When they arrived at the broken-down, doorless, shack, Kent, who had been leading them, stood aside. ‘Here is the place, my lord,’ he said. ‘Enter, my dear lord. The harshness of an unsheltered night is too much for anyone to endure.’ He took Lear’s arm. Lear shook him off roughly.
‘Leave me alone,’ he said.
‘My dear lord, go in,’ Kent said. The storm was raging with renewed vigour.
Lear refused. ‘Do you want to break my heart?’ he said.
Kent’s tears joined the raindrops that pounded his face. ‘I’d rather break my own,’ he said. ‘My dear lord, go in.’
Lear said: ‘You think it’s something of great significance that this dramatic storm is soaking us to the skin. It is – to you. But when there’s a greater suffering the lesser is hardly felt. You’d want to avoid a bear but if your flight lay toward the roaring sea you’d meet the bear face to face. When you don’t have anything on your mind you’re sensitive to physical pain. This storm in my mind obliterates all feeling other than my mental anguish – filial ingratitude. Isn’t it as though my mouth should bite the hand that lifts food to it? But I will punish that severely. No, I won’t weep any more. To shut me out on a night like this!’ He stepped back, turned and shook his fist at the storm. ‘Pour on. I’ll endure it!’ he shouted. He turned back to Kent, pleading. ‘On a night like this! Oh Regan, Goneril, your old, kind, father, whose honest heart gave you everything!’ He grabbed Kent’s sleeve. ‘Oh that way leads to madness. Let me put that out of my mind. No more of that!’
Kent tried again. ‘My dear lord, go in here.’
‘Please, you go in,’ said Lear. ‘Look after your own comfort. This storm won’t allow me to think about things that would be more painful. But I’ll go in.’ He reached out and gripped the Fool’s arm. ‘In boy,’ he said. ‘You first.’ He looked out at the storm again. ‘You homeless poor,’ he began, then turned back to the Fool and urged him to go in. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Get in there. I’ll pray and then I’ll sleep.’
The Fool did as he had been told but Lear ignored Kent’s continuing efforts to induce him into the hovel. ‘Poor naked wretches,’ he continued, ‘wherever you are, that endure the pelting of this pitiless storm, how shall your bare heads and thin bodies, your tattered and torn raggedness, protect you from weather like this? Oh I have taken too little notice of this. Take medicine, you great ones! Expose yourself and feel what wretches feel so that you might share your wealth and show the Heavens to be more just.
A voice from inside the hovel wailed pitifully: ‘Fathom and a half! Fathom and a half! Poor Tom!’
The Fool came rushing out, terrified. ‘Don’t come in here, Nuncle. There’s a ghost in there. Help me! Help me!’ he cried.
Kent reached out to the Fool. ‘Give me your hand,’ he said. He leant towards the door and shouted as loudly as he could: ‘Who’s there?’
‘A spirit, a spirit!’ cried the Fool. ‘He says his name’s Poor Tom.’
Kent went to the door then and stuck his head in. ‘Who are you, grumbling there in the straw?’ he demanded. ‘Come out!’
Edgar emerged, wearing only a loincloth. ‘Go away,’ he whined. ‘the foul fiend follows me. The cold winds blow through the sharp hawthorn.’ He looked Lear up and down. ‘Hmm,’ he said, go to your bed and warm yourself.’
Lear stared at the madman, appalled. ‘Did you give everything to your daughters?’ he said, ‘and have you come to this?’
Edgar shrunk away from him. He said: ‘who gives anything to Poor Tom? Whom the foul fiend has led through fire and flame, through ford and whirlpool, over bog and quagmire: that has put knives under his pillow and hung nooses from his balconies. It’s put rat poison in his porridge, instilled pride into his heart, ridden a bay trotting horse across narrow bridges and chased his own shadow, taking it for a traitor. Bless your five wits!’ He hugged himself and moaned: ‘Tom’s a-cold. Oh, do-de-do-de-do-de.’ He stood up and raised his hand like a priest. ‘Bless you against whirlwinds, shooting stars and all evil things.’ He shrunk back again. ‘Do poor Tom a favour, who the foul fiend is tormenting. I could catch him now.’ He reached out and grasped the air, as though trying to catch an insect.’ ‘Now!’ Then again – ‘and there – and there again – and there!’
No-one said anything for a moment, while the storm raged on unabated. Lear stared at Edgar. ‘What! Have his daughters brought him to this? Could you save nothing? Did you have to give them all?’
‘No, he kept a blanket or we would all have been embarrassed,’ said the Fool.
Lear shook his head sadly. ‘May all the plagues that hang menacingly in the air over men’s faults fall on your daughters,’ he said.
There were tears in his eyes and Kent put his hand gently on his shoulder. ‘He has no daughters, sir,’ he said.
Lear turned on him. ‘Death to you traitor! Nothing could bring a man down so low but his cruel daughters! Is it the latest fashion that fathers should endure such sufferings of their flesh? How apt the punishment is! It was this flesh that begot those pelican daughters.’
‘Pillicock sat on Pillicock hill,’ the fool began, singing the old rhyme, and Edgar came in as a chorus with ‘Alow, alow, loo, loo.’
‘This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen,’ the fool said.
‘Beware of the foul fiend,’ wailed Edgar. ‘Obey your parents. Keep your word. Don’t swear. Don’t sin with another man’s wife. Don’t covet fancy clothes…’ he shivered. ‘Tom’s a-cold.’
‘What were you?’ said Lear.
‘A ladies’ man, proud in heart and mind,’ Edgar said. ‘I curled my hair, wore ladies’ gloves in my hat, satisfied the lust in my mistress’ heart, and went all the way with her. I swore as many oaths as I spoke words and openly broke them. I was one who’s dreams were full of lustful acts and I woke to perform them. I loved wine deeply, gambling dearly, and, regarding women, I out-loved the Turkish sultan. I was deceitful, I listened to gossip, I was violent, a hog in laziness, a fox in stealth, a wolf in greediness, a dog in madness, a lion in ruthlessness. Don’t let the creaking of shoes or the sound of rustling silks arouse your weak heart: keep your feet out of brothels, your hand out of petticoats, your signature from moneylenders’ books, and defy the foul fiend. The cold wind blows through the hawthorn bushes.’ he imitated the sound of the thin wind blowing through the thorny leaves. The he stopped and appeared to see something in front of him. ‘The devil my boy, boy! Shhhhhhhh Let him trot by.’
Lear was still looking at him with great intensity. ‘You’d be better off in a grave than expose your naked body to this extreme weather,’ he said. ‘Is man no more than this? Look at him. You owe the silkworm nothing for its silk, nor the beast for its hide, the sheep for its wool, nor the cat for its perfume. Ha! There are three of us here who are touched by sophistication – you are the genuine thing. Man in his basic form is no more than such a poor, bare, forked animal as you are.’
Lear got up, suddenly and began tearing his clothes off and throwing them down on the ground. ‘Off, off, you borrowed things!’ he cried. ‘Come, unbutton here!’
‘Please, Nuncle, stop!’ exclaimed the fool. ‘It’s a terrible night to go swimming in.’ He saw a light coming towards them. ‘Now a little fire in a large field is like an old lecher’s heart,’ he said. ‘A small spark of life with all the rest of his body cold. Look, here comes a walking fire.’
Edgar covered his face with his arms and moaned softly: ‘This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins at the curfew and walks about until the first cock-crow. He gives cataracts, squints eyes, and makes harelips: mildews the ripening wheat, and hurts the poor creatures of the earth.’
Than he started singing:
‘Saint Withold three times paced his wood,
He met the demon and her brood,
He stopped her dead,
Whacked her over the head,
and “Be off with you witch, be off!” ‘
‘How is Your Grace?’ Kent asked the King.
‘Who’s that?’ said Lear? trying to see through the rain.
‘Who’s there?’ shouted Kent. ‘What are you looking for?’
‘Who are you there?’ called Gloucester. ‘Your names?’
Edgar was still hugging himself, seemingly detached from his surroundings. ‘Poor Tom, who eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water newt,’ he moaned. When the foul fiend rages he’s so alarmed that he eats cow-dung as salad, swallows dead rats and dead dogs, drinks the scum of stagnant pools, who is whipped from tax to tax, put in the stocks, and imprisoned – who’s had three suits and six shirts, a horse to ride and weapons to wear.
But mice and rats and such small deer
Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.
Beware of my demon stalker!’ He shook his finger as though reprimanding someone: ‘Shut up, Smulkin, shut up, you fiend!’
Gloucester had been watching Edgar’s display and he shook his head. ‘What, has Your Grace no better company?’
‘The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman,’ said Edgar. ‘Modo, he’s called, and Mahu.’
‘Human beings have become so degenerate, my lord,’ said Gloucester, ‘that they hate their parents now.’
‘Poor Tom’s a-cold,’ wailed Edgar.
Gloucester took Lear’s arm. ‘Come in with me,’ he said. ‘My sense of duty can’t go as far as to obey all your daughters’ harsh orders. ‘Though their instructions are to lock my doors and let this pitiless night deal with you I’ve ventured to look for you and take you to where warmth and food are waiting,’
Lear shook Gloucester’s hand off. ‘First let me consult this philosopher.’ He caught Edgar’s eye. ‘What is the cause of this thunder?’ he said.
‘My dear lord, take his offer,’ Kent urged. ‘Go into the house.’
‘I’ll have a word with this learned scholar,’ Lear said. ‘What’s your subject?’
‘How to defend myself against the fiend, and how to kill vermin.’
Lear went close to Edgar. ‘Let me ask you one word in private.’
Kent put his hand on Gloucester’s shoulder. ‘Beg him once more to go in, my lord. His mind is unravelling.’
‘Can you blame him?’ Gloucester shouted above the hellish noise of a renewed volley of thunderclaps. ‘His daughters are determined to kill him. Ah that good Kent – he said this would happen, poor banished man. You say the King is going mad. I’ll tell you, friend, I’m almost mad myself. I had a son, now disowned by me. He sought my life – recently, very recently. I loved him, friend. No father loved his son more. Quite frankly, the grief of it has crazed my mind. What a night this is!’ He went to where Lear was, shouting in Edgar’s ear. ‘I implore Your Grace…’
Lear looked round. ‘I beg your pardon, sir.’ Then to Edgar – ‘Noble philosopher, please join us.’
‘Tom’s a-cold,’ said Edgar.
‘In, fellow, there,’ said Gloucester, pointing to the door. ‘Into the hovel. Keep yourself warm.’
‘Come, let’s all go in,’ Lear said.
‘This way, my lord,’ Kent said.
Lear put his arm around Edgar. ‘With him,’ he said. ‘I want to be with my philosopher.’
Gloucester went to separate them but Kent stopped him. ‘Humour him, my dear lord,’ he said. ‘Let him take the fellow.’
‘Take him in then,’ said Gloucester.
‘Come on then, sirrah,’ Kent said. ‘Come in with us.’
‘Come good Athenian,’ said Lear, his arm still around Edgar.
Edgar opened his mouth. ‘Don’t speak, don’t speak. Shhhhhh.’ said Gloucester.
Edgar ignored him. ”Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
His word was still: “Fie, fo and fum,
I smell the blood of a British Man.” ‘
They all crouched and entered the shed.
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