Kent had revealed himself to Cordelia and they were in the royal tent in the French camp. The gentleman who had carried messages for Kent and the doctor who was caring for Lear were also present.
‘Oh, you saintly Kent!’ Cordelia said. ‘How could I ever match your goodness in all my life and work? My life will be too short and I will fail by every measure.’
‘Acknowledgement is overpayment, madam,’ said Kent. ‘Everything I’ve reported to you is the plain truth – no more no less, exactly that.’
‘Go and dress more appropriately,’ she said. ‘Those clothes are reminders of the recent bad times. Please take them off.’
‘If you don’t mind, dear madam, to be recognised now would impede my plans. I’d consider it a favour if you didn’t give me open recognition until I think the time is right.’
‘All right then, my dear lord,’ she said. ‘Doctor, how is the King?’
‘Madam, he’s still sleeping,’ the doctor told her.
‘Oh you kind gods,’ she said, ‘cure this great rift in his abused soul. Tune the discordant and jarring mind of this vulnerable old man.’
‘Will Your Majesty allow us to wake the King up? He’s slept for a long time.’
‘Use your own discretion and do what you think best,’ she told him. ‘Is he dressed?’
The doctor signalled to some attendants to bring the King in.
‘Yes, madam,’ the gentleman said. ‘We put new clothes on him while he was fast asleep.’
‘Be at his side, dear madam, when we wake him up,’ the doctor said. ‘I’m sure he’ll be calm.’
‘Very well,’ she said.
The doctor had arranged for some musicians to attend the awakening and he nodded to them. They began to play soft music. Four attendants came into the tent, carrying the sleeping Lear on a long chair.
‘Come nearer,’ the doctor told Cordelia. ‘Play louder there!’ he instructed the musicians.
Cordelia knelt beside her father. ‘Oh my dear father!’ she said. ‘May my lips convey their medicine and let this kiss cure the violent injury that my sisters have given to you.’ She kissed his forehead gently.
‘Kind and loving Princess,’ Kent said.
‘Even if you hadn’t been their father these white hairs should have elicited pity from them. Was this a face to be attacked by the violent winds? To withstand the deep booming thunder? To be in the middle of the quick lightning flashes? To be alone in the middle of the night with only a flimsy head-covering? My enemy’s dog, even if he had bitten me, would have spent that night in front of my fire. And, poor father, did you have to slum it with pigs and homeless down-and-outs in bits of foul-smelling straw? Alas, alas, it’s a wonder that your life and sanity didn’t collapse all together. He’s waking up. Speak to him.’
The doctor whispered: ‘Madam, it’s best if you do.’
Cordelia stroked Lear’s hair. ‘How is my royal lord?’ she said softly. ‘How is Your Majesty?’
Lear groaned. He opened his eyes, groaned again, then closed them.’You wrong me by taking me out of the grave,’ he said. ‘You re a soul in heaven, but I am bound to a wheel of fire, in hell. My own tears scald like molten lead.’
She continued stroking his hair. ‘Sir, do you know me?’ she said.
‘You are a spirit, I know. Where did you die?’
Cordelia looked round at the doctor. ‘Still, still not right.’
‘He’s not fully awake yet,’ the doctor said. ‘Leave him alone a while.’
They watched as Lear came to full consciousness. His eyes opened and he looked around. ‘Where have I been?’ he said. ‘Where am I? Is it daylight?’ He shut his eyes again. ‘I’ve been so wrong.’ He shook his head slowly. ‘I would die of pity seeing someone else in this state. I don’t know what to say.’ He held his hands close to his eyes and examined them. ‘I wouldn’t swear these are my hands,’ he said. ‘Let’s see. He withdrew one of the pins that held his robe together and jabbed it into his arm. He flinched. ‘I felt that pin-prick. I wish I knew what was going on.’
‘Oh look at me, Sir,’ Cordelia cried.
Lear sat up. He slid his feet slowly off the chair and on to the floor. He stood up shakily and looked at Cordelia.
‘And hold your hand over me in blessing,’ she said.
Lear sank to his knees.
‘No, sir,’ she said. ‘You must not kneel!’
‘I beg of you,’ he said, ‘do not mock me. I am a very foolish old man – over eighty years of age, no more no less. And to be honest with you, what I fear is that I’m not in my right mind. I feel I should know you, and this man, but I’m unsure, because I have no idea of what this place is, and try as I might, I can’t remember these clothes, nor do I know where I lodged last night. Don’t laugh at me but, as sure as I’m a man, I think this lady is my child, Cordelia.’
Tears ran down Cordelia’s cheeks. She flung herself into her father’s arms: ‘And so I am, I am!’
‘Are your tears wet?’ he kissed her cheek. ‘Yes, they are. Please don’t cry. If you have poison for me I’ll drink it. I know you don’t love me because your sisters have , as I do remember, done me wrong. You have some cause. They have not.’
Cordelia shook her head. ‘No cause, no cause.’
‘Am I in France?’ said Lear.
‘In your own kingdom, sir’ said Kent.
‘Do not mock me,’ Lear said.
The doctor put his hand on the weeping Queen’s shoulder. ‘Be comforted, madam,’ he said. ‘The great disorder in his soul has subsided. And yet it’s dangerous to make him remember the things he can’t. Don’t trouble him again till he’s more settled.’
Cordelia took he father’s arm. ‘Would Your Highness like to walk?’
‘You’ll have to be patient with me,’ said Lear, beginning to walk slowly. ‘Please now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish.’
Kent and the gentleman were left alone.
‘Is it true, sir, that the Duke of Cornwall was killed like that?’ the gentleman said.
‘Definitely,’ Kent said.
‘Who has taken command of his people?’
‘They say it’s the bastard son of Gloucester.’
The gentleman nodded. ‘They say Edgar, his banished son, is with the Earl of Kent in Germany.’
‘There are always new rumours. It’s time to prepare. The armies of the kingdom are on their way.’
‘The battle is likely to be bloody. Farewell, sir.’
The gentleman went off to make his preparations. As Kent went on his way to make his own preparations he couldn’t help thinking that this was a turning point in his life – everything would depend on the outcome of the coming battle.
Read more scenes from King Lear: