David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s KING LEAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 7

 

— 4.7 —

In a tent in the French camp were Cordelia, the disguised Kent, the gentleman, and a doctor. Some servants were also present.Music was playing softly.

Cordelia said, “Oh, Kent, you good man, how shall I live and work to match your goodness? My life will be too short, and everything I do to try to match your goodness will fail. How can I ever repay you?”

“For you to thank me, madam, is more than enough reward. Everything that I have reported is the modest truth — no more or less, but just the truth.”

“Put on a better suit of clothing,” Cordelia requested. “These clothes you are wearing are reminders of those very bad hours you have told me about. Please, take them off and put on better clothing.”

“Pardon me, dear madam,” the disguised Kent said, “to be recognized by others now would harm the plan that I have formed. I ask for a boon from you: Pretend in public that you do not know me until I think that the time is right.”

Kent’s plan may have been to reveal his identity to King Lear at a time when the King would recognize him.

“Then so be it, my good lord,” Cordelia replied.

She said to the doctor, “How is the King doing?”

“Madam, he is still sleeping.”

Cordelia prayed, “Oh, you kind gods, cure this great illness in his abused human nature! His senses are untuned and jarring; tune them and make them harmonious. Make this man sane, this man who has been harmed by his children and who has turned back into a child in his dotage.”

The doctor said, “If it pleases your majesty, we will wake the King. He has slept for a long time.”

“Be governed by your knowledge, and proceed as you think best,” Cordelia said. “Is he dressed?”

The gentleman said, “Yes, he is, Madam. While he was deeply asleep, we put fresh, clean garments on him.”

The doctor said to Cordelia, “Be close by, good madam, when we awake him. I am sure that he will be sane.”

“Very well,” she replied.

Some attendants carried in King Lear.

The doctor said to the attendant, “Please, bring him close.”

The doctor then ordered, “Play the music louder!” He wanted the music to wake up King Lear.

Cordelia said, “Oh, my dear father! May the god of restoration hang your medicine on my lips; and let this kiss repair those violent harms that my two sisters have made against your reverence!”

She kissed him.

The disguised Kent said, “Kind and dear Princess!”

Cordelia said to the sleeping King Lear, “Even if you had not been their father, these white strands of hair should have made Goneril and Regan pity you. Was this a face to be out in the storm and opposed against the warring winds? Was this a face to stand against the loud and dreadful thunderbolt? Was this a face to be amidst the most terrible and nimble strokes of quick, zigzag lightning? Was this a face to be in bad weather like a guard at a dangerous post — when the face had only a few strands of hair as a helmet? My enemy’s dog, even if it had bitten me, would have stood that night near my fireplace — were you forced, poor father, to shelter yourself with swine, and forlorn rogues, on broken and musty straw? Alas! Alas! It is a wonder that your life and wits did not end immediately.”

She said to the doctor, “He is awakening. Speak to him.”

The musicians now played softly.

“Madam, you should be the one to first speak to him; it is fittest.”

Cordelia said to her father, “How is my royal lord? How fares your majesty?”

King Lear said, “You do me wrong to take me out of my grave. You are a soul in bliss in Heaven, but I am bound upon a Wheel of Fire and my own tears scald me as if they were molten lead.”

“Sir, do you know me?” Cordelia asked.

“You are a spirit, I know. When did you die?”

Mourning, Cordelia said to the doctor, “His wits are still far wide of the mark.”

“He is barely awake,” the doctor said. “Let him alone for awhile.”

King Lear asked, “Where have I been? Where am I? Is this beautiful daylight and not Hell? I am mightily confused. I would die of pity if I were to see someone as confused as I am. I don’t know what to say. I will not swear these are my hands. Let’s see if they are.”

He took the pin of a brooch and stuck one of his fingers with it.

He said, “I feel this pinprick. I wish I could be assured that I am all right and not in Hell!”

Cordelia knelt and said, “Oh, look upon me, sir, and hold your hands in benediction over me. No, sir, you must not kneel.”

“Please, do not mock me,” King Lear said. “I am a very foolish and senile old man. My age is fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less, and, to speak plainly, I fear that I am not in my right mind. I think that I should know who you are, and I should know who this man is.”

He motioned toward the disguised Kent.

He continued, “Yet I am doubtful because I am entirely ignorant what place this is; and using all the skill and knowledge I have, I cannot remember these garments I am wearing, nor do I know where I lodged last night. Do not laugh at me. As I am a man, I think this lady is my child Cordelia.”

“And so I am, I am,” Cordelia said, crying because she was happy that her father recognized her.

King Lear said, “Are your tears wet? Yes, truly they are. Please, do not cry. If you have poison for me, I will drink it. I know that you do not love me because your sisters have, I remember, done me wrong. You have some reason to hate me; they have not.”

“I have no reason to hate you — no reason,” Cordelia said.

“Am I in France?” King Lear said.

He remembered that Cordelia was the Queen of France.

The disguised Kent said, “You are in your own Kingdom, sir.”

“Do not make fun of me,” King Lear said.

He remembered that he had given his Kingdom away.

The doctor said to Cordelia, “Be comforted, good madam. The great rage of madness, you see, is killed in him, and yet it is dangerous to make him try to remember the time that he has lost due to madness. Ask him to go into his own tent; trouble him no more until after he has had more time for his mind to settle and be calm.”

“Will it please your Highness to walk to your tent?” Cordelia asked her father.

“You must be patient with me,” King Lear replied. “Please, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish.”

Everyone left the tent except for the disguised Kent and the gentleman.

The gentleman asked, “Do people still believe, sir, that the Duke of Cornwall was slain in the way that we have heard?”

“Most certainly, sir.”

“Who is the general of his army?”

“We have heard that it is Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester.”

“They say that Edgar, his banished son, is with the Earl of Kent in Germany.”

The gentleman had been in the tent when the disguised Kent had revealed his identity to Cordelia. He knew who Kent was; he was simply making a point about rumors. The gentleman found it difficult to believe that the Duke of Cornwall had died as reported and that Edmund was leading the Duke’s forces.

“Rumors change,” the disguised Kent said, acknowledging the gentleman’s point.

Then he said, “It is time to take action; the armies of the British Kingdom approach quickly.”

“The final outcome is likely to be bloody. Fare you well, sir,” the gentleman said as he exited.

The disguised Kent said, “My point and period will be thoroughly wrought, either well or ill, as this day’s battle is fought.”

He meant that the end of his life would be either good or bad, depending on how the battle ended.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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