain! Not rain, nor wind, nor thunder, nor fiery lightning are my daughters. I do not charge you, you elements, with unkindness toward me. I never gave you a Kingdom, and I never called you my children. You owe me no allegiance, and so let fall on me your horrible pleasure. Here I stand, your slave: a poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man. But yet I call you servile agents that have with two pernicious daughters joined your Heavenly armies against a head as old and white as this. Oh! Oh! It is foul!”

The Fool said, “He who has a house to put his head in has a good head-piece.”

The compound word “head-piece” meant both a helmet and a brain.

The Fool sang this song:

The cod-piece that will house

Before the head has any,

The head and he shall louse;

So beggars marry many.”

The compound word “cod-piece” meant “penis” in this context.

The Fool was saying that a penis that sought a home — vagina — before the head had a home would suffer. Both the head hair and the pubic hair would be infested with lice. Someone who was impudent and sought sex rather than love would end up a beggar and would “marry” — be joined with — many lice.

The Fool then sang this song:

The man who makes his toe

What he his heart should make

Shall of a corn, aka bunion on a toe, cry woe,

And turn his sleep to wake.”

This meant that the man who treasures something trivial such as a toe rather than something precious such as his heart would end up hurting and unable to sleep at night.

King Lear had done this. He had valued Goneril and Regan more than he had valued Cordelia.

The Fool was not trying to cheer up King Lear. Instead of being funny, the Fool’s words were wise. King Lear was in the process of learning from his mistakes, but he had not learned all that he needed to learn. He had learned that Goneril and Regan were bad daughters, but he still needed to learn to value Cordelia, although he had started the process of doing that.

The Fool then said, “For there was never yet a beautiful woman who did not make mouths when she looked in a mirror.”

The phrase “make mouths” meant to “make faces.” A beautiful woman could smile when she looked in a mirror to make herself more beautiful, but to “make a mouth” could also mean to make a contemptuous smile, such as the one that Oswald gave the disguised Kent before the disguised Kent was put in the stocks.

Cordelia might smile pleasantly when she looked in a mirror, but Goneril and Regan were very capable of making contemptuous smiles when looking into a mirror — looking at the face of a close relative can be like looking into a mirror. In fact, they smiled when they recently took their father’s Knights away from him. It is possible to infuriate an old father by saying hurtful words in a soothing voice.

King Lear calmed down and said, “No, I will be the pattern of all patience and self-control. I will say nothing.”

The disguised Kent came out of the darkness and asked, “Who’s there?”

The Fool replied, “Here’s grace and a cod-piece; that’s a wise man and a fool.”

The Fool did not say who was the wise man and who was the fool.

The disguised Kent said to King Lear, “Alas, sir, are you here? Things that love night do not love such nights as these; the wrathful skies frighten the very wanderers of the dark and make them stay in their caves. Ever since I became a man, I cannot remember ever experiencing such a storm as this: such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrible thunder, such groans of roaring wind and rain. Man’s nature cannot endure the affliction of the storm or the fear it inspires.”

King Lear said, “Let the great gods, who keep this dreadful tumult over our heads, find out who are their enemies now. Tremble, you wretches, who have within you secret crimes, unpunished by justice. Hide yourselves, you bloody murderers, you perjurers, and you incestuous men who pretend to be virtuous. Tremble, wretches who under secret and convenient appearances have plotted against the lives of men. Well-concealed criminals, burst out of your concealing hiding places, and cry for mercy from these dreadful summoners who wish to see you punished.”

A summoner was a man who took an accused person to an ecclesiastical court to be tried.

King Lear paused and then added, “I am a man who is more sinned against than sinning.”

The disguised Kent said, “I am sorry to see you bare-headed in this storm! My gracious lord, nearby here is a hovel; it will lend you some friendship and protection against the tempest. Rest there while I go to this hard house, the inhabitants of which — your daughters — are harder than the stones of which the house is made. Just now, your daughters, when I was asking about you and your whereabouts, refused to let me in. Let me return there and force them to show some courtesy to you, their father.”

King Lear said, “My wits begin to turn.”

His mind was changing; he was growing and beginning to be empathetic. Just a while ago, he had been calling for the extinction of Humankind, but now he began to be concerned about the man — or perhaps boy — who was his Fool. He wanted shelter for the Fool.

He said to the Fool, “Come on, my boy. How are you doing, my boy? Are you cold? I am cold myself.”

He said to the disguised Kent, “Where is this straw, my servant? Necessity has strange powers and can make vile things — such as warm straw in a hovel — precious. Come, take us to the hovel you have found.”

He said to his Fool, “Poor Fool and knave, I still have one part in my heart that is alive and feels empathy for you.”

The Fool sang this song:

He who has a little tiny wit —

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain —

Must make happiness with his fortunes fit,

For the rain it rains every day.”

This song meant that a person who is not very intelligent — a description that applies to all of us — must find a way to be happy with life despite the rain, aka evil, that falls upon each of us continually.

King Lear said to the Fool, “True, my good boy.”

He then said to the disguised Kent, “Come, take us to this hovel.”

King Lear and the disguised Kent departed, and the Fool said this to you, the reader:

“This is a splendid night to cool the lust of a courtesan — on such a night she won’t be horny.”

He paused and then added, “I’ll tell you a prophecy before I go:

“When priests are more in word than matter,

“In other words, when priests talk more about sin than actually commit sin,

“Or perhaps, in other words, when priests talk more about leading an ethical life than actually try to lead an ethical life,

“When brewers mar their malt with water,

“In other words, when brewers water their beer and make it healthier and decrease alcoholism,

“Or perhaps, in other words, when brewers ruin their beer by watering it down,

“When nobles are their tailors’ tutors,

“In other words, when nobles know how to do the work of the common people,

“Or perhaps, in other words, when nobles think they know more than the real experts know,

“When no heretics are burned, except wenches’ suitors,

“In other words, when no heretics are burned, except for women’s suitors, who are properly punished as they burn from venereal disease because they did not obey the word of God,

“When every case in law is right,

“In other words, when no innocent people are convicted and no guilty people remain unpunished,

“When no squire is in debt, nor no poor Knight,

“In other words, when people stay out of debt,

“When slanders do not live in tongues,

“In other words, when people do not spread malicious gossip,

“Nor cutpurses come not to throngs,

“In other words, when pickpockets do not go among crowds of people and steal,

“When usurers tell their gold in the field,

“In other words, when moneylenders count their money in the open,

“And bawds and whores do churches build,

“In other words, when panderers and whores turn to God and build churches,

“Then shall the realm of Albion

“In other words, then shall the realm of England

“Come to great confusion,

“In other words, England shall be troubled,

“And then comes the time, who lives to see it,

“In other words, and then comes the time, whoever lives to see it,

“That going shall be used with feet.

“In other words, then walking shall be done with feet.”

This prophecy stated that England would always be troubled — even if it were a utopia.

Of course, a utopia will never happen in the real world, and because it will never happen (and even if it did happen), England will continue to be troubled.

What is a sure way to tell that England is troubled? If men walk with their feet, then you know that England is troubled.

It does not matter whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, England is troubled.

The Fool then said, “This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time.”

The Fool and King Lear lived centuries before the time of Merlin and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but the prophecy was true at the time that King Lear lived, and it was true at the time that Merlin lived.

It is still true today.

It will always be true until Humankind becomes extinct.

What the prophecy says about England is true of the world as a whole.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved




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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 4

— 2.4 —

King Lear, the Fool, and a gentleman who served King Lear arrived at the courtyard of the Earl of Gloucester’s castle. They were close to the disguised Kent, King Lear’s messenger, who was still in the stocks.

King Lear said, “Itis strange that the Duke of Cornwall and Regan should depart in this way from their home, and not send back to me my messenger.”

The gentleman said, “I learned that the night before they moved they had no plan to move.”

They had not seen the disguised Kent, but now he said, “Hail to you, noble master!”

Seeing that the disguised Kent was in stocks, King Lear asked him, “Are you doing this for your own amusement? Is this a joke?”

“No, my lord.”

The Fool said, “He is wearing cruel garters.”

The Fool was punning on “crewel,” which was a thin worsted yarn that was used to make stockings.

The Fool continued, “Horses are tied by the heads, dogs and bears by the neck, monkeys by the waist, and men by the legs. When a man’s over-lusty at legs — a vagabond — then he wears wooden stockings.”

King Lear asked the disguised Kent, “Who is the man who has so misunderstood your position as my messenger that he has placed you here in the stocks?”

“It is both he and she: your son-in-law and daughter.”

Horrified, King Lear said, “No!” To deliberately stock his messenger — knowing that he was his messenger — was a major insult to him as a King and as a man and as a father and father-in-law.


“No, I say.”

“I say, yes.”

“No, no, they would not.”

“Yes, they have.”

“By Jupiter, I swear, no.”

“By Juno, I swear, yes.”

King Lear said, “They would not dare to do it. They could not, would not do it; it is worse than murder to do such violent outrage to a person whom they ought to respect because of whom he serves. Tell me, as quickly as you can tell me clearly, in which way you might deserve, or they might legitimately impose, this treatment on you, knowing that you are my messenger.”

“My lord, when at their home I delivered your Highness’ letter to them, before I rose from the place I was kneeling to show them respect, there came a steaming messenger, soaked in sweat because of his haste, half breathless, panting forth the salutations that came from Goneril. He delivered a letter, although he was interrupting me, which they read immediately. Because of the contents of that letter, the Duke of Cornwall and Regan summoned up their retinue of servants, immediately took to horse, and then commanded me to follow them and wait until they had leisure to answer your letter. They gave me cold looks.

“Meeting here in this place the other messenger, whose welcome, I perceived, had poisoned mine — he was Oswald, the very fellow who had recently been so saucy to your Highness — and having more courage than intelligence about me, I drew my sword.

“He aroused the people in the house with his loud and cowardly cries. Your son and daughter found this trespass worth the shame that here it suffers in the stocks.”

The Fool said, “Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way.”

He meant that bad times were going to continue. If the wild geese were still flying south, winter was coming. Regan was acting the way that Goneril had acted.

The Fool then sang this song:

Fathers who wear rags

Do make their children blind;

But fathers who bear moneybags

Shall see their children kind.

Fortune, that arrant whore,

Never turns the key to the poor.”

When a father is poor, his children will be blind to his needs because providing for his needs will cost them money. But when a father is rich, his children will be kind to him in hopes of receiving a good inheritance. Fortune, aka luck, is a whore who will not open her door to a poor man who cannot afford to pay her for her services.

The Fool added, “But, for all this, you shall have as many dolors — by which I mean griefs, not dollars — on account of your daughters as you can speak of or count in a year.”

Feeling ill, King Lear said, “Oh, how this mother swells up toward my heart! Hysterica passio, go back down, you climbing sorrow. Your element’s below!”

The illness hysterica passiowas also called “the mother.” The affliction involved a sense of choking and suffocation that began low and then went higher in the throat. It was thought to begin in the womb for women and in the abdomen for men.

King Lear asked, “Where is my daughter?”

The disguised Kent replied, “With the Earl of Gloucester, sir. She is within.”

King Lear said to the gentleman and the Fool, “Don’t follow me. Stay here.”

He exited.

The gentleman asked the disguised Kent, “Did you commit any offense other than the one you spoke of?”

“None,” Kent replied. “How is it that the King comes with so small a train of followers?”

The Fool said, “If you had been set in the stocks for asking that question, you would have well deserved it.”

“Why, Fool?”

The Fool gave a cynical answer: “We’ll send you to be educated by an ant, to teach you there’s no laboring in the winter.”

The Fool was saying that men do not work when they receive no profit. Ants work hard in the summer because food can be collected then, but they do not work in the winter. Similarly, many people were willing to serve King Lear when he had wealth and power, but many people were not willing to serve him now.

The Fool continued, “All who follow their noses are led by their eyes except blind men; and there’s not a nose among twenty but can smell a man who is stinking.”

The Fool was saying that it was obvious that King Lear lacked wealth and power. A sighted man could readily see his poverty, and a blind man could readily smell his poverty, which stank.

The Fool continued, “Let go your hold when a great wheel runs down a hill, lest it break your neck as you follow it, but when a great wheel goes up the hill, let it draw you upward.”

In other words, hitch your wagon to a rising star, but when a star falls abandon it. Watch how your master’s Wheel of Fortune is turning: Is it bringing him higher or lower?

The advice was cynical, but the Fool did not think that good people would, or should, follow it.

The Fool continued, “When a wise man gives you better advice than I have just given you, give my advice back to me. I want no one but knaves to follow this advice, since a fool gives it.”

The Fool sang this song:

That sir who serves and seeks for gain,

And follows but for form,

Will pack when it begins to rain,

And leave you in the storm.”

The word “form” meant “appearance.” The Fool was saying that many men abandon the person they serve when the going gets rough.

He continued to sing this song:

But I will tarry; the Fool will stay,

And let the wise man fly:

The knave turns fool who runs away;

The Fool is no knave, by God.”

The Fool was saying that he would continue to serve King Lear. Abandoning him would be a knavish thing to do, the kind of thing a fool would do, and the Fool was no knave and no fool.

The disguised Kent asked the Fool, “Where did you learn this, Fool?”

The Fool replied, “Not in the stocks, Fool.”

This was a compliment. The Fool was saying that the disguised Kent was a faithful follower of King Lear and that the disguised Kent would not abandon him — the disguised Kent was no knave. If the disguised Kent had abandoned King Lear, he would not now be in the stocks.

King Lear returned with the Earl of Gloucester.

King Lear said, “They refuse to speak with me? They are sick? They are weary? They have travelled all night? These are mere excuses, tricks, and pretenses. These are signs of revolt and desertions. Go back to them and bring me a better answer.”

The Earl of Gloucester replied, “My dear lord, you know the fiery quality of Duke Cornwall and how stubborn and fixed he is in his own course. He wants to have things his own way.”

Angry, King Lear shouted, “Vengeance! Plague! Death! Destruction!”

He then shouted, “Fiery? What quality? Why, Gloucester, Gloucester, I wish to speak with the Duke of Cornwall and his wife.”

“Well, my good lord, I have informed them so.”

“Informed them!” King Lear said. “Do you understand me, man?”

“Yes, my good lord.”

“The King wishes to speak with the Duke of Cornwall; the dear father wishes to speak with his daughter, and he commands her service and is waiting for her. Have they been informed of this? My breath and blood! Fiery? The fiery Duke? Tell the hot Duke that — no, do not tell him yet. Maybe he is not well. Illness always makes us neglect our duties that we would do if we were well and healthy. We are not ourselves when we are afflicted by illness that commands the mind to suffer with the body. I’ll restrain myself, and I am angry that my headstrong impulse makes me mistake an indisposed and sickly man for a sound and healthy man.”

His eyes happened to fall on the disguised Kent, who was still in the stocks, and he immediately grew angry again: “Death on my state! Why should he sit here? This act persuades me that this move of the Duke of Cornwall and Regan from their palace to here and their refusal to speak to me is a deliberate scheme and insult. Set my servant free. Go tell the Duke and his wife that I will speak with them now — immediately. Tell them to come here and listen to me, or at their chamber-door I’ll beat a drum and kill their sleep.”

“I would have all well between you,” the Earl of Gloucester said as he left to carry out the errand.

Suffering another attack of hysterica passio, King Lear said, “Oh, me! My heart, my rising heart! Down!”

The Fool said, “Cry, my uncle, as the cockney cook did to the eels when she put them alive in the cooking dish; she rapped them on the heads with a stick, and cried, ‘Down, playful creatures, down!’”

If the cockney cook had killed the eels before putting them in the cooking dish, she would not have had this problem.

If King Lear’s heart had stopped and he had died before his wealth and power were distributed, he would not now be having this problem. And if Goneril and Regan had died earlier, King Lear would not now be having this problem.

The Fool added, “It was her brother who, in pure kindness to his horse, buttered its hay.”

Her brother had wanted to be kind, but horses do not eat grease. The brother’s kindness had a bad result: It rendered the hay inedible.

King Lear had wanted to be kind when he gave away his wealth and power as dowries for his daughters, but his kindness was having bad results.

The Duke of Cornwall, Regan, the Earl of Gloucester, and some servants arrived.

“Good morrow to you both,” King Lear said to the Duke of Cornwall and Regan.

“Hail to your grace!” the Duke of Cornwall replied.

The servants set the disguised Kent free.

Regan said to her father, “I am glad to see your Highness.”

“Regan, I think you are,” King Lear said. “I know what reason I have to think so. If you should not be glad to see me, I would divorce your mother, who is in a tomb, because the tomb would be sepulchering an adulteress.”

A biological daughter ought to be glad to see her father.

King Lear looked at the disguised Kent and said to him, “Oh, are you free? Some other time we will address that.”

He then said, “Beloved Regan, your sister’s evil. Oh, Regan, her sharp-toothed unkindness has stabbed me, like a vulture tied to me, here.”

Overcome with emotion, he pointed to his heart, and then he said, “I can scarcely speak; you will not believe with how depraved a manner — oh, Regan!”

“Please, control yourself,” Regan said. “I hope that you are mistaken. I hope that you are undervaluing Goneril’s good qualities rather than that she is failing in her duties as a daughter to you.”

“What do you mean?”

Regan replied, “I cannot think my sister in the least would fail in her obligations to you. If, sir, perhaps she has restrained the riotous behavior of your followers, it is on such grounds, and for such a wholesome end, as would clear her of all blame.”

King Lear shouted, “My curses on her!”

Regan replied, “Oh, sir, you are old. Nature in you stands on the very verge of her limit — you have nearly reached the end of your life. You should be ruled and led by some discreet person who discerns your state of mind — and your social position — better than you yourself do. Therefore, I ask you to please return to our sister and say that you have wronged her, sir.”

“Ask her for her forgiveness?” King Lear said. “Do you think that this would suit my position as King and father?”

He knelt and said, “Dear daughter, I confess that I am old. Old people are useless. On my knees I beg that you’ll give me clothing, bed and shelter, and food.”

Regan said, “Good sir, no more of this. This is an unsightly trick. Return to my sister.”

King Lear stood up and said, “Never, Regan. She has deprived me of half of my train of followers. She has looked black upon me, and she struck me with her tongue, very like a serpent, upon the very heart. May all the stored vengeances of Heaven fall on her ungrateful head! Strike her young bones, you infecting airs, with lameness!”

“Sir!” the Duke of Cornwall said.

King Lear shouted, “You nimble lightnings, dart your blinding flames into her scornful eyes! Infect her beauty, you swampland fogs, drawn by the powerful Sun; fall upon her and blast her pride!”

Regan said, “Oh, the blest gods! You will wish the same things on me when you are in another rash mood.”

“No, Regan, you shall never have my curse,” King Lear said. “Your tender-hearted nature that is set in a woman’s body shall not give you over to harshness. Goneril’s eyes are fierce; but your eyes comfort and do not burn. It is not in you to begrudge me my pleasures, to reduce in size my train of followers, to exchange hasty words with me, to scant my allowance, and in conclusion to draw the bolt and lock the door to prevent me from coming in. You know better than Goneril the duties of natural affection, the bond of childhood, the good manners of courtesy, and the dues of gratitude — you have not forgotten the half of the Kingdom that I gave you.”

“Good sir, get to the point,” Regan said.

“Who put my servant in the stocks?” King Lear asked.

A trumpet sounded some distinctive notes.

“What trumpet is that?” the Duke of Cornwall asked.

“I know it,” Regan said. “It is my sister’s. In her letter to me, she wrote that she would come here.”

Oswald, Goneril’s courtier, entered the courtyard.

“Has your lady come?” Regan asked.

King Lear said about Oswald, “This is a slave, whose easy-borrowed pride dwells in the fickle grace of the woman he serves. He has done nothing to deserve pride; he has no rightful pride.”

He said to Oswald, “Out, varlet; get out of my sight!”

Oswald stayed in the courtyard.

“What does your grace mean?” the Duke of Cornwall asked.

“Who put my servant in the stocks?” King Lear asked. “Regan, I hope that you did not know about it.”

Goneril entered the courtyard.

King Lear said, “Who comes here? Oh, Heavens, if you love old men, if your sweet rule approves of obedience — the obedience daughters owe to their fathers — if you yourselves are old, make my cause your cause; send down the stored vengeances of Heaven, and take my part!”

He said to Goneril, “Aren’t you ashamed to look upon this beard?”

His white beard was a sign of old age and the respect that ought to be accorded to old age.

Regan and Goneril held hands.

King Lear said, “Oh, Regan, will you take her by the hand?”

Goneril replied, “Why shouldn’t she take me by the hand, sir? How have I offended you? Not everything is offensive that poor judgment and senility believe to be offensive.”

“Oh, sides, you are too tough,” King Lear said. “Will you continue to hold my breaking heart inside my chest? How came my servant to be put in the stocks?”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “I set him there, sir, but his disorderly conduct deserved much less good treatment. He should have been punished much more harshly.”

“You!” King Lear said. “Did you?”

Regan said, “Please, father, you are weak, and I wish that you would act that way. Return with and stay with my sister until the expiration of your month, and then, after dismissing half your train of followers, come and stay with me. I am now away from home, and I do not have what is needed to take care of and entertain you.”

“Return with her to her home, with fifty of my men already dismissed?” King Lear said. “No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose to wage war against the enmity of the air; to be a comrade with the wolf and owl — to endure the sharp pinch of necessity! Return with her to her home?

“Why, think about the hot-blooded King of France, who took as a wife Cordelia, our youngest born, even without a dowry. I could as well be brought to kneel before his throne, and, like a humble servant, beg for a pension to keep base life afoot. Return with her? Persuade me instead to be a slave and packhorse to this detested servant.”

King Lear pointed at Oswald.

“As you choose, sir,” Goneril said.

“Please, daughter, do not make me mad,” King Lear said. “I will not trouble you, my child. Farewell. We’ll meet no more, see one another no more. But yet you are my flesh, my blood, my daughter — or rather you are a disease that’s in my flesh, which I must call mine: You are a boil, a plague-sore, a swollen carbuncle, in my disease-corrupted blood. But I’ll not criticize you; let shame come to you when it will, I do not call it upon you. I do not bid Jupiter, the thunder-bearer, to shoot bolts of lightning at you, nor do I tell tales of you to Jupiter the highest judge. Mend when you can; be better at your leisure. I can be patient; I can stay with Regan, I and my hundred Knights.”

King Lear’s Knights had already been reduced to fifty, but he hoped that Regan would honor the agreement made when he gave her dowry to her and allow him to have once more a hundred Knights.

Regan said, “Not so fast. I had not expected you to visit me yet, nor am I prepared with what is necessary to give you a fit welcome. Listen, sir, to my sister. Rational people who listen to your passionate complaints must come to the conclusion that you are old, and so —”

She hesitated and then said, “But she knows what she is doing.”

“Is this well spoken?” King Lear asked. “Do you really mean to say this?”

“I dare to say that it is true, sir,” Regan replied. “What, fifty followers? Isn’t that a good number? Why should you need more? Yes, or so many, since both expense and danger speak against so great a number? To maintain fifty Knights costs much money. And how, in one house, should so many people, under two commands, stay friendly? It is hard, almost impossible, to maintain the peace under such conditions.”

Goneril asked, “Why can’t you, my lord, be served by those whom she calls her servants or by my own servants?”

“Why not, my lord?” Regan asked. “If then they chanced to slack off while serving you, we could control them. If you will come to me — but now I see danger in you having so many Knights serving you — I entreat you to bring only twenty-five Knights. To no more than that will I give place or recognition.”

King Lear said, “I gave you everything —”

“And about time, too,” Regan said.

“I made you my guardians and my trustees,” King Lear said, “but I reserved some rights. We made an agreement that I would be allowed to have a hundred Knights serving me. What! Must I come to you with only twenty-five Knights, Regan? Don’t you remember?”

King Lear had reserved the right to have a hundred Knights serve him as a symbol of his social status. He was a King, not a servant or a beggar.

“If you say that again, my lord, you will have nothing more to do with me,” Regan said.

King Lear said, “Wicked creatures look good when they are compared to other creatures that are even more wicked. Not being the worst deserves some praise.”

He said to Goneril, “I will go with you. You allow me fifty Knights, and that is double the twenty-five Knights that Regan will allow me to have; therefore, you must love me twice as much as she does.”

Goneril said, “Listen to me, my lord. Why do you need twenty-five, ten, or five Knights to serve you in a house where twice so many are commanded to take care of you?”

Regan asked, “Why do you need one Knight?”

King Lear replied, “Oh, reason not the need. Don’t ask why they are needed. Even our basest beggars have something more than is absolutely needed. If you were to allow a man no more than what a man absolutely needs, that man’s life would be as cheap as a beast’s.

“You are a lady, and you wear gorgeous clothing. The purpose of clothing is to keep you warm, and if you have only the clothing that is needed to keep you warm, you would not need the gorgeous clothing you are wearing, which barely keep you warm. You can keep warmer with a plain cloak.

“But, for true need —”

Some things cannot be quantified. King Lear had tried to quantify love by the number of Knights his daughters would allow him, and he had tried to quantify love earlier when before he gave his daughters their dowries he asked them to tell him how much they loved him.

Also, some needs are social. They may not be necessary to keep one alive, but they are nonetheless needs. Such needs include gorgeous clothing and the services of a hundred Knights. They also include love and respect.

King Lear said, “You Heavens, give me patience — the ability to endure pain — that’s what I need! You see me here, you gods, a poor old man, as full of grief as of age, and wretched in both!”

He then changed his mind about what he needed: “If you gods are the ones who are stirring these daughters’ hearts against their father, don’t make me so much a fool that I endure it meekly. Touch me with noble anger, and don’t let women’s weapons — drops of water, aka tears — stain my man’s cheeks!”

He said to Goneril and Regan, “No, you unnatural hags, I will have such revenges on you both, that all the world shall — I will do such things — I don’t know what they are yet, but they shall be the terrors of the Earth! You think I’ll weep. No, I’ll not weep. I have full cause to weep, but this heart shall break into a hundred thousand pieces before I’ll weep.”

Thunder sounded.

He then said to one of his few supporters, “Oh, Fool, I shall go mad!”

King Lear, the Earl of Gloucester, the disguised Kent, and the Fool left.

The storm started in earnest.

“Let us go inside,” the Duke of Cornwall said. “There will be a storm.”

Regan said, “This house is little. The old man and his people cannot be well accommodated here.”

“It is his own fault,” Goneril said. “He has put himself out in the storm and away from shelter, and he has made his mind unrestful and disturbed. He needs to suffer from his folly.”

“I’ll receive him and take care of him gladly,” Regan said, “but not even one of his followers.”

“I am resolved to do the same thing,” Goneril said. “Where is my lord of Gloucester?”

“He followed the old man,” the Duke of Cornwall said. “Here he comes.”

The Earl of Gloucester entered the courtyard and said, “The King is in a high rage.”

“Where is he going?” the Duke of Cornwall asked.

“He is calling for his horses, but I don’t know where he is going.”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “It is best to give him his way and let him go. He insists on having his own way.”

“My lord, do not ask him to stay,” Goneril said.

“The night is coming, and the bleak winds are getting very strong,” the Earl of Gloucester said. “There is scarcely even a bush for many miles around here.”

Regan said, “Oh, sir, willful men such as my father must learn from the injuries that they inflict on themselves. Shut and lock your doors. My father is served by a desperate train of followers, and since he allows himself to be manipulated by them, wisdom tells us to be afraid of what they may incite him to do.”

The Duke of Cornwall, who outranked the Earl of Gloucester, said, “Shut and lock your doors, my lord; it is a wild night. My Regan has given you good advice; come out of the storm.”

The Earl of Gloucester did as he was ordered.


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David Bruce: Flowers Anecdotes

A nobleman deeply loved his garden of chrysanthemums. In fact, he loved the flowers more than he loved his wife, and he used to severely punish anyone who accidentally broke off a blossom while walking in his garden. Zen master Sengai learned of the nobleman’s behavior, so he walked into the nobleman’s garden one day with a sickle. Hearing a noise in his garden, the nobleman went to investigate — and discovered that Sengi had cut down every chrysanthemum. Sengai told the nobleman, “Even weeds like this become rank if they are not cut.” The nobleman realized that he had been wrong and began to treat people with more respect.

Margaret Webster was called on to play Lady Macbeth at short notice because of an emergency, and during her airplane trip to the theater she closed her eyes and tried hard to remember the business she must perform on stage that evening. A man noticed her and offered, “I have some airsickness tablets, if you would like one.” She declined, and after that evening’s performance she found a huge bouquet of flowers waiting for her at her hotel, with the note, “Never again will I mistake a rehearsal of the sleepwalking scene for airsickness.”

When George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova were keeping house together and working for Sergei Diaghilev, they participated in the Monte Carlo premiere of Le Bal. Unfortunately, all of the soloists except Ms. Danilova received flowers at the curtain. This made Mr. Diaghilev angry, and he spoke to Mr. Balanchine about it. At the next performance, Mr. Balanchine sent Ms. Danilova 100 roses at the curtain — there were so many that she couldn’t carry them all, and she gave many of them away to other members of the company.

Marie Curie’s name was Marya Sklodowska when she was born in Poland. As a child, she concentrated on her books. One day, as she sat, absorbed in reading, her siblings built an arch of chairs over her. She finished reading, stood up, and toppled the chairs. Her siblings laughed, but she said merely, “That’s stupid,” before walking out of the room. When she went out on her first date with Pierre Curie, he didn’t give her candy or flowers — instead, he gave her a copy of a scientific article that he had authored.

Ruth St. Denis cared little for flowers and would throw them away after a performance. Her husband, Ted Shawn, would often rescue the flowers and put them in water after reading the card that came with them. Sometimes, a visitor came backstage to visit her, and Mr. Shawn would whisper to her something like, “Mrs. Jones — red roses.” Ms. St. Denis would then say, “Mrs. Jones. Those beautiful red roses. They went right to my heart. Oh, my dear, thank you. Thank you so much.”

After witnessing a particularly good performance, balletomanes often throw flowers — which sometimes leads to problems. A balletomane once threw a “remarkably solid and heavy water lily” which hit Margot Fonteyn in the chest. Another regular ballet-goer discovered that flowers were easier to throw when they were weighted, so Ms. Fonteyn quickly learned to keep an eye in his direction whenever she came out for bows after a performance.

The famous writer of haiku, Basho, once decided to visit a place that was famed for its beautiful flowers. While traveling there, he heard about a peasant girl who was famed for her tender devotion to her parents. Basho visited the peasant girl, and discovered that her devotion to her parents had not been exaggerated. Basho then gave her all the money he had saved for his trip and returned home, saying, “This year I have seen something better than flowers.”

The world fell in love with Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Not only did she revolutionize gymnastics with high-difficulty and high-risk feats, she exhibited a winning personality to the audience. In the finals of the women’s all-around competition, Olga fell off the uneven bars. As Olga was crying afterward, a woman in the audience jumped over a barrier, ran to her, and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.

During Vatican II, a Dominican father gave a flowery speech praising women. He expected the approval of the women in the audience, but he did not get it. Instead, a woman told him, “Leave out the bouquets. The only thing needed is what women expect: To be recognized and treated as the full human persons they are in the Church, equal in all things.”

Oscar Wilde once went into a florist shop and asked that the flowers in the window be removed. The florist replied, “With pleasure, sir. How many would you like to have?” Mr. Wilde replied, “Oh, I don’t want any, thank you. I only asked to have them removed from the window because I thought that they looked tired.”

Each week, William Powell put flowers on the grave of Jean Harlow. When Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married, Marilyn requested that he do the same thing for her if she should die before he did. After Marilyn died, although the two were divorced, Joe honored her request.

Why practice meditation? When Munindra was asked that, his students listened closely to his answer, hoping to hear something profound. Munindra answered, “I practice meditation to notice the small purple flowers growing by the roadside, which I otherwise might miss.”

The great Russian dancer Lubov Tchernicheva seldom smiled when she was dancing for Sergei Diaghilev, but teenage dancer Alicia Markova knew how to cheer her up. Young Alicia would occasionally give her a bunch of carnations. Then Ms. Tchernicheva would smile.

Bitter political campaigns are nothing new. After a fiercely fought primary campaign years ago, Chauncey Depew, a Republican, observed, “The only question now is which corpse gets the most flowers.”

At a retreat, Zen master Soen Roshi once woke several Zen students in the middle of the night, then led them downstairs to admire a night-blooming crocus.

A Pennsylvania cemetery once displayed this sign: “Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”

“A flower is more beautiful in the hands of a woman than all the pearls and diamonds in the world.” — Isadora Duncan.


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 2-3

— 2.2 —

The disguised Kent and Oswald, Goneril’s steward, met in front of the Earl of Gloucester’s castle. The time was a little before dawn.

Oswald said, “Good dawning to you, friend. Are you a servant in this castle?”

The disguised Kent replied, “Yes.”

This was a lie. He recognized Oswald, whom he had tripped in the Duke of Albany’s castle because Oswald had treated King Lear badly, and he wanted to start a fight with him. Oswald did not recognize Kent.

“Where may we stable our horses?” Oswald asked.

“In the mud and mire,” the disguised Kent replied.

“Please, if you respect me, tell me.”

“If you respect me” meant “if you would be so kind,” but the disguised Kent deliberately mistook it as being literal.

“I don’t respect you.”

“Why, then, I don’t care for you,” an angry Oswald replied.

“If I had you in Lipsbury pinfold, I would make you care for me.”

A pinfold is a pen for stray cattle, and “Lipsbury” has the meaning of “Lipstown.” The disguised Kent was saying that if he had Oswald in his power — between his teeth — he would make him care for — be wary of — him.

“Why are you talking to and treating me this way?” Oswald complained. “I don’t know you.”

“Fellow, I know you,” the disguised Kent said.

“Who do you think I am?”

“You are a knave. You are a rascal. You are a servant who dines on broken foods — leftovers. You are a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, lightweight, filthy, worsted-stocking knave. You have only the three suits of clothing given annually to servants, and you wear the low-value worsted stockings that a servant wears rather than the silk stockings of an upper-class person. You are a lily-livered, legal-action-taking knave who is too cowardly to fight and so prefers to file a lawsuit. You are a whoreson, mirror-gazing and vain, super-serviceable and over-officious as well as finical and fussy rogue. You are a one-trunk-inheriting slave — all you inherited will fit into one trunk. You are a person who will be a bawd by way of providing good service to your master. You are nothing but the compound of a knave, beggar, coward, and panderer. You are the son and heir of a mongrel bitch; not only are you a son of a mongrel bitch, but you also inherited all the qualities of the mongrel bitch. You are a person whom I will beat into clamorous whining if you deny even the smallest syllable of the names that I have called you.”

Oswald complained, “Why, what a monstrous fellow you are, thus to rail against a person whom you do not know and who does not know you!”

“What a brazen-faced varlet you are to deny that you know me!” the disguised Kent said. “Is it two days since I tripped up your heels, and beat you in front of the King? Draw your sword, you rogue, for although it is night, yet the Moon shines. I’ll make a sop of the moonlight out of you: I will fill you full of holes that soak up the moonlight. Draw your sword, you whoreson, despicable barber-monger, draw.”

Kent was a master of invective. A whoremonger is a person who drums up business for whores. Kent was calling Oswald a barber-monger, a person who drummed up business for barbers. In other words, he was saying that Oswald made himself useful to men who were very concerned about their appearance.

Kent drew his sword.

Oswald said, “Stay away from me! I have nothing to do with you.”

“Draw, you rascal. You have come with letters against the King, and you take the part of Vanity the Puppet — Goneril — against the royalty of her father. Draw, you rogue, or I’ll slice your shanks. Draw your sword, you rascal, and fight me!”

Oswald shouted, “Help! Murder! Help!”

“Fight, you slave! Stand up and fight, rogue! Stand! You fancy slave, fight!”

The disguised Kent used the flat of his sword to hit Oswald.

Oswald shouted again, “Help! Murder! Help!”

Edmund, who had drawn his rapier, arrived on the scene, as did Regan, the Earl of Gloucester, and some servants.

Edmund asked, “What’s the matter?”

The disguised Kent replied, “Let us fight, impudent boy, if you please. Come, I’ll wound your flesh and initiate you into the world of adults. Come on, young master.”

The Earl of Gloucester said, “Weapons! Arms! What’s the matter here?”

The Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Stop fighting. Keep the peace. Your lives depend upon it. Whoever strikes again with his weapon will die. What is the matter?”

Regan said, “These are the messengers from our sister and from the King.”

“What is your argument about?” the Duke of Cornwall asked. “Speak!”

“I am out of breath, my lord,” Oswald replied.

“That is not a surprise since you have ‘fought’ so ‘courageously,’” the disguised Kent said sarcastically to him. “You cowardly rascal, Nature refuses to admit that you are natural. In fact, a tailor made you.”

“You are a strange fellow,” the Duke of Cornwall said. “Can a tailor make a man?”

“Yes, a tailor did, sir,” the disguised Kent said. “A stone-cutter or painter could not have made him so badly, even if he had been only two hours at the job. The man the tailor made is not a man; he is a tailor’s dummy.”

“Speak,” the Duke of Cornwall ordered Oswald. “How did your quarrel begin?”

“This ancient ruffian, sir, whose life I have spared because of his gray beard —”

Insulted, the disguised Kent said. “You whoreson zed! You unnecessary letter!”

The letter Z did not appear in dictionaries of the time. People felt that the letter Z was unnecessary because it could be replaced by the letter S and because Latin did not have a letter Z.

The disguised Kent said to the Duke of Cornwall, “My lord, if you will give me leave, I will tread this unbolted villain into mortar, and daub the wall of a privy with him. Spare my gray beard, you wagtail?”

The disguised Kent’s insults continued. “Unbolted” had the meaning of “unsifted”; Kent would have to step continually on Oswald in order to get the lumps out of the mortar. Of course, if Oswald were unbolted, he was not locked up in a jail. Also, if Oswald were “unbolted,” he lacked a man’s “bolt.” In addition, a wagtail is a bird that bobs its tail up and down. Kent was suggesting that Oswald was an obsequious courtier who was constantly bowing. He may also have meant that Oswald was excitedly hopping and unable to keep still.

The Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Shut up, sirrah! You beastly knave, know you no reverence and respect?”

“Yes, sir, I do, but anger has a privilege,” the disguised Kent said.

“Why are you angry?” the Duke of Cornwall asked.

“I am angry that such a slave as this should wear a sword, which is a privilege given to gentlemen, not to a man such as this who has no honesty and no virtue. Such smiling rogues as this Oswald, like rats, often bite the holy cords of marriage in two that are too intricately and closely knotted to be untied.”

The disguised Kent was making a major insinuation that Oswald was helping his boss, Goneril, sin against her husband, the Duke of Cornwall. Previously, he had called Oswald a panderer — a go-between between two illicit lovers.

He added, “Such smiling rogues smooth the path of their lords’ passions that rebel against reason — they help their lords satisfy their unreasonable desires. They bring oil to fire, and they bring snow to their masters’ colder moods.

“They deny, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks with every varying gale of their masters. They say no when their masters want to hear no, and they say yes when their masters want to hear yes. They are like a dead kingfisher that has been hung up by its neck; whichever way the wind blows the dead kingfisher will turn so that its beak acts like a weathervane.

“They know nothing, like dogs, except how to follow their masters.”

Seeing Oswald looking with contempt at him, the disguised Kent shouted at him, “A plague upon your epileptic visage! Are you smiling at what I have to say, as if I were a fool? Goose, if I had you upon Salisbury plain, I would drive you cackling home to Camelot.”

“What? Are you insane, old fellow?” the Duke of Cornwall asked.

“How did you two fall out?” the Earl of Gloucester asked. “Why did you two grow angry at each other? Tell us that.”

“No two opposites hate each other more than I and this knave,” the disguised Kent said.

“Why do you call him a knave? What’s his offense?” the Duke of Cornwall asked.

“His face does not please me.”

“And, perhaps, neither does mine, nor the Earl of Gloucester’s, nor my Duchess’.”

“Sir, it is my particular pastime to be plain,” the disguised Kent said. “I have seen better faces in my time than stand on any shoulders that I see before me at this instant.”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “This is some fellow who, having been praised for bluntness, puts on a saucy roughness, and forces plain-speaking away from its true nature. He uses it not for honest candor but for crafty trickery. This man cannot flatter — not he! He has an honest and plain mind — he must speak the truth! If they will endure his talk, he has won a victory over them; if they will not, he says that he is plain-spoken. These kinds of knaves I know; in this plain-spokenness they hide more craft and trickery and corrupter ends than twenty silly ducking attendants who constantly make silly and obsequious bows.”

The disguised Kent mocked the Duke of Cornwall by using elevated, not plain, language: “Sir, in good sooth, in sincere verity, under the allowance of your great aspect, whose influence, like the wreath of radiant fire on flickering Phoebus Apollo’s forehead —”

The Duke of Cornwall asked, “What do you mean by this?”

“I mean to go out of my usual style of speaking, which you criticize so much. I know, sir, that I am no flatterer: Whoever he was who deceived you with plain talk was a plain knave, which for my part I will not be, even though I may be so plain-spoken that you think that I am a plain knave.”

The Duke of Cornwall said to Oswald, “What was the offense you committed against him?”

“I never did him any offense,” Oswald replied. “It pleased the King his master very recently to strike at me because he misunderstood something. At that time, this man, in league with and wanting to encourage the King in his displeasure, tripped me from behind. Once I was down on the floor, he insulted me and railed against me. He acted in such a macho manner that the King thought that he was a hero and praised him although all he had done was to attack someone who was willing to walk away from a fight. Because of his success in attacking a man who would not fight back, he drew his sword against me here and attacked me again.”

The disguised Kent said, “None of these rogues and cowards but Ajax is their Fool.”

This meant: Rogues and cowards surround me, and Ajax is their Fool. Not surprisingly, this was another major insult. Great Ajax was a warrior hero in Homer’s Iliad, but later his reputation declined and he gained a reputation for great stupidity. Kent was saying that among these rogues and cowards, Ajax would be the Fool. As shown by King Lear’s Fool, Fools are not foolish although fools are foolish. In fact, Fools are often wise. Kent was saying that Ajax, as foolish as he was, would be the wise man in this groupof people around him.

Instantly angry, the Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Bring the stocks here!”

He wanted to punish the disguised Kent by putting him in the stocks, which would restrain his legs so that he could not move. The stocks were used to punish lower-class people who had committed misdemeanors.

The Duke of Cornwall said to the disguised Kent, “You stubborn old knave, you reverend braggart, we’ll teach you —”

The disguised Kent, as plain-spoken as ever, interrupted, “Sir, I am too old to learn. Call not your stocks for me. I serve the King, on whose employment I was sent to you. You shall do small respect and show too bold malice against the grace and person of my master if you stock his messenger.”

The disguised Kent was correct. Because he served King Lear, he ought to be respected because of the King. If the Duke of Cornwall were to put him in the stocks, he would be gravely insulting Lear both as a King and as a man.

The Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Bring the stocks here! As I have life and honor, there shall he sit until noon.”

Regan said, “Until noon? Until night, my lord — and all night, too!”

“Why, madam, even if I were your father’s dog, you should not treat me so.”

“Sir, you are my father’s knave, and so I will treat you so.”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “This is a fellow who matches the description of the people our sister-in-law Goneril warned us against. Come, bring the stocks!”

The stocks were brought out.

The Earl of Gloucester said, “Let me beg your grace not to do this. His fault is great, and the good King his master will rebuke him for it. Your purposed low correction — the stocks — is such as is used to punish the basest and most contemptible wretches for such things as small thefts and other common crimes. The King must take it ill that he’s so slightly valued that his messenger is thus restrained.”

“I’ll answer that,” the Duke of Cornwall said. “I’ll take responsibility for this.”

Regan said, “My sister may take it much more worse to have her gentleman — Oswald — abused and assaulted for following her orders. Put his legs in the stocks.”

The disguised Kent was put in the stocks.

Regan said, “Come, my good lord, let’s leave.”

Everyone left except the Earl of Gloucester and the disguised Earl of Kent, who was undergoing a humiliating punishment that ought never to be inflicted on an Earl.

“I am sorry for you, friend,” the Earl of Gloucester said. “This is the Duke’s pleasure, whose disposition, all the world well knows, will not be hindered or stopped. I’ll entreat him to release you.”

“Please do not, sir,” the disguised Kent said. “I have been awake a long time and travelled hard; some of the time I spend in the stocks I shall sleep, and the rest of the time I’ll whistle. A good man’s fortune may poke out at heels.”

A good man’s fortune may wear away until it becomes bad fortune, just like a good stocking becomes a bad stocking when it wears out and one’s heel pokes out of it.

The disguised Kent then said, “May God give you a good morrow!”

“The Duke’s to blame in this; it will be ill taken,” the Earl of Gloucester said, and then he exited.

Kent said to himself, “Good King Lear, you must prove this common proverb to be true: You out of Heaven’s benediction come to the warm Sun, aka a place of no shelter! Yes, you must go from better to worse, from a place like Heaven to a place that is this Earth. You have been King, but here you will not be treated like a King. When you arrive here, bad things will happen.”

He took out a letter and said softly, “Approach, you beacon — the Sun — to this under globe — the Earth — so that by your comfortable beams I may read this letter! Nothing almost sees miracles but misery; in other words, no one but the truly miserable almost sees miracles. When one is truly miserable, one hopes for a miracle!

“I know this letter is from Cordelia, who has most fortunately been informed of my obscured course of action — of what I am doing while I am in disguise.

“Cordelia is in France, away from this enormous and broken state of affairs, and she is finding time to seek a way to give losses their remedies. She wishes to right all these wrongs.

“My eyes are completely weary from being awake too long, so take advantage, heavy eyes, of this opportunity to sleep and not look at these stocks — this shameful lodging.

“Fortune, good night. Smile once more on me, and turn your wheel! Right now, I am at the bottom of the Wheel of Fortune, and a turn of the wheel will bring me higher.”

He slept.

— 2.3 —

Edgar thought out loud in a wooded area: “I heard myself proclaimed to be an outlaw, and I waslucky and happy to find and hide in a hollow of a tree and so escape the hunt.

“No seaport is free and open to me; everyplace has guards who watch with very unusual vigilance and hope to capture me. As long as I can escape capture, I will preserve myself. I have formed the plan to take the basest and poorest shape that ever poverty, in contempt of man, has brought a man closest to being a beast.

“I’ll grime my face with filth, cover only my loins and leave the rest naked, neglect my hair until it is matted and knotted, and exposed and naked I will confront the winds and persecutions of the sky.

“The countryside gives me examples and precedents of Bedlam beggars — former inmates of the Bethlehem Hospital for the insane who, released and with a license to beg, with roaring voices, stick in their numbed and pain-insensitive bare arms pins, wooden skewers, nails, and sprigs of rosemary, and with this horrible spectacle, they force people from humble farms, poor and paltry villages, sheep-cotes, and mills, sometimes with the use of lunatic curses, sometimes with prayers, to give them charity.”

Edgar practiced the cries of a Bedlam beggar: “Poor Turlygod! Poor Tom!”

He then said, “There is some good in this for me. I will look nothing like Edgar.”


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David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene – Act 2, Scene 1

— 1.5 —

In the courtyard of the Duke of Albany’s palace stood King Lear, the disguised Kent, and the Fool.

King Lear said to the disguised Kent, “Go ahead of us to Gloucester with this letter. Acquaint my daughter no further with anything you know than comes from her questions about the letter. Do not volunteer information. Be diligent in your journey; otherwise, I shall be there before you.”

“I will not sleep, my lord, until I have delivered your letter,” the disguised Kent said.

He exited.

The Fool said, “If a man’s brains were in his heels, wouldn’t it be in danger of suffering from chilblains?”

A chilblain is a painful and itchy swelling on skin that has been exposed to cold and then rapidly warmed up.

King Lear replied, “Yes, boy.”

“Then you ought to be merry because your wit and intelligence shall never go slipshod.”

King Lear laughed at the joke. He would not have to wear slippers — be slipper-shod — because he would not have chilblains on his brains. And it was good news that his brains would not be slipshod — characterized by disorganization and a lack of thought.

But why wouldn’t his brains be in his heels? One possible answer that was consistent with other things that the Fool had said was that King Lear had no brains. He had lost his brains — his wits — when he gave away his wealth and power.

The Fool said, “You shall see that your other daughter will treat you kindly because although she’s as like this daughter — Goneril — as a crab is like an apple, yet I can tell what I can tell. I know what I know.”

The Fool did not think that Regan would treat King Lear better than Goneril had treated him — he was punning. Regan would treat her father “kindly” — after her “kind.” Unfortunately, her kind was not good.

The Fool also thought about King Lear’s daughters Goneril and Regan that one daughter was as like the other daughter as a crab is to an apple. That may sound like the two daughters are very different, but the “crab” that the Fool was referring to was a crabapple.

“Why, what do you know, my boy?” King Lear asked.

“She will taste as like this daughter as a crab tastes like a crab.”

In other words, the two daughters are exactly alike. Unfortunately, crabapples are small and sour.

The Fool then asked, “Do you know why one’s nose stands in the middle of one’s face?”


“Why, to keep one’s eyes on either side of his nose so that what a man cannot smell out, he may spy into.”

In other words, the Fool was advising King Lear to stay alert and learn something. He did not yet know the true nature of his daughter Regan.

Thinking about Cordelia, King Lear said, “I did her wrong —”

The Fool asked him, “Do you know how an oyster makes its shell?”


“Neither do I, but I know why a snail has a house.”


“Why, to put his head in it; that way, he will not give it away to his daughters, and leave his horns without a case.”

This was in part an indecent joke. Readers should already know what a man’s “horn” is, and the word “case” in this society could refer to a vagina. The Fool could also have been referring to a cuckold’s horns — a man with an unfaithful wife was depicted in pictures as having horns. Again, the Fool was hinting that Goneril and Regan were not legitimate — the assumption being that a legitimate daughter would love and respect and honor her father.

“I will forget my paternal nature,” King Lear said. “Fathers are supposed to have a kindly nature when it comes to a daughter. I have been so kind a father! Are my horses ready?”

“Your asses have gone to get them ready,” the Fool said.

He added, “The reason why the seven stars — the Pleiades — are no more than seven is a pretty fine reason.”

“Because they are not eight?” King Lear said.

“Yes, indeed,” the Fool said. “You would make a good Fool.”

A good Fool should know what is obvious, even when it is not obvious to other people.

King Lear said to himself, thinking about Goneril, “Maybe I should take my Kingdom back by force! She has shown monstrous ingratitude to me!”

“If you were my Fool, my uncle, I would have you beaten because you are old before your time,” the Fool said.

“How’s that?”

“You should not have become old until you had become wise.”

A gentleman walked over to them and King Lear asked him, “Are the horses ready?”

“They are ready, my lord.”

“Come, boy,” King Lear said to the Fool.

The Fool said, “She who’s a virgin now, and laughs at my departure, shall not be a maiden long, unless things be cut shorter.”

A young virgin who laughed at the Fool’s departure was very foolish, in the Fool’s opinion, because the Fool knew — based on his knowledge of Regan — that bad things were going to happen very soon. Such a virgin was too foolish to remain a virgin for very long unless men’s things — the dangly longish sexual part under the front of their waist — should be cut very short.

— 2.1 —

Edmund and the courtier Curan met in a room of the Earl of Gloucester’s castle. They were close to where Edmund had hidden Edgar.

Edmund said, “May God save you, Curan.”

“And you, sir. I have been with your father and have informed him that the Duke of Cornwall and Regan, his Duchess, will be here with him tonight.”

“Why are they coming here?”

“I don’t know. Have you heard of the news going around — I mean the whispered news, for it is so far only ear-kissing gossip?”

“No, I haven’t heard it yet. What are people whispering?”

“Have you heard anything about a probable war between the Duke of Cornwall and the Duke of Albany?”

“Not a word,” Edmund replied.

“You may hear something, then, soon. Fare you well, sir.”

Curan exited.

Edmund said to himself, “The Duke of Cornwall is coming here tonight? This is better than I could imagine! This is the best thing that could possibly happen! His coming here weaves itself necessarily into my plot — I can take advantage of this! My father is ready to accuse and arrest my brother, and I have one thing, of a queasy question, aka sensitive nature, that I must do. May speed and good fortune be on my side and help me!”

He called, “Brother, may I have a word with you? Descend, brother, I say!”

Edgar entered the room.

“My father is still awake and watchful. Oh, sir, flee from this place; my father has been given information about where you are hiding. You have now the good advantage of the night so you can escape unseen. Haven’t you spoken against the Duke of Cornwall? He’s coming here, now, in the night, hastily, and Regan is with him. Have you said nothing about supporting his side against the Duke of Albany? Think.”

“I am sure that I have not said a word,” Edgar replied.

“I hear my father coming,” Edmund said. “Pardon me. As part of a deception, I must draw my sword upon you. Draw your sword; seem to defend yourself; now act as if you were fighting me fiercely.”

Edmund said loudly so that his father would hear, “Surrender! Appear before my father. Light! Bring light here!”

He said softly, “Flee from here, brother.”

Then he shouted, “Torches! Bring torches!”

He said softly to Edgar, “And so, farewell.”

Edgar exited.

Edmund said softly to himself, “Some blood drawn from me would help create the opinion that Edgar and I have really been fiercely fighting.”

He used his sword to lightly wound and bloody his arm.

He said softly, “I have seen drunkards do more than this in sport.”

Young men of the time would sometimes wound themselves so that they could drink a toast of blood and wine to their beloved.

He shouted, “Father! Father! Stop! Stop! Won’t anyone help me?”

The Earl of Gloucester entered the room, along with some servants who were carrying torches.

“Now, Edmund, where’s the villain?” the Earl of Gloucester asked.

Edmund, who wanted Edgar to get away lest their father’s questions reveal the truth about what had happened, delayed answering the question. He said, “Here he stood in the dark, his sharp sword out, mumbling wicked charms, conjuring the Moon to be his auspicious mistress and help him —”

“But where is he?” the Earl of Gloucester asked.

Still playing for time, Edmund said, “Look, sir, I am bleeding.”

“Where is the villain, Edmund?”

Pointing in the wring direction, Edmund replied, “He fled this way, sir. When by no means he could —”

The Earl of Gloucester ordered, “Pursue him! Go after him!”

Some servants exited in pursuit of Edgar.

He asked Edmund, “By no means what?”

“Persuade me to murder your lordship,” Edmund replied. “I told him that the avenging gods aim all their lightning and thunder against parricides — people who murder their own father. I spoke about the manifold and strong bonds that bind the child to the father. Sir, at last Edgar, seeing how I loathed and opposed his unnatural purpose, in one deadly motion thrust his drawn and ready sword at me and attacked my unprotected body and cut my arm. But when he saw my courage aroused as if in response to a battle cry — I was brave because I knew that I was in the right — and saw that I was ready to fight back, or perhaps because he was frightened by the noise I made, quite suddenly he fled.”

“Let him fly far,” the Earl of Gloucester said. “If he stays in this land, he shall be caught, and when he is found, he will be killed. The noble Duke of Cornwall, who is my master, my worthy and honorable overlord and patron, comes here tonight. By his authority I will proclaim that whoever finds Edgar shall deserve our thanks for bringing the murderous coward to the place of execution; the penalty for whoever conceals Edgar shall be death.”

Edmund said, “When I tried to convince him not to try to have you killed and found him completely determined to do it, with angry speech I threatened to reveal his plot. He replied, ‘You beggarly bastard who is legally prevented from inheriting his property, do you think, if I would oppose you, that any trust, virtue, or worth in you would make your words believed? No! I would deny everything even if you were to produce evidence in the form of a letter written in my own handwriting — I would say that everything was your suggestion, plot, and damned practice. You must think that everyone in the world is a dullard if they would not realize that you, Edmund, would greatly profit if I, Edgar, were to die: You would inherit our father’s property. That is an understandable and powerful motive for you to seek my death!’”

“He is an unnatural and hardened villain!” the Earl of Gloucester said. “Would he deny having written his letter? I never fathered him — he is no son of mine!”

Some trumpets sounded the distinctive notes that announced the arrival of the Duke of Cornwall.

The Earl of Gloucester said, “Listen, the Duke’s trumpets! I don’t know why he is coming here.”

He then said, “I’ll close all the seaports; the villain Edgar shall not escape; the Duke of Cornwall must grant me that privilege. In addition, I will send Edgar’s picture far and near, so that everyone in the Kingdom may have the information they need about him.

“And, Edmund, you loyal and loving boy, I’ll work the legal means that will make you capable of inheriting my land.”

The Duke of Cornwall, Regan, and some attendants entered the room.

The Duke of Cornwall said, “How are you now, my noble friend! Ever since I came here, which was just now, I have heard strange news.”

“If it is true,” Regan said, “all punishments are inadequate for the offender. How are you, my lord?”

“Oh, madam, my old heart is cracked! It’s cracked!” the Earl of Gloucester cried.

“What! Did my father’s godson really seek your life? He whom my father named? Your Edgar?”

“Oh, lady, lady, my shame would like this to be hidden and not known!”

“Wasn’t he the companion of the riotous Knights who serve my father?” Regan asked.

“I don’t know, madam,” the Earl of Gloucester said. “This situation is very bad — very bad!”

Taking advantage of an opportunity to further slime Edgar, Edmund said, “Yes, madam, he was one of that group.”

Regan replied, “It is no wonder this happened, then, even if Edgar were disloyal. It is those riotous Knights who have invited him to kill the old man — his father — so that they can spend and waste his income. I have this evening received a letter from my sister, Goneril, who has well informed me about these riotous Knights. She gave such warnings that I decided that if they come to stay at my house, I will not be there.”

“Nor I, I assure you, Regan,” the Duke of Cornwall said.

He added, “Edmund, I hear that you have shown your father the loyalty that a child owes a father.”

“It was my duty, sir,” Edmund replied.

“Edmund revealed Edgar’s plot, and he received this injury you see on his arm while striving to apprehend him,” the Earl of Gloucester said.

“Is Edgar being pursued?” the Duke of Cornwall asked.

“Yes, my good lord,” the Earl of Gloucester replied.

“If he is captured, you shall never again fear that he will do harm — he will be killed,” the Duke of Cornwall said. “Use my resources to do what you think needs to be done.”

Using the royal plural, he added, “As for you, Edmund, whose virtue and obedience that you have shown just now do so much to commend you, you shall serve us. Natures of such deep trust and loyalty we shall much need. We choose you to enter our service.”

“I shall serve you, sir, truly and loyally, above all else,” Edmund replied.

“For him I thank your Grace,” the Earl of Gloucester said.

The Duke of Cornwall began to say, “You don’t know why we came to visit you —”

Regan interrupted, “— thus out of season, threading dark-eyed night as we avoided obstacles as we traveled through the darkness. Matters, noble Gloucester, of some importance have arisen about which we must have your advice. Our father has written to us, and so has our sister, about quarrels between them. I thought it fitting and best to answer our father’s letter while we are away from our home. Several messengers are waiting to be sent back with our reply. Our good old friend, console yourself about Edgar’s disloyalty to you, and give us the advice we need about this matter, which needs to be taken care of immediately.”

The Earl of Gloucester replied, “I will help you, madam. Your graces are very welcome.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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