Read King Lear‘s ‘O, reason not the need’ monologue below with a modern English translation and analysis.

Spoken by Lear, Act 2, Scene 4

O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady:
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true need-
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age; wretched in both.
If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger,
And let not women’s weapons, water drops,
Stain my man’s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags!
I will have such revenges on you both
That all the world shall- I will do such things-
What they are yet, I know not; but they shall be
The terrors of the earth! You think I’ll weep.
No, I’ll not weep.
I have full cause of weeping, but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws
Or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!

‘O, Reason Not The Need’ Monologue Translation

Oh don’t argue about the need! Even our meanest beggars have things they can do without. If you don’t grant man more than he needs then his life would be no better than an animal’s. You are a lady. If you dress only to be warm, why then, there’d be no need for the gorgeous fashionable clothes you wear, that barely keep you warm. But true need…’  Heaven give me patience – the patience I need! You see me here, you gods, a poor old man, as full of grief as I am of age – wretched in both! If it’s you that is stirring these daughters’ hearts against their father, don’t make me such a fool as to bear it tamely: fill me with noble anger and don’t let the weapons of women – tears – stain my man’s cheeks!

No, you unnatural hags – I’ll take such revenge on you both that the whole world will… I will do such things – I don’t know what they are yet, but they will be earth-shattering. You think I’ll weep! No, I won’t weep. I’ve got every reason for weeping, but this heart will shatter into a hundred thousand fragments before I’ll weep. Oh Fool, I’m going mad!

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