David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 7

— 3.7 —

The Duke of Cornwall, Regan, Goneril, and Edmund, along with some servants, were in a room in the Earl of Gloucester’s castle.

The Duke of Cornwall said to Goneril, “Ride quickly to the Duke of Albany, your husband. Show him this letter that was sent to the old Earl of Gloucester; it states that the army of France has landed here in Britain.”

He then ordered, “Find the old Earl of Gloucester, who is a villain.”

Some of the servants exited.

Regan said about the old Earl of Gloucester, “Hang him immediately.”

Goneril said, “Pluck out his eyes.”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “Leave him to my displeasure. Edmund, you keep our sister-in-law company during your journey; go with Goneril because the revenges we are determined to take against your traitorous father are not fit for you to see.”

He then said to Goneril, “Advise the Duke of Albany, when you see him, to quickly prepare for war. We will do the same. Our posts back and forth between us shall be swift and full of information. Farewell, dear sister-in-law; farewell, my new Earl of Gloucester.”

Oswald entered the room.

The Duke of Cornwall asked, “Where is King Lear?”

Oswald replied, “My old Earl of Gloucester has conveyed him away from here. Some thirty-five or -six of the King’s Knights, who were urgently seeking for him, met him at the gate. These Knights, along with some other lords who serve King Lear, have gone with him toward Dover, where they claim to have well-armed friends.”

The Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Get horses for your mistress.”

Goneril said to the Duke of Cornwall and Regan, “Farewell, sweet lord, and sister.”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “Edmund, farewell.”

Goneril, Edmund, and Oswald exited.

The Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Go seek the traitor: the old Earl of Gloucester. Tie him up like a thief, and bring him before us.”

Some servants exited.

The Duke of Cornwall said, “Although we may not execute him without a trial, yet our power shall do a favor for our wrath. Men may criticize what we do, but they cannot stop me from doing it.”

He heard a noise and said, “Who’s there? The traitor?”

The old Earl of Gloucester entered the room, under guard.

Regan said, “Ungrateful fox! It is he.”

The servants had not obeyed all of the Duke of Cornwall’s orders; they had not tied up the old Earl of Gloucester.

The Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Bind fast his old and withered arms.”

The servants did not act immediately.

“What do your graces intend to do to me?” the old Earl of Gloucester asked. “My good friends, remember that you are my guests; do no foul play to me, friends.”

The castle belonged to the Earl of Gloucester. He was the host, and the Duke of Cornwall and Regan were his guests. Ever since ancient times, to harm a host has been acknowledged to be an evil deed. An important theme of Homer’s Odysseyis the relationship between hosts and guests, and the Trojan War was fought over a violation of that relationship: Paris, a Prince of Troy who was the guest of King Menelaus of Sparta, ran away with Helen, Menelaus’ wife. Helen became known as Helen of Troy. In Dante’s Inferno, guests who harmed hosts, and hosts who harmed guests, are punished in the lowest circle of hell; this shows how serious a sin these violations of trust are.

The Duke of Cornwall said, “Bind him, I say.”

Some servants bound the old Earl of Gloucester.

Regan said, “Bind him tightly — tightly. Oh, filthy traitor!”

The old Earl of Gloucester said, “Unmerciful lady as you are, I am not a traitor.”

The Duke of Cornwall ordered, “Bind him to this chair. Villain, you shall find —”

Regan plucked some hairs from the old Earl of Gloucester’s beard. This was a serious insult.

The old Earl of Gloucester said, “By the kind gods, to pluck some hairs out of my beard is a very ignoble act.”

Regan said, “Your beard is so white! You ought to be wise! How can you be such a traitor!”

“Evil lady, these hairs that you pull from my chin will come to life and accuse you of sin: I am your host, and you ought not to do violence to your host’s face with your robbers’ hands. What will you do with me?”

The Duke of Cornwall asked, “Sir, what letters have you recently received from France?”

“Give a straight answer,” Regan said, “because we know the truth.”

The Duke of Cornwall asked, “And what conspiracy have you formed with the traitors who have recently landed in the Kingdom?”

Regan asked, “To whom have you sent the lunatic King? Speak.”

The old Earl of Gloucester said, “I have a letter that contains guesses, not certain information. The letter came from a person who is neutral; that person is not opposed to you.”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “Cunning.”

Regan added, “And false.”

The Duke of Cornwall asked, “Where have you sent the King?”

“To Dover.”

Regan asked, “Why to Dover? Were you not charged at peril of your life —”

The Duke of Cornwall interrupted, “Let him first tell us why he sent him to Dover.”

The old Earl of Gloucester said, “I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course. I am like a bear that has been tied to a stake and is being attacked by dogs.”

Regan asked, “Why did you send King Lear to Dover?”

“Because I did not want to see your cruel fingernails pluck out his poor old eyes, nor your fierce sister stick boarish fangs in his anointed flesh.

“The sea, if it had endured such a storm as his bare head in Hell-black night, would have buoyed upward and quenched the bright lights of the stars and made the night even blacker. Yet, poor old heart, he helped the Heavens to rage and to rain by dripping his tears to the ground.

“If wolves had howled at your gate during that stern time, you would have said, ‘Good porter, turn the key.’ You would have ordered the gates to be opened to let the wolves in so that they could find shelter.

“During that stern time, you would not allow your poor old father to enter the gate and find shelter. Go ahead and commit all other cruel deeds, but I shall see winged vengeance overtake such children as you and your sister. Of all the evil deeds you and your sister have committed, the one that I want to see punished is your treatment of your father. The Furies punish parricides and other such sinners.”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “See it you never shall.”

He ordered, “Servants, hold the chair steady.”

He said to the old Earl of Gloucester, “Upon these eyes of yours I’ll set my foot.”

The old Earl of Gloucester begged for help: “He who wants to live until he is old, give me some help! Oh, cruel man! Oh, you gods!”

The Duke of Cornwall pulled out one of the old Earl of Gloucester’s eyes, dropped it on the floor, and stepped on it.

“One side of his face will mock the other side,” Regan said. “Pull out the other eye, too.”

The Duke of Cornwall said to the old Earl of Gloucester, “If you see vengeance —”

One of the Duke of Cornwall’s servants said, “Don’t move your hand, my lord. I have served you ever since I was a child, but I have never done you better service than now, when I tell you to stop.”

This act took much courage on the part of the servant, and it took a strong sense of right and wrong.

Angry, Regan said, “What are you doing, you dog!”

The servant said to Regan, “If you wore a beard upon your chin, I would insult you by shaking it.”

The Duke put his hand on the hilt of his sword, and the servant asked him, “What? Do you mean to fight?”

The Duke of Cornwall said, “You are my servant, and you are a villain.”

The Duke of Cornwall and the servant drew swords and began to fight. The servant was a gentleman who served the Duke, and he wore a sword.

The servant wounded the Duke of Cornwall and then said, “Come on, and take the chance of fighting me while you are angry.”

Regan said to another servant, “Give me your sword. I can’t believe that this peasant is standing up against his master like this!”

She took the sword and ran to the servant and stabbed him in the back, inflicting a mortal wound.

The servant fell and said, “Oh, I am slain! My lord, you have one eye left to see that I have inflicted a wound on the Duke of Cornwall, who pulled out your eye.”

The servant died.

The wounded Duke of Cornwall said to the old Earl of Gloucester, “Lest your remaining eye see more, I will prevent it. Out, vile jelly!”

He pulled out the remaining eye, dropped it, stepped on it, and asked, “Where is your luster now?”

The old Earl of Gloucester said, “All is dark and comfortless. Where’s my son Edmund? Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of a son’s love, and get revenge for this horrible act.”

“Ha, treacherous villain!” Regan said. “You are calling on a person who hates you. It was Edmund who informed us about your treasons to us. Edmund is too good a person to pity you.”

“I have been a fool!” the old Earl of Gloucester said. “I have wronged my son Edgar. Kind gods, forgive me for that, and help him prosper!”

Regan ordered some servants, “Go and thrust him out of the gates, and let him smell his way to Dover since he can no longer see the way.”

A servant exited with the old Earl of Gloucester.

Regan asked the Duke of Cornwall, “How are you, my lord? How are you feeling, my husband?”

“I have been wounded. Come with me, lady. Turn out that eyeless villain; throw this slave — the dead servant — upon the dunghill. Regan, I am bleeding a lot. This is a bad time for me to be wounded. Give me your arm.”

The Duke of Cornwall, assisted by Regan, exited.

A couple of servants remained behind.

The first servant said, “I’ll never care what wickedness I do, if this man the Duke of Cornwall comes to good after he dies. I will know that no one is punished after death for the evils that they committed while they were alive.”

The second servant said, “If Regan lives long, and in the end dies naturally of old age, all women will become monsters because they will know that they will not be punished for their sins.”

The first servant said, “Let’s go and follow the old Earl, and get the Tom o’Bedlam to lead him wherever the Earl wants to go. The Tom o’Bedlam’s roguish madness allows him to do whatever he wants.”

The second servant replied, “Go to the old Earl of Gloucester. I’ll fetch some flax bandages and egg whites to apply to his bleeding face. Now, I pray that Heaven will help him!”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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