“If You Have Poison for Me, I Will Drink It” (April23)

“If You Have Poison for Me, I Will Drink It”
Shaken and disillusioned by the treachery of his elder daughter,
King Lear suspected even the faithful Cordelia of evil designs.
Her most tender efforts to comfort him failed to drive away the
insistent specter of his madness.
(Shakespeare died April 23, 1616.)
Read from Shakespeare’s KING LEAR Vol. 46, pp. 293-303

Enter LEAR [fantastically dressed with wild flowers]
But who comes here
The safer1 5 sense will ne’er accommodate16
His master thus.
1 0 Boundary. 11 On high. 12 Shrill-throated. 13 Twisted ( ? ).
1 4 Most righteous. 15 Saner. 16 Fit out.

294 SHAKESPEARE
Lear. No, they cannot touch me for coining;
I am the King himself.
Edg. O thou side-piercing sight!
Lear. Nature’s above art in that respect. There’s your press-money.
That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper; draw me a clothier’s
yard. Look, look, a mouse! Peace, peace; this piece of toasted cheese
will d o ‘ t . There’s my gauntlet; I’ll prove it on a giant. Bring up the
brown bills. O, well flown, bird! I’ the clout,1 7 i’ the clout! Hewgh!
Give the word.18
Edg. Sweet marjoram.
Lear. Pass.
Glou. I know that voice.
Lear. Ha! Goneril, with a white beard! They flatter’d me like a
dog, and told me I had the white hairs in my beard ere the black ones
were there. To say “ay” and “no” to everything that I said! “Ay”
and “no” too was no good divinity. When the rain came to wet me
once, and the wind to make me chatter; when the thunder would not
peace at my bidding; there I found ’em, there I smelt ’em out. Go to,
they are not men o’ their words: they told me I was everything; ’tis
a lie, I am not ague-proof.
Glou. The trick of that voice I do well remember.
I s ‘ t not the King?
Lear. Ay, every inch a king!
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.
I pardon that man’s life. What was thy cause?19
Adultery ?
Thou shalt not die. Die for adultery! No:
The wren goes t o ‘ t , and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight.
Let copulation thrive; for Gloucester’s bastard son
Was kinder to his father than my daughters
Got ‘tween the lawful sheets.
To ‘ t , luxury,20 pell-mell! for I lack soldiers.
Behold yond simp’ring dame,
Whose face between her forks2 1 presages snow,
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
17 Mark. 18 Pass-word. 19 Accusation. 20 Lust. 21 Probably, hair ornaments.

KING LEAR 295
To hear of pleasure’s name,—
The fitchew,2 2 nor the soiled2 3 horse, goes t o ‘ t
With a more riotous appetite.
Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above;
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends’;
There’s hell, there’s darkness, there’s the sulphurous pit,
Burning, scalding, stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie! pah, pah!
Give me an ounce of civet; good apothecary, sweeten my imagination.
There’s money for thee.
Glou. O, let me kiss that hand!
Lear. Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.
Glou. O ruin’d piece of nature! This great world
Shall so wear out to nought. Dost thou know me?
Lear. I remember thine eyes well enough. Dost thou squiny2 4 at
me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid; I’ll not love. Read thou this
challenge; mark but the penning of it.
Glou. Were all thy letters suns, I could not see.
Edg. [Aside.] I would not take this from report. It is; and my
heart breaks at it.
Lear. Read.
Glou. What, with the case2 5 of eyes ?
Lear. O, ho, are you there with me? N o eyes in your head, nor
no money in your purse? Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse
in a light; yet you see how this world goes.
Glou. I see it feelingly.
Lear. What, art mad ? A man may see how this world goes with
no eyes. Look with thine ears; see how yond justice rails upon yond
simple thief. Hark, in thine ear: change places, and, handy-dandy,
which is the justice, which is the thief? Thou has seen a farmer’s
dog bark at a beggar?
Glou. Ay, sir.
Lear. And the creature run from the cur? There thou mightst
behold the great image of authority: a dog’s obey’d in office.
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
22 Pole-cat. 23 Lusty with feeding. 24 Squint. 25 Sockets.,

296 SHAKESPEARE
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thy own back;
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whip’st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.5
Through tatter’d clothes great vices do appear;
Robes and furr’d gowns hide all. Plate sins with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.
None does offend, none, I say, none; I’ll able2 7 ’em.
Take that of me, my friend, who have the power
To seal the accuser’s lips. Get thee glass eyes,
And, like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not. Now, now, now, now.
Pull off my boots; harder, harder: so.
Edg. O, matter and impertinency2 8 mix’dl
Reason in madness!
Lear. If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester.
Thou must be patient; we came crying hither.
Thou know’st, the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry. I will preach to thee; mark.
Glou. Alack, alack the day!
Lear. When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.—This a good block.2 9
It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
A troop of horse with felt. I’ll p u t ‘ t in proof;30
And when I have stol’n upon these son-in-laws,
Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!
Enter a Gentleman [with Attendants]
Gent. O, here he is! Lay hand upon him. Sir,
Your most dear daughter—
Lear. No rescue ? What, a prisoner ? I am even
The natural fool of fortune. Use me well;
You shall have ransom. Let me have surgeons;
I am cut to the brains.
26 Swindler. 27 Warrant. 28 Sense and nonsense.
29 Hat ( ? ) . 30 To the test.

KING LEAR 297
Gent. You shall have anything.
Lear. No seconds? All myself?
Why, this would make a man a man of salt,31
To use his eyes for garden water-pots,
[Ay, and laying autumn’s dust.
Gent. Good sir,—]
Lear. I will die bravely, like a smug3 2 bridegroom. What! I will
be jovial. Come, come; I am a king,
My masters, know you that?
Gent. You are a royal one, and we obey you.
Lear. Then there’s life i n ‘ t . Come, an you get it, you shall get it
by running. Sa, sa, sa, sa. Exit {running; Attendants follow].
Gent. A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch,
Past speaking of in a king! Thou hast one daughter
Who redeems Nature from the general curse
Which twain have brought her to.
Edg. Hail, gentle sir.
Gent. Sir, speed you: what’s your will?
Edg. Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward ?
Gent. Most sure and vulgar;3 3 every one hears that,
Which can distinguish sound.
Edg. But, by your favour,
How near’s the other army ?
Gent. Near and on speedy foot; the main descry34
Stands on the hourly thought.
Edg. I thank you, sir; that’s all.
Gent. Though that the Queen on special cause is here,
Her army is mov’d on. Exit.
Edg. I thank you, sir.
Glou. You ever-gentle gods, take my breath from me;
Let not my worser spirit tempt me again
To die before you please!
Edg. Well pray you, father.
Glou. Now, good sir, what are you?
Edg. A most poor man, made tame to fortune’s blows;
31 Tears. 32 Neat, fine. 33 Generally known.
34 The sight of the main body is hourly expected.

298 SHAKESPEARE
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,
Am pregnant3 5 to good pity. Give me your hand,
I’ll lead you to some biding.
Glou. Hearty thanks;
The bounty and the benison of Heaven
To boot, and boot!
Enter Steward [OSWALD]
Osw. A proclaim’d prize! Most happy!
That eyeless head of thine was first fram’d flesh
To raise my fortunes. Thou old unhappy traitor,
Briefly thyself remember; the sword is out
That must destroy thee.
Glou. Now let thy friendly hand
Put strength enough t o ‘ t . [EDGAR interposes.]
Osw. Wherefore, bold peasant,
Dar’st thou support a publish’d3 6 traitor? Hence;
Lest that the infection of his fortune take
Like hold on thee. Let go his arm.
Edg. ‘Chill3 7 not let go, zir, without vurther ‘casion.
Osw. Let go, slave, or thou diest!
Edg. Good gentleman, go your gait, and let poor volk pass. An
‘chud3 8 ha’ bin zwagger’d out of my life, ‘t would not ha’ bin zo long
as ’tis by a vortnight. Nay, come not near th’ old man; keep out,
‘che vor ye,3 9 or Ise try whether your costard4 0 or my ballow4 1 be the
harder. ‘Chill be plain with you.
Osw. Out, dunghill!
Edg. ‘Chill pick your teeth, zir. Come, no matter vor your foins.42
[They fight, and EDGAR knocks him down.]
Osw. Slave, thou hast slain me. Villain, take my purse.
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters which thou find’st about me
To Edmund, Earl of Gloucester; seek him out
Upon4 3 the English party. O, untimely death!
Death! Dies.
3 5 Ready. 36 Publicly proclaimed. 3 7 1 will.
3 8 If I could. 3 9 1 warn you. 40 Head. 41 Cudgel. “Thrusts. 43 Among.

KING LEAR 299
Edg. I know thee well; a serviceable villain,
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.
Glou. What, is he dead?
Edg. Sit you down, father; rest you.
Let’s see these pockets; the letters that he speaks o£
May be my friends. He’s dead; I am only sorry
He had no other death’s-man. Let us see.
Leave, gentle wax; and, manners, blame us not.
To know our enemies’ minds, we rip their hearts;
Their papers, is more lawful.
(Reads the letter.) “Let our reciprocal vows be rememb’red. Y ou
have many opportunities to cut him off; if your will want not, time
and place will be fruitfully offer’d. There is nothing done, if he
return the conqueror; then am I the prisoner, and his bed my gaol;
from the loathed warmth whereof deliver me, and supply the place
for your labour.
“Your—wife, so I would say—
“Affectionate servant,
“GONERIL.”
O indistinguish’d space4 4 of woman’s will!45
A plot upon her virtuous husband’s life;
And the exchange my brother! Here, in the sands,
Thee I’ll rake up, the post unsanctified
Of murderous lechers; and in the mature time
With this ungracious paper strike the sight
Of the death-practis’d46 duke. For him ’tis well
That of thy death and business I can tell.
Glou. The King is mad; how stiff is my vile sense
That I stand up and have ingenious4 7 feeling
Of my huge sorrows! Better I were distract;
So should my thoughts be sever’d from my griefs,
Drum afar off.
And woes by wrong imaginations lose
The knowledge of themselves.
44 Unlimited range. 45 Appetites. 46 Whose death was plotted.
47 Conscious.

300 SHAKESPEARE
Edg. Give me your hand.
Far off, methinks, I hear the beaten drum.
Come, father, I’ll bestow4 8 you with a friend. Exeunt.
SCENE VII. [A tent in the French camp]
Enter CORDELIA, KENT, and Doctor
Cor. O thou good Kent, how shall I live and work
To match thy goodness? My life will be too short,
And every measure fail me.
Kent. To be acknowledg’d, madam, is o’er-paid.
All my reports go with the modest truth;
Nor more nor clipp’d,1 but so.
Cor. Be better suited;
These weeds are memories of those worser hours.
I prithee, put them off.
Kent. Pardon, dear madam;
Yet to be known shortens my made intent.2
My boon I make it, that you know me not
Till time and I think meet.
Cor. Then b e ‘ t so, my good lord. [To the Doctor.]
How does the King?
Doct. Madam, sleeps still.
Cor. O you kind gods,
Cure this great breach in his abused nature!
The untun’d and jarring senses, O, wind up
Of this child-changed3 father!
Doct. So please your Majesty
That we may wake the K i n g ? He hath slept long.
Cor. Be govern’d by your knowledge, and proceed
I’ the sway of your own will.
Enter LEAR in a chair carried by Servants. [Gentleman in attendance]
Is he array’d ?
Gent. Ay, madam; in the heaviness of sleep
We put fresh garments on him.
4 8 Lodge. ‘Shortened. 2Interferes with the plan I have formed.
3 Changed by the cruelty of his children.

KING LEAR 301
Doct. Be by, good madam, when we do awake him;
I doubt not of his temperance/
[Cor. Very well.
Doct. Please you, draw near.—Louder the music there!]
Cor. O my dear father! Restoration hang
Thy medicine on my lips; and let this kiss
Repair those violent harms that my two sisters
Have in thy reverence made!
Kent. Kind and dear princess!
Cor. Had you not been their father, these white flakes
Did challenge pity of them. Was this a face
To be oppos’d against the warring winds?
[To stand against the deep dread-bolted thunder?
In the most terrible and nimble stroke
Of quick, cross lightning? to watch—poor perdu!5—
With this thin helm?] Mine enemy’s dog,
Though he had bit me, should have stood that night
Against my fire; and wast thou fain, poor father,
To hovel thee with swine and rogues forlorn
In short and musty straw? Alack, alack!
‘Tis wonder that thy life and wits at once
Had not concluded all. He wakes; speak to him.
Doct. Madam, do you; ’tis fittest.
Cor. How does my royal lord? How fares your Majesty?
Lear. You do me wrong to take me out o’ the grave.
Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
Do scald like molten lead.
Cor. Sir, do you know me ?
Lear. You are a spirit, I know; when did you die?
Cor. Still, still, far wide!6
Doct. He’s scarce awake; let him alone a while.
Lear. Where have I been? Where am I? Fair daylight?
I am mightily abus’d. I should even die with pity,
To see another thus. I know not what to say.
I will not swear these are my hands. Let’s see;
‘ Sanity. 5 A soldier put on dangerous sentry duty. 6 Delirious.

302 SHAKESPEARE
I feel this pin prick. Would I were assur’d
Of my condition!
Cor. O, look upon me, sir,
And hold your hand in benediction o’er me.
[No, sir,] you must not kneel.
Lear. Pray, do not mock me.
I am a very foolish fond7 old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful; for I am mainly8 ignorant
What place this is, and all the skill I have
Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
For, as I am a man, I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia.
Cor. And so I am, I am.
Lear. Be your tears wet? Yes, faith. I pray, weep not.
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong;
You have some cause, they have not.
Cor. No cause, no cause.
Lear. A m I in France?
Kent. In your own kingdom, sir.
Lear. Do not abuse me.
Doct. Be comforted, good madam; the great rage,9
You see, is kill’d in him: [and yet it is danger
To make him even o’er the time he has lost.]
Desire him to go in; trouble him no more
Till further settling.
Cor. Will ‘t please your Highness walk ?
Lear. You must bear with me.
Pray you now, forget and forgive; I am old and foolish.
Exeunt [all but KENT and Gentleman].
7 Foolish. 8 Quite. 9 Frenzy.

KING LEAR 303
[Gent. Holds it true, sir, that the Duke of Cornwall was so slain?
Kent. Most certain, sir.
Gent. Who is conductor of his people?
Kent. As ’tis said, the bastard son of Gloucester.
Gent. They say Edgar, his banish’d son, is with the Earl of Kent
in Germany.
Kent. Report is changeable. ‘Tis time to look about; the powers of
the kingdom approach apace.
Gent. The arbitrement1 0 is like to be bloody.
Fare you well, sir.
Kent. My point and period will be throughly wrought,
Or well or ill, as this day’s battle’s fought.] Exit.
1 0 Decision. 1 Induced. 2 Fixed resolve. 3 Forbidden.
4 Intimate with her, to the utmost extent.

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