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Fatigued with the cares of royalty, Lear, king of Britain,
determines to withdraw from public life, and to commit the goverument of his kingdom to his three daughters. The frank sincerity of Cordelia, his youngest child, so displeases the infatuated monarch, that he resolves to disinherit her, and divide her patrimony between Goneril and Regan, her more specious sisters, who are entrusted with the protection of their deposed father. The two daughters no sooner find themselves emancipated from parental control, than they subject the old king to a diminution of his retinue, and by their cruelty and ingratitude at length drive him, amidst the inclemencies of a midnight storm, to an adjoining heath, where he is met by Edgar in the disguise of a lunatic, assumed in order to elude the indignation of his father, the earl of Gloster, whose credulity has been imposed on by the villanous suggestions of Edmund, his natural son. The mental powers of Lear are overwhelmed by his accumulated sufferings, which are secretly relieved by Gloster, in defiance of the injunctions of the sisters; and his humanity is punished with the loss of his eyes, through the information communicated by the treacherous Edmund. In the mean time Cordelia bestows her hand on the French king, who despatches a large army under the conduct of his wife for the relief of Lear, whose intellects become partially restored by the tender assiduities of his affectionate daughter. A general engagement soon after ensues, in which Lear and Cordelia sustain a total defeat, and are committed to prison, where orders are received to hang Cordelia, and her unhappy father dies of a broken heart: Regan is poisoned by her sister Goneril, who stabs herself in despair at the discovery of her designs on the life of her husband; while Edmund falls by the hand of his injured brother.
LEAR, king of Britain.
daughters to Lear.
Knights attending on the king, Officers, Messengers, Sol
diers, and Attendants.
KING LE A R.
A room of state in King Lear's palace.
Enter KENT, GLOSTER, and EDMUND. Kent. I thought the king had more affected the duke of Albany than Cornwall.
Glos. It did always seem so to us; but now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most; for equalities are so weighed, that curiosity 1 in neither can make choice of either's moiety..
Kent. Is not this your son, my lord ?
Glos. His breeding, sir, hath been at my charge : I have so often blushed to acknowlege him that now I am brazed to it.
Kent. I cannot conceive you.
Glos. Sir, this young fellow's mother could : whereupon she grew round-wombed; and had, indeed, sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband for her bed. Do you smell a fault?
1 Exactest scrutiny.
Kent. I cannot wish the fault undone, the issue of it being so proper.1
Glos. But I have, sir, a son by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account: though this knave came somewhat saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was his mother fair; there was good sport at his making, and the whoreson must be acknowleged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund ?
Edm. No, my lord.
Glos. My lord of Kent: remember him hereafter as my honorable friend.
Edm. My services to your lordship.
Kent. I must love you, and sue to know you better.
Edm. Sir, I shall study deserving.
Glos. He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again. The king is coming.
[trumpets sound within.
Enter LEAR, CORNWALL, ALBANY, GONERIL, REGAN,
CORDELIA, and Attendants. Lear. Attend the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster. Glos. I shall, my liege.
[Exeunt Gloster and Edmund.
Lear. Meantime we shall express our darker
purpose. Give me the map there.-Know, that we have
divided In three our kingdom; and 'tis our fast intent To shake all cares and business from our age, Conferring them on younger strengths, while we Unburden'd crawl toward death. Our son of Corn
wall, And you, our no less loving son of Albany, We have this hour a constant will to publish Our daughters' several dowers, that future strife May be prevented now. The princes, France and
Burgundy, Great rivals in our youngest daughter's love, Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn, And here are to be answer'd. Tell me, my daugh
ters, (Since now we will divest us, both of rule, Interest of territory, cares of state) Which of you, shall we say, doth love us most? That we our largest bounty may extend Where merit doth most challenge it.-Goneril, Our eldest-born, speak first. Gon. Sir, I do love you more than words can
wield the matter; Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty ; Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare ; No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor : As much as child e'er loved, or father found; A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable ;