The storm raged: the wind blew viciously through the broken windows of the shack and the rain poured through its broken roof but there was a corner that was relatively dry and Lear huddled there with Edgar and the Fool.

‘This is better than the open air,’ Gloucester said. ‘Be grateful. ‘I’ll make it more comfortable with whatever I can find. I won’t be long.’

Kent nodded towards the King. ‘His reason has given way to passion,’ he said.

Gloucester sighed. He shook his head then made to leave.

‘The gods reward your kindness!’ Kent called after him.

‘Frateretto is calling me and telling me that Nero is an angler in the lake of Hell,’ said Edgar. He grasped the Fool’s arm. ‘Pray, innocent one, and beware the foul fiend.’

‘Tell me Nuncle,’ said the Fool, ‘is a madman a gentleman or a rich man?’

‘A king, a king!’ exclaimed Lear.

‘No,’ the Fool said. ‘He’s a rich man who has a gentleman for a son because it’s only a mad rich man who would see his son become a gentleman before he does.’

Lear muttered to himself: ‘… to have a thousand demons with red-hot pokers come hissing towards them…’

Edgar suddenly began writhing and trying to grab his back. ‘The foul fiend is biting my back!’ he shouted.

‘Anyone who has faith in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s promise is mad,’ the Fool said.

Lear clamped his jaw in a gesture of firm resolution. ‘I’ll do it!’ he said. ‘I’ll prosecute them right now.
Come sit here, most learned judge,’ he told Edgar. ‘You, wise sir, sit here,’ he told the Fool. ‘Now, you she foxes!’

Edgar got up. He pointed at Lear. ‘Look how he stands and glares!’ He shook his finger at an imaginary witness. ‘Are you showing off before the judge, madam?’ He began singing: ‘Come o’er the bourn, Bessy, to me…’

The Fool continued the song: ‘Her boat has a leak,
And she must not speak
Why she dares not come over to you!’

Edgar laughed hysterically. ‘The foul fiend haunts poor Tom with the voice of a nightingale.’ He rubbed his stomach. ‘Hoppendance is screaming in Tom’s belly for two pickled herrings. Stop croaking, black angel – I haven’t got any food for you.’

Kent knelt beside Lear. He pulled some old sacks that lay on the floor beside them towards the King. ‘How are you, sir? Don’t be so dismayed. Would you like to lie down and rest on these cushions?’

‘I want their trial first,’ said Lear. ‘Bring in the witnesses!’ He nodded at the naked Edgar. ‘You, robed judge, take your position. And you’ – to the Fool – ‘ his learned friend, take your place on the bench beside him.’ To Kent, ‘You are a judge as well. Sit too.’

Edgar sat down on the pile of sacks and looked around with a show of pomposity. ‘Let us conduct this trial justly.’ He started singing:
‘Are you sleeping or awake you jolly shepherd?
Your sheep are in the corn:
And with one blast of your whistling mouth
Your sheep will know no harm.’

He tried to whistle: ‘Purr.’ He gave up: ‘The cat is grey.’

Lear pointed at a non-existent figure standing before them. ‘Charge her first. It’s Goneril. I hereby take my oath before this honourable assembly: she kicked the poor King, her father.’

‘Come here, mistress.’ The Fool spoke sternly. ‘Is your name Goneril?’

‘She can’t deny it,’ said Lear.

The Fool peered into the darkness in front of him. ‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, ‘I took you for a stool.’ He giggled.

‘And here’s another,’ Lear said. ‘Her ugly looks show what stuff her heart is made of.’ His eyes suddenly darted towards the entrance. ‘Stop her there!’ he shouted. ‘Arms, arms, sword, fire! There’s corruption in this place!’ He looked furiously at Edgar. ‘False judge! Why have you let her escape?’

‘Bless your five wits,’ said Edgar.

Tears were running down Kent’s cheeks. ‘Oh pity,’ he muttered. He touched Lear’s shoulder. ‘Sir, where is the self discipline you’ve prided yourself on?’

Edgar felt that his own tears were threatening to expose him.

‘Even the little dogs…, said Lear. He leant forward and mimed patting some imaginary dogs. ‘Tray, Blanch and Sweetheart – see? They’re barking at me.’

‘Tom will get rid of them,’ said Edgar. ‘Get away, you curs!
Whether your mouth is black or white,
With teeth that poison if they bite:
Mastiff, greyhound, mongrel grim,
Hound or spaniel, bitch or him,
Bobtail tyke or dragging tail:
Tom will make him weep or wail:
For, with throwing thus my head,
Dogs leap the hatch, and all are fled.
Do, de, de, de. Shhhhh! Come, let’s go to wakes and fairs and market towns. Poor Tom needs a drink.’

‘Then let them dissect Regan to see what’s festering around her heart,’ said Lear. ‘Is there any physical cause that makes these hearts hard? You, sir!’ – to Edgar – ‘I’ll make you one of my hundred. Though I don’t like the fashion of your clothes. ‘You will tell me that they’re Persian, but change them.’

Kent tried again. ‘Now, my dear lord, lie here and rest for a while.’

Lear heard him this time and lay down on the sacks. He yawned and stretched. ‘Don’t make any noise,’ he said. ‘Make no noise. Draw the curtains. That’s right. We’ll go to supper in the morning.’

‘And I’ll go to bed at nine,’ the Fool said.

They dropped into silence. Lear fell asleep.

Gloucester came into the hovel. Kent got up.

‘Come here, friend,’ Gloucester said. ‘Where is the King, my master?’

Kent indicated the sleeping form. ‘Here, sir. But don’t trouble him: his mind has gone.’

‘I beg of you, good friend, take him in your arms. I’ve overheard a plot to assassinate him. There’s a litter ready. Lie him on it and drive to Dover, friend, where you’ll find both welcome and protection. Pick your master up. If you delay half an hour his life, and yours and everyone’s who supports him will be lost. Pick him up, pick him up, and follow me. I’ll direct you to immediate help.’

Kent looked tenderly at his king. ‘You’re getting relief from your oppression in sleep,’ he said softly. ‘This sleep may have soothed your jagged nerves which, if things don’t get better, will be hard to cure.’ He beckoned the Fool. ‘Come, help carry your master. You mustn’t stay behind.’

Come,’ said Gloucester. ‘Come, let’s go.’

They lifted Lear and followed Gloucester.

Edgar, left alone, sank down again on to the sacks and sighed. When we saw our betters suffering such wretchedness it made our own miseries seem mild by comparison. Those who suffer alone are prey to the imagination and become unhappy and miserable. But the mind can get relief when grief and suffering are shared. How light and tolerable his miseries seemed now when he saw the King breaking beneath a burden that only made him bend. The King was suffering from his relationship with his children as he was suffering from his relationship with his father. He addressed himself aloud: ‘Tom, away! Take notice of the rumours of great events. Discard your disguise when the false accusations that have brought you down have been cleared up and you’ve been reconciled to your father. Whatever more may happen tonight, may the King escape to safety! Stay in hiding for the time being.’


Read more scenes from King Lear:

King Lear in modern English | King Lear original text
Modern King Lear Act 1, Scene 1 | King Lear original text, Act 1, Scene 1
Modern King Lear Act 1, Scene 2 | King Lear original text, Act 1, Scene 2
Modern King Lear Act 1, Scene 3 | King Lear original text, Act 1, Scene 3
Modern King Lear Act 1, Scene 4 | King Lear original text, Act 1, Scene 4
Modern King Lear Act 1, Scene 5 | King Lear original text, Act 1, Scene 5
Modern King Lear Act 2, Scene 1 | King Lear original text, Act 2, Scene 1
Modern King Lear Act 2, Scene 2 | King Lear original text, Act 2, Scene 2
Modern King Lear Act 2, Scene 3 | King Lear original text, Act 2, Scene 3
Modern King Lear Act 2, Scene 4 | King Lear original text, Act 2, Scene 4
Modern King Lear Act 3, Scene 1 | King Lear original text, Act 3, Scene 1
Modern King Lear Act 3, Scene 2 | King Lear original text, Act 3, Scene 2


Read all of Shakespeare’s plays translated to modern English >>