David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 3-5

— 4.3 —

At the French camp near Dover, the disguised Kent talked to a gentleman, the same one whom he had asked to go to Dover and give a just and truthful report of how King Lear was being treated.

Kent asked, “Why has the King of France so suddenly gone back to France? Do you know the reason?”

“He left some state business unfinished, business that has become urgent since he came here; since neglecting it could put French citizens in danger and make them fearful, his personal return was required and necessary.”

“Who has he left behind him as General of his army?”

“The Marshal of France, Monsieur La Far.”

“Did the letter you wrote and gave to Cordelia, the Queen of France, move her to any demonstration of grief?”

“Yes, sir,” the gentleman replied. “She took the letter and read it in my presence, and now and then a large tear trickled down her delicate cheek. It seemed like she was a Queen over her emotions — emotions that, most rebel-like, sought to be King over her.”

“Oh, then the letter moved her,” the disguised Kent said.

“She was moved, but she maintained control of her emotions. She did not allow herself to be enraged; self-control and sorrow strove to see which could make her lovelier. You have seen sunshine and rain at the same time. Her smiles and tears were like that, but better. Those happy little smiles that played on her ripe lips seemed not to know what guests — tears — were in her eyes. Her tears parted from her eyes, as if pearls were dropping from diamonds. In brief, sorrow would be a rarity most beloved, if it made everyone as lovely as Cordelia.”

“Did she ask any questions or say anything?”

“Once or twice she cried with difficulty the name of ‘father,’ panting as if the word weighed heavily on her heart. She cried, ‘Sisters! Sisters! Shame of ladies! Sisters! Kent! Father! Sisters! What, in the storm? In the night? Let pity not be believed!’ There she shook the holy water from her Heavenly eyes, and she mourned without making a sound and then went away to deal with her grief alone.”

The disguised Kent said, “It is the stars, the stars above us, that govern our characters; otherwise, one man and one woman could not beget daughters as different as Cordelia and her sisters. Have you spoken with her since then?”


“Was this before the King returned?”

“No, it was since the King returned.”

“Well, sir, the poor distressed King Lear is in the town. Sometimes, in his better and more lucid moments, when he is less jangled and more in tune, he remembers why we are here, and he by no means will agree to see his daughter.”

“Why, good sir?”

“An overbearing shame makes him remember what he would like to have never happened: his own unkindness to Cordelia that stripped from her his blessing, turned her out to find a life in a foreign land, and gave what was valuable and rightfully hers to his dog-hearted daughters. These things sting his mind so venomously that his burning shame keeps him from seeing Cordelia.”

“That poor man!” the gentleman said.

“Have you heard anything about the armies of the Duke of Albany and the Duke of Cornwall?”

“Yes, they are marching toward us.”

“Well, sir, I’ll bring you to our master Lear, and leave you to attend him. Some important reason causes me to stay in disguise for a while. When I reveal my identity, you shall not have reason to regret being my friend. Please, come with me.”

— 4.4 —

In a tent, Cordelia and a doctor were talking in the presence of some soldiers.

“Alas, my father has been seen, and he is in a bad way,” Cordelia said. “Why, he was met just now. He is as mad as the vexed sea. He was singing aloud, crowned with the weed known as fumitory or earth-smoke and with the rank weeds that grow among the crops in plowed land. He wore as a crown burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, darnel, and all the useless weeds that grow in the plowed fields along with the crops that nourish us. Send a hundred soldiers out to find him. They can search every acre in the high-grown field, and bring him before our eyes.”

An officer departed to carry out the order.

She asked the doctor, “What can man’s wisdom do to restore his bereaved sense? He who cures him can have all my material possessions.”

“There is a way, madam,” the doctor said. “The foster-nurse of Nature is sleep, which King Lear is lacking. Many herbal medicines will close his eyes of anguish and make him sleep.”

“All blessed secrets, all you little-known virtuous powerful herbs of the Earth, spring up — be watered with my tears!” Cordelia cried as she prayed aloud. “Be a helpful remedy for the good man’s distress.”

She added, “Seek, seek for him, lest his ungoverned rage dissolve the life that lacks the means — reason — to lead it. He is likely to commit suicide because he lacks the reason needed to control himself.”

A messenger entered the tent.

“I have news, madam. The British armies are marching here.”

“That is something that we already knew,” she replied. “Our armed troops are prepared to fight them. Oh, dear father, it is your business that I go about.”

In Luke 2:49 Jesus said, “Then saidhe unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Knew ye not that I must go about my Father’s business?” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Cordelia continued, “My husband, the great King of France, has pitied my mourning and importunate tears and allowed me to help my father. We are not taking up arms because of any puffed-up ambition to gain territory for ourselves, but love, dear love, makes us fight for our aged father’s rights. I hope that soon I may hear and see him!”

— 4.5 —

Regan and Oswald, Goneril’s steward, were talking together in the castle of the Earl of Gloucester.

Regan asked, “Have the armies of my brother-in-law, the Duke of Albany, set forth?

“Yes, madam.”

“Is the Duke of Albany, himself, leading them in person?”

“Yes, madam, but it took much persuading. Your sister is the better soldier.”

The Duke of Albany had thought hard about where his loyalties should lie: Should he fight for Cordelia and King Lear, or should he resist the armies of France?

“Did Lord Edmund speak with your lord, the Duke of Albany, at home?”

“No, madam.”

“My sister has written a letter to Edmund. What does she write in that letter?”

Regan was jealous. She wanted Edmund.

“I don’t know, lady.”

“Truly, Edmund rode away in a hurry on important business,” Regan said. “It was political folly to allow the old Earl of Gloucester to remain alive after we put out his eyes. Wherever he goes, he moves all hearts against us. They pity him, and hate us. Edmund, I think, has gone, out of pity for his father’s misery, to kill him and end his benighted life. Also, he left in order to determine the strength of the enemy.”

“I must go after him, madam, with my lady’s letter,” Oswald said.

“Our troops set forth tomorrow. Stay and travel with us. The roads are dangerous.”

“I may not do so, madam. My lady was very insistent that I do my duty and deliver this letter.”

“Why should she write to Edmund? Why couldn’t you have simply communicated verbally her message to him? Perhaps, she wanted to say … I know not what. I’ll greatly appreciate it if you will let me unseal the letter and read it.”

“Madam, I had rather —”

Regan said, “I know your lady, Goneril, does not love her husband. I am sure of that. When she was here recently, she looked at noble Edmund strangely and admiringly and very meaningfully. I know that she confides in you — you are close to her bosom.”

“I, madam?”

“I know what I know,” Regan said. “You are; I know it. Therefore, I advise you, take careful note of what I now say to you. My lord and husband is dead; Edmund and I have talked and reached an understanding. It is more convenient and suitable for him to marry me than to marry your lady. From what I have said, you may guess the rest. If you find Edmund, please give him this ring. And when you tell your mistress all that has happened here, tell her to come to her senses — I and not she will have Edmund. So, fare you well. If you happen to hear of that blind traitor Gloucester, know that whoever kills him will be rewarded.”

Oswald said, “I wish that I could meet him, madam! I would show whose side I am on!”

“Fare you well.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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