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    Gordon Bottomley

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    King Lear's Wife

    To T. S. M.

    DRAMATIS PERSONAE

    LEAR, King of Britain.
    HYGD, his Queen.
    GONERIL, daughter to King Lear.
    CORDEIL, daughter to King Lear.
    GORMFLAITH, waiting-woman to Queen Hygd.
    MERRYN, waiting-woman to Queen Hygd.
    A PHYSICIAN.
    TWO ELDERLY WOMEN

    KING LEAR'S WIFE.

    The scene is a bedchamber in a one-storied house.
    The walls consist of a few courses of huge irregular
    boulders roughly squared and fitted together; a
    thatched roof rises steeply from the back wall. In
    the centre of the back wall is a doorway opening
    on a garden and covered by two leather curtains;
    the chamber is partially hung with similar
    hangings stitched with bright wools. There is a
    small window on each side of this door.
     Toward the front a bed stands with its head
    against the right wall; it has thin leather curtains
    hung by thongs and drawn back. Farther forward
    a rich robe and a crown hang on a peg in the same
    wall. There is a second door beyond the bed, and
    between this and the bed's head stands a small
    table with a bronze lamp and a bronze cup on it.
    Queen HYGD, an emaciated woman, is asleep
    in the bed; her plenteous black hair, veined with
    silver, spreads over the pillow. Her waiting-
    woman, MERRYN, middle-aged and hard-
    featured, sits watching her in a chair on the
    farther side of the bed. The light of early morning
    fills the room.

    Merryn
    Many, many must die who long to love,
    Yet this one cannot die who longs to die:
    Even her sleep, come now at last, thwarts death,
    Although sleep lures us all half way to death. . . .
    I could not sit beside her every night
    If I believed that I might suffer so:
    I am sure I am not made to be diseased,
    I feel there is no malady can touch me --
    Save the red cancer, growing where it will.

      [Taking her beads from her girdle, she kneels at the foot of the bed.

    O sweet Saint Cleer, and sweet Saint Elid too,
    Shield me from rooting cancers and from madness:
    Sheld me from sudden death, worse than two death-beds;
    Let me not lie like this unwanted queen,
    Yet let my time come not ere I am ready --
    Grant space enow to relish the watchers' tears
    And give my clothes away and calm my features
    And streek my limbs according to my will,
    Not the hard will of fumbling corpse-washers.
      [She prays silently.

      KING LEAR, a great, golden-bearded man in the full maturity of life, enters abruptly by the door beyond the bed, followed by the PHYSICIAN.

    Lear
    Why are you here? Are you here forever?
    Where is the young Scotswoman? Where is she?

    Merryn
    O, Sire, move softly; the Queen sleeps at last.

    Lear (continuing in an undertone)
    Where is the young Scotswoman? Where is Gormflaith?
    It is her watch. . . . I know; I have marked your hours.
    Did the Queen send her away? Did the Queen
    Bid you stay near her in her hate of Gormflaith?
    You work upon her yeasting brain to think
    That she's not safe except when you crouch near her
    To spy with your dropt eyes and soundless presence.

    Merryn
    Sire, midnight should have ended Gormflaith's watch,
    But Gormflaith had another kind of will
    And ended at a godlier hour by slumber,
    A letter in her hand, the night-lamp out.
    She loitered in the hall when she should sleep.
    My duty has two hours ere she returns.

    Lear
    The Queen should have young women about her bed,
    Fresh cool-breathed women to lie down at her side
    And plenish her with vigour; for sick or wasted women
    Can draw a virtue from such abounding presence,
    When night makes life unwary and looses the strings of being,
    Even by the breath, and most of all by sleep.
    Her slumber was then no fault: go you and find her.

    Physician
    It is not strange that a bought watcher drowses;
    What is more strange is that the Queen sleeps
    Who would not sleep for all my draughts of sleep
    In the last days. When did this change appear?

    Merryn
    We shall not know -- it came while Gormflaith nodded.
    When I awoke her and she saw the Queen
    She could not speak for fear;
    When the rekindling lamp showed certainly
    The bed-clothes stirring about our lady's neck,
    She knew there was no death, she breathed, she said
    She had not slept until her mistress slept
    And lulled her; but I asked her how her mistress
    Slept, and her utterance faded.
    She should be blamed with rods, as I was blamed
    For slumber, after a day and a night of watching,
    By the Queen's child-bed, twenty years ago.

    Lear
    She does what she must do: let her alone.
    I know her watch is now: get gone and send her.
      [MERRYN goes out by the door beyond the bed.
    Is it a portent now to sleep at night?
    What change is here? What see you in the Queen?
    Can you discern how this disease will end?

    Physician
    Surmise might spring and healing follow yet,
    If I could find a trouble that could heal;
    But these strong inward pains that keep her ebbing
    Have not their source in perishing flesh.
    I have seen women creep into their beds
    And sink with this blind pain because they nursed
    Some bitterness or burden in the mind
    That drew the life, sucklings too long at breast.
    Do you know such a cause in this poor lady?

    Lear
    There is no cause. How could there be a cause?

    Physician
    We cannot die wholly against our wills;
    And in the texture of women I have found
    Harder determination than in men:
    The body grows impatient of enduring,
    The harried mind is from the body estranged,
    And we consent to go: by the Queen's touch
    The way she moves -- or does not move -- in bed,
    The eyes so cold and keen in her white mask,
    I know she has consented.
    The snarling look of a mute wounded hawk,
    That would be let alone, is always hers --
    Yet she was sorely tender: it may be
    Some wound in her affection will not heal.
    We should be careful -- the mind can so be hurt
    That nought can make it be unhurt again.
    Where, then, did her affection most persist?

    Lear
    Old bone-patcher, old digger in men's flesh,
    Doctors are ever itching to be priests,
    Meddling in conduct, natures, life's privacies.
    We have been coupled now for twenty years,
    And she have never turned from me an hour --
    She knows a woman's duty and a queen's:
    Whose, then can her affection be but mine?
    If her strong inward pain is a real pain
    Find me some certain drug to medicine it:
    When common beings have decayed past help,
    There must be still some drug for a king to use;
    For nothing ought be be denied to kings.

    Physician
    For the mere anguish there is such a potion.
    The gum of warpy juniper shoots is seethed
    With the torn marrow of an adder's spine;
    An unflawed emerald is pashed to dust
    And mingled there; that broth must cool in moonlight.
    I have indeed attempted this already,
    But the poor emeralds I could extort
    From wry-mouthed earls' women had no force.
    In two more dawns it will be late for potions. . . .
    There are not many emeralds in Britain,
    And there is none for vividness and strength
    Like the great stone that hangs upon your breast:
    If you will waste it for her she shall be holpen.

    Lear (with rising voice?)
    Shatter my emerald? My emerald? My emerald?
    A High King of Eire gave it to his daughter
    Who mothered generations of us, the kings of Britain;
    It has a spiritual influence; its heart
    Burns when it sees the sun. . . . Shatter my emerald!
    Only the fungused brain and carious mouth
    Of senile things could shape such thought . . . .
            My emerald!
      HYGD stirs uneasily in her sleep.

    Physician
    Speak lower, low; for your good fame, speak low --
    If she should waken thus . . . .

    Lear                                       There is no wise man
    Believes that medicine is in a jewel.
    It is enough that you have failed with one.
    Seek you a common stone. I'll not do it.
    Let her eat heartily; she is spent with fasting.
    Let her stand up and walk: she is so still
    Her blood can never nourish her. Come away.

    Physician
    I must not leave her ere the woman comes --
    Or will some other woman . . . .

    Lear                                       No, no, no, no;
    The Queen is not herself; she speaks without sense;
    Only Merryn and Gormflaith understand.
    She is better quiet. Come . . . .
      He urges the PHYSICIAN roughly away by the shoulder.
                                         
    My emerald!
      [He follows the PHYSICIAN out by the door at the back. Queen HYGD awakes at his last noisy words as he disappears.

    Hygd
    I have not slept; I did but close mine eyes
    A little while -- a little while forgetting. . . .
    Where are you Merryn? . . . Ah, it is not Merryn. . . .
    Bring me a cup of whey, woman; I thirst. . . .
    Will you speak to me if I say your name?
    Will you not listen, Gormflaith? . . . Can you hear?
    I am very thirsty -- let me drink. . . .
    Ah, wicked woman, shy did I speak to you?
    I will not be your suppliant again. . . .
    Where are you? O, where are you? . . . Where are you?
      [She tries to raise herself to look about the room but, but sinks back helplessly.

      The curtains of the door at the back are parted, and GONERIL appears in hunting dress, -- her kirtle caught up in her girdle, a light spear over her shoulder -- stands there moment, then enters noiselessly and approaches the bed. She is a girl just turning to womanhood, proud in her poise, swift and cold, an almost gleaming presence, a virgin huntress.

    Goneril
    Mother, were you calling?
    Have I awakened you?
    They said that you were sleeping.
    Why are you left alone, mother, my dear one?

    Hygd
    Who are you? No, no, no! Stand farther off!
    You pulse and glow; you are too vital; your presence hurts. . . .
    Freshness of hill-swards, wind and trodden ling,
    I should have known that Goneril stands here.
    It is yet dawn, but you have been afoot
    Afar and long: where could you climb so soon?

    Goneril
    Dearest, I am an evil daughter to you:
    I never thought of you -- O, never once --
    Until I heard a moor-bird cry like you.
    I am wicked, rapt in joys of breath and life,
    And I must force myself to think of you.
    I leave you to caretakers' cold gentleness;
    But O, I did not think that they dare leave you.
    What woman should be here?

    Hygd                                         I have forgot. . . .
    I know not. . . . She will be about some duty.
    I do not matter: my time is done . . . nigh done . . .
    Bought hands can well prepare me for a grave,
    And all the generations must serve youth.
    My girls shall live untroubled while they may,
    And learn happiness once while yet blind men
    Have injured not their freedom;
    For women are not meant for happiness.
    Where have you been, my falcon?

    Goneril
    I dreamt that I was swimming, shoulder up,
    And drave the bed-clothes spreading to the floor:
    Coldness awoke me; through the waning darkness
    I heard far hounds give shivering aëry tongue,
    Remote, withdrawing, suddenly faint and near;
    I leapt and saw a pack of stretching weasels
    Hunt a pale coney in a soundless rush,
    Their elfin and thin yelping pierced by heart
    As with an unseen beauty long awaited;
    Wolf-skin and cloak I buckled over this night-gear,
    And took my honoured spear from my bed-side
    Where none but I may touch its purity,
    And sped as lightly down the dewy bank
    As any mothy owl that hunts quick mice.
    They went crying, crying, but I lost them
    Before I stept, with the first tips of light,
    On Raven Crag near by the Druid Stones;
    So I paused there and, stooping, pressed by hand
    Against the stony bed of the clear stream;
    Then entered I the circle and raised up
    My shining hand in cold stern adoration
    Even as the first great gleam went up the sky.

    Hygd
    Ay, you do well to worship on that height:
    Life is free to the quick up in the wind,
    And the wind bares you for a God's descent --
    For wind is a spirit immediate and aged.
    And you do well to worship harsh men-gods,
    God Wind and Those who built his Stones with him:
    All gods are cruel, bitter, and to be bribed,
    But women-gods are mean and cunning as well.
    That fierce old virgin, Cornish Merryn, prays
    To a young woman, yes and even a virgin --
    The poorest kind of woman -- and she says
    That is to be a Christian: avoid then
    Her worship most, for men hate such denials,
    And any woman scorns her unwed daughter.
    Where sped you from that height? Did Regan join you there?

    Goneril
    Does Regan worship anywhere at dawn?
    The sweaty half-clad cook-maids render lard
    Out in the scullery, after pig-killing,
    And Regan sidles among their greasy skirts,
    Smeary and hot as they, for craps to suck.
    I lost my thoughts before the giant Stones . . .
    And when anew the earth assembled round me
    I swung out on the heath and woke a hare
    And speared it at a cast and shouldered it,
    Startled another drinking at a tarn
    And speared it ere it leapt; so steady and clear
    Had the god in his fastness made my mind.
    Then, as I took those dead things in my hands,
    I felt shame light my face from deep within,
    And loathing and contempt shake in my bowels,
    That such unclean coarse blows from me had issued
    To crush delicate things to bloody mash
    And blemish their fur when I would only kill.
    My gladness left me; I careered no more
    Upon the morning; I went down from there
    With empty hands:
    But under the first trees and without thought
    I stole on conies at play and stooped at one;
    I hunted it, I caught it up to me
    As I outsprang it, and with this thin knife
    Pierced it from eye to eye; and it was dead,
    Untorn, unsullied, and with flawless fur.
    Then my untroubled mind came back to me.

    Hygd
    Leap down the glades with a fawn's ignorance;
    Live you your fill of a harsh purity;
    Be wild and calm and lonely while you may.
    These are your nature's joys, and it is human
    Only to recognise our natures' joys
    When we are losing them for ever.

    Goneril                                       But why
    Do you say this to me with a sore heart?
    You are a queen, and speak from the top of life,
    And when you choose to wish for others' joys
    Those others must have woe.

    Hygd
    The hour comes for you to turn to a man
    And give yourself with the high heart of youth
    More lavishly than a queen gives anything.
    But when a woman gives herself
    She must give herself for ever and have faith;
    For woman is a thing of a season of years,
    She is an early fruit that will not keep,
    She can be drained and as a husk survive
    To hope for reverence for what has been;
    While man renews himself into old age,
    And gives himself according to his need,
    And women more unborn than his next child
    May take him yet with youth
    And lose him with their potence.

    Goneril
    But women need not wed these men.

    Hygd
    We are good human currency, like gold,
    For men to pass among them when they choose.
      [A child's hands beat on the outside of the door beyond the bed.

    Cordeil's Voice (a child's voice, outside)
    Father. . . . Father. . . . Father. . . . Are you here?
    Merryn, ugly Merryn, let me in. . . .
    I know my father is here. . . . I want him. . . . Now. . . .
    Mother, chide Merryn, she is old and slow . . . .

    Hygd (softly)
    My little curse. Send her away -- away. . . .

    Cordeil's Voice
    Father. . . . O, father, father. . . . I want my father.

    Goneril (opening the door a little way)
    Hush; hush -- you hurt your mother with your voice,
    You cannot come in, Cordeil; you must go away:
    Your father is not here. . . .

    Cordeil's Voice                      He must be here:
    He is not in his chamber or the hall,
    He is not in the stable or with Gormflaith:
    He promised I should ride with him at dawn
    And sit before his saddle and hold his hawk,
    And ride with him and ride to the heron-marsh;
    He said that he would give me the first heron,
    And hang the longest feathers in my hair.

    Goneril
    Then you must haste to find him;
    He may be riding now. . . .

    Cordeil's Voice
    But Gerda said she saw him enter here.

    Goneril
    Indeed, he is not here. . . .

    Cordeil's Voice                                       Let me look. . . .

    Goneril
    You are too noisy. Must I make you go?

    Cordeil's Voice
    Mother, Goneril is unkind to me.

    Hygd (raising herself in bed excitedly, and speaking so vehemently that her utterance strangles itself)
    Go, go, thou evil child, thou ill-comer.

      [GONERIL, with a sudden strong movement, shuts the resisting door and holds it rigidly. The little hands beat on it madly for a moment, then the child's voice is heard in a retreating wail.

    Goneril
    Though she is wilful, obeying only the King,
    She is a very little child, mother,
    To be so bitterly thought of.

    Hygd
    Because a woman gives herself for ever
    Cordeil the useless had to be conceived
    (Like an after-thought that deceives nobody)
    To keep her father from another woman.
    And I lie here.

    Goneril after a silence)
    Hard and unjust my father has been to me;
    Yet that has knitted up within my mind
    A love of coldness and a love of him
    Who makes me firm, wary, swift and secret,
    Until I feel if I become a mother
    I shall at need be cruel to my children,
    And ever cold, to string their natures harder
    And make them able to endure men's deeds;
    But now I wonder if injustice
    Keeps house with baseness, taught by kinship --
    I never thought a king could be untrue,
    I never thought my father was unclean. . . .
    O mother, mother, what is it? Is this dying?

    Hygd
    I think I am only faint. . . .
    Give me the cup of whey. . . .

      [GONERIL takes the cup and, supporting HYGD, lets her drink.

    Goneril
    There is too little here. When was it made?

    Hygd
    Yester-eve. . . . Yester-morn. . . .

    Goneril                       Unhappy mother,
    You have no daughter to take thought for you --
    No servant's love to shame a daughter with,
    Though I am shamed -- you must have other food,
    Straightway I bring you meat. . . .

    Hygd                       It is no use. . . .
    Plenish the cup for me. . . . Not now, not now,
    But in a while; for I am heavy now. . . .
    Old Wynoc's potions loiter in my veins,
    And tides of heaviness pour over me
    Each time I wake and think. I could sleep now.

    Goneril
    Then I shall lull you, as you once lulled me.

      [Seating herself on the bed, she sings.
      The owlets in roof-holes
      Can sing for themselves;
      The smallest brown squirrel
      Both scampers and delves;
      But a baby does nothing --
      She never knows how --
      She must hark to her mother
      Who sings to her now.
      Sleep, then ladykin, peeping so;
      Hide your handies and ley lei lo.
        [She bends over HYGD and kisses her; they laugh softly together. LEAR parts the curtains of the door at the back, stands there a moment, then goes away noiselessly.

      The lish baby otter
      Is sleeky and streaming,
      With catching bright fishes
      Ere babies learn dreaming;
      But no wet little otter
      Is ever so warm
      As the fleecy-wrapt baby
      'Twixt me and my arm.
      Sleep big mousie. . . .

    Hygd (suddenly irritable)
                             Be quiet. . . . I cannot bear it.

      [She turns her head away from GONERIL and closes her eyes.
      As GONERIL watches her in silence GORMFLAITH enters by the door beyond the bed. She is young and tall and fresh-coloured; her red hair coils and crisps close to her little head, showing its shape. Her movements are soft and unhurried; her manner is quiet and ingratiating and a little too agreeable; she speaks a little too gently

    Goneril (meeting her near the door and speaking in a low voice)
    Why did you leave the Queen? Where have you been?
    Why have you so neglected this grave duty?

    Gormflaith
    This is the instant of my duty, Princess;
    From midnight until now was Merryn's watch.
    I thought to find her here : is she not here?
      [HYGD turns to look at the speakers; then, turning back, closes her eyes again and lies as if asleep.

    Goneril
    I found the Queen alone. I heard her cry your name.

    Gormflaith
    You anger is not too great, Madam; I grieve
    That one so old as Merryn should act thus --
    So old and trusted and favoured, and so callous.

    Goneril
    The Queen has had not food since yester-night.

    Gormflaith
    Madam, that is too monstrous to conceive:
    I will seek food. I will prepare it now.

    Goneril
    Stay here: and know, if the Queen is left again,
    You will be beaten with two rods at once.
      [She picks up the cup and goes out by the door beyond the bed.
      GORMFLAITH turns the chair a little away from the bed so that she can watch the far door, and, seating herself, draws a letter from her bosom.

    Gormflaith (to herself, reading)
    "Open your window when the moon is dead,
    And I will come again.
    The women say your face is a false face
    And your eyes shifty eyes. Ah, but I love you, Gormflaith.
    Do not forget your window-latch to-night,
    For when the moon is dead the house is still."
      [LEAR again parts the door-curtains at the back, and, seeing GORMFLAITH, enters. At the first slight rustle rustle of the curtains GORMFLAITH stealthily slips the letter back into her bosom before turning gradually, a finger to her lips, to see who approaches her.

    LEAR (leaning over the side of her chair)
    Lady, what do you read?

    Gormflaith                                I read a letter, Sire.

    Lear
    A letter -- a letter -- what read you in a letter?

    Gormflaith (taking anther letter from her girdle)
    Your words to me -- my lonely joy your words . . . .
    "If you are steady and true as your gaze " --

    Lear (tearing the letter from her, crumpling it, and flinging it to the back of the room)
                                              Pest!
    You should not carry a king's letters about,
    Nor hoard a king's letters.

    Gormflaith                                   No, Sire.

    Lear
    Must the King also stand in the presence now?

    Gormflaith (rising)
    Pardon my troubled mind; you have taken my letter from me.
      [LEAR seats himself and takes GORMFLAITH's hand.

    Gormflaith
    Wait, wait -- I might be seen. The Queen may waken yet.
      [Stepping lightly to the bed, she noiselessly slips the curtain on that side as far forward as it will come. Then she returns to LEAR, who draws her to him and seats her on his knee.

    Lear
    You have been long in coming:
    Was Merryn long in finding you?

    Gormflaith (playing with Lear's emerald
                                       Did Merryn. . . .
    Has Merryn been. . . . She loitered long before she came,
    For I was at the women's bathing-place ere dawn. . . .
    No jewel in all the land excites me and enthralls
    Like this strong source of light that lives upon your breast.

    Lear (taking the jewel chain from his neck and slipping it over Gormflaith's head while she still holds the emerald)
    Wear it within your breast to fill the gentle place
    That cherished the poor letter lately torn from you.

    Gormflaith
    Did Merryn at your bidding, then, forsake her Queen?
                        [LEAR nods.
    You must not, ah, you must not do these masterful things,
    Even to grasp a precious meeting for us two;
    For the reproach and chiding are so hard to me,
    And even you can never fight the silent women
    In hidden league against me, all this house of women.
    Merryn has left her Queen in unwatched loneliness,
    And yet your daughter Princess Goneril has said
    (With words that scarce held back the spittle for my face)
    That if the Queen is left again I shall be whipt.

    Lear
    Children speak of the punishments they know.
    Her back is now not half so white as yours,
    And you shall write your will upon it yet.

    Gormflaith
    Ah, no, my King, my faithful. Ah, no. . . no. . .
    The Princess Goneril is right; she judges me:
    A sinful woman cannot steadily gaze reply
    To the cool, baffling looks of virgin untried force.
    She stands beside that crumbling mother in her hate,
    And, though we know so well -- she and I, O we know --
    That she could love no mother nor partake in anguish,
    Yet she is flouted when the King forsakes her dam,
    She must protect her very flesh, her tenderer flesh,
    Although she cannot wince; she's wild in her cold brain,
    And soon I must be made to pay a cruel price
    For this one gloomy joy in my uncherished life.
    Envy and greed are watching me aloof
    (Yes, now none of the women will walk with me),
    Longing to see me ruined, but she'll do it. . . .
    It is a lonely thing to love a king. . . .
      [She puts her cheek gradually closer and closer to LEAR'S cheek as she speaks: at length he kisses her suddenly and vehemently, as if he would grasp her lips with his: she receives it passively, her head thrown back, her eyes closed.

    Lear
    Goldilocks, when the crown is couching in your hair
    And those two mingled golds brighten each other's wonder,
    You shall produce a son from flesh unused --
    Virgin, I chose you for that, first crops are strongest --
    A tawny fox with your high-stepping action,
    With your untiring power and glittering eyes,
    To hold my lands together when I am done,
    To keep my lands from crumbling into mouthfuls
    For the short jaws of my three mewling vixens.
    Hatch for me such a youngster from my seed,
    And I and he shall rein my hot-breathed wenches
    To let you grind the edges off their teeth.

    Gormflaith (shaking her head sadly)
    Life holds no more than this for me; this is my hour.
    When she is dead I know you'll buy another Queen --
    Giving a county for her, gaining a duchy with her --
    And put me to wet nursing, leashing me with the thralls.
    It will not be unbearable -- I've had your love.
    Master and friend, grant then this hour to me:
    Never again, maybe, can we two sit
    At love together, unwatched, unknown of all,
    In the Queen's chamber, near the Queen's crown
    And with no conscious Queen to hold it from us:
    Now let me wear the Queen's true crown on me
    And snatch a breathless knowledge of the feeling
    Of what it would have been to sit by you
    Always and closely, equal and exalted,
    To be my light when life is dark again.

    Lear
    Girl, by the black stone god, I did not think
    You had the nature of a chambermaid,
    Who pries and fumbles in her lady's clothes
    With her red hands, or on her soily neck
    Stealthily hangs her lady's jewels or pearls.
    You shall be tiring-maid to the next queen
    And try her crown on every day o' your life
    In secrecy, if that is your desire:
    If you would be a queen, cleanse yourself quickly
    Of menial fingering and servile thought.

    Gormflaith
    You need not crown me. Let me put it on
    As briefly as a gleam of Winter sun.
    I will not even warm it with my hair.

    Lear
    You cannot have the nature of a queen
    If you believe that there are things above you :
    Crowns make no queens, queens are the cause of crowns.

    Gormflaith (slipping from his knee)
    Then I will take one. Look.
      [She tip-toes lightly round the front of the bed where the crown hangs on the wall.

    Lear
    Come here, mad thing -- come back!
    Your shadow will wake the Queen.

    Gormflaith
    Hush, hush! That angry voice
    Will wake the Queen.
      [She lifts the crown from the peg, and returns with it.

    Lear
    Go back; bear back the crown:
    Hang up the crown again.
    We are not helpless serfs
    To think things are forbidden
    And steal them for our joy.

    Gormflaith
    Hush, hush! It is too late;
    I dare not go again.

    Lear
    Put down the crown: your hands are base hands yet.
    Give it to me: it issues from my hands.

    Gormflaith (seating herself on his knee again, and crowning herself)
    Let anger keep your eyes steady and bright
    To be my guiding mirror: do not move.
    You have received two queens within your eyes.
      [She laughs clearly, like a bird's sudden song.
      HYGD awakes and, after an instant's bewilderment, turns her head toward the sound; finding the bed-curtain dropt, she moves it aside a little with her fingers; she watches LEAR and GORMFLAITH for a short time, then the curtain slips from her weak grasp and she lies motionless.

    Lear (continuing meanwhile)
    Doff it. . . . (GORMFLAITH kisses him) Enough . . . . (Kiss) Unless you do. . . . (Kiss) my will. . . . (Kiss)
    I shall. . . . (Kiss) I shall. . . . (Kiss) I'll have you. . . . (Kiss) sent. . . . (Kiss) to. . . . (Kiss.)

    Gormflaith         Hush.

    Lear
    Come to the garden: you shall hear me there.

    Gormflaith
    I dare not leave the Queen. . . . Yes, yes, I come.

    Lear
    No, you are better here: the guard would see you.

    Gormflaith
    Not when we reach the pathway near the appleyard.
      [They rise.

    Lear
    Girl, you are changed: you yield more beauty so.
      [They go out hand in hand by the doorway at the back. As they pass the crumpled letter GORMFLAITH drops her handkerchief on it, then picks up handerchief and letter together and thrusts them into her bosom as she passes out.

    Hygd (fingering back the bed-curtain again)
    How have they vanished? What are they doing now?

    Gormflaith (singing outside)
    If you have a mind to kiss me
    You shall kiss me in the dark:
    Yet rehearse, or you might miss me --
    Make my mouth your noontide mark.
    See, I prim and pout it so;
    Now take aim and. . . . No, no, no!
    Shut your eyes, or you'll not learn
    Where the darkness soon shall hide me:
    If you will not, then, in turn,
    I'll shut mine. Come, have you spied me?
      [GORMFLAITH'S voice grows fainter as the song closes.

    Hygd
    Does he remember love-ways used with me?
    Shall I never know? Is it too near?
    I'll watch him at his wooing once again,
    Though I peer up at him across my grave-sill.
      [She gets out of bed and takes several steps toward the garden doorway; she totters and sways, then, turning, stumbles back to the bed for support.
    Limbs, will you die? It is not yet the time.
    I know more discipline: I'll make you go.
      [She fumbles along the bed to the head, then, clinging against the wall, drags herself toward the back of the room.
    It is too far. I cannot see the wall.
    I will go ten more steps: only ten more.
    One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
    Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
    Sundown is soon to-day: it is cold and dark.
    Now ten steps more, and much will have been done.
    One. Two. Three. Four. Ten.
    Eleven, Twelve, Sixteen. Nineteen. Twenty.
    Twenty-one. Twenty-three. Twenty-eight. Thirty. Thirty-one.
    At last the turn. Thirty-six. Thirty-nine. Forty.
    Now only once again. Two. Three.
    What do the voices say? I hear too many.
    The door: but here there is no garden. . . . Ah!
      [She holds herself up an instant by the door-curtains; then she reels and falls, her body in the room, her head and shoulders beyond the curtains.
      GONERIL enters by the door beyond the bed, carrying the filled cup carefully in both hands.

    Goneril
    Where are you? What have you done? Speak to me.
      [Turning and seeing HYGD, she lets the cup fall and leaps to the open door by the bed.

    Merryn, hither, hither. . . . Mother, O mother!
      [She goes to HYGD. MERRYN enters.

    Merryn
    Princess, what has she done? Who has left her?
    She must have been alone.

    Goneril                         Where is Gormflaith?

    Merryn
    Mercy o' mercies, everybody asks me
    For Gormflaith, then for Gormflaith, then for Gormflaith,
    And I ask everybody else for her;
    But she is nowhere, and the King will foam.
    Send me no more; I am old with running about
    After a bodiless name.
    Goneril                                        She has been here,
    And she has left the Queen. This is her deed.

    Merryn
    Ah, cruel, cruel! The shame, the pity --

    Goneril                                        Lift.
      [Together the raise HYGD, and carry her to bed.
    She breathes, but something flitters under her flesh:
    Wynoc the leech must help us now. Go, run,
    Seek him, and come back quickly, and do not dare
    To come without him.

    Merryn                   It is useless, lady:
    There's a fever at the cowherd's in the marsh,
    And Wynoc broods above it twice a day,
    And I have lately seen him hobble thither.

    Hygd (recovering consciousness)
    Whence come you, dearest daughter? What have I done?
    Are you a dream? I though I was alone.
    Have you been hunting on the Windy Height?
    Your hands are not thus gentle after hunting.
    Or have I heard you singing through my sleep?
    Stay with me now: I have had piercing thoughts
    Of what the ways of life will do to you,
    To mould and maim you, and I have a power
    To bring these to expression that I knew not.
    Why do you wear my crown? Why do you wear
    My crown, I way? Why do you wear my crown?
    I am falling, falling! Lift me: hold me up.
      [GONERIL climbs on the bed and supports HYGD against her shoulder.
    It is the bed that breaks, for still I sink.
    Grip harder: I am slipping!

    Goneril                                        Woman, help!
      [MERRYN hurries round to the front of the bed and supports HYGD on her other side. HYGD points at the far corner of the room

    Hygd
    Why is the King's mother standing there?
    She should not wear her crown before me now.
    Send her away, she had a savage mind.
    Will you not hang a shawl across the corner
    So that she cannot stare at me again?
      [With a rending sob she buries her face in GONERIL'S bosom
    Ah, she is coming! Do not let her touch me!
    Brave splendid daughter, how easily you save me:
    But soon will Gormflaith come, she stays for ever.
    O, will she bring my crown to me once more?
    Yes, Gormflaith, yes. . . . Daughter, pay Gormflaith well.

    Goneril
    Gormflaith has left you lonely:
    'Tis Gormflaith who shall pay.

    Hygd
    No, Gormflaith; Gormflaith. . . . Not my loneliness. . . .
    Everything. . . . Pay Gormflaith. . . .
      [Her head falls back over GONERIL'S shoulder and she dies.

    Goneril (laying Hygd down in bed again)
    Send horsemen to the marshes for the leech,
    And let them bind him on a horse's back
    And bring him swiftlier than an old man rides.

    Merryn
    This is no leech's work: she's a dead woman.
    I'd best be finding if the wisdom-women
    Have come from Brita's child-bed to their drinking
    By the cook's fire, for soon she'll be past handling.

    Goneril
    This is not death: death could not be like this.
    She is quite warm -- though nothing moves in her.
    I did not know death could come all at once:
    If life is so ill-seated no one is safe.
    Cannot we leave her like herself awhile?
    Wait awhile, Merryn. . . . No, no, no; not yet!

    Merryn
    Child,she is gone and will not come again
    However we cover our faces and pretend
    She will be there if we uncover them.
    I must be hasty, or she'll be as stiff
    As a straw mattress is.

    Goneril (throwing the whole length of her body along Hygd's body, and embracing it)
    Come back, come back; the things I have not done
    Beat in upon my brain from every side:
    I know not where to put myself to bear them;
    If I could have you now I could act well.
    My inward life, deeds that you have not known,
    I burn to tell you in a sudden dread
    That now your ghost discovers them in me.
    Hearken, mother; between us there's a bond
    Of flesh and essence closer than love can cause:
    It cannot be unknit so soon as this,
    And you must know my touch,
    And you shall yield a sign.
    Feel, feel this urging throb: I call to you. . . .
      [GORMFLAITH, still crowned, enters by the garden doorway
    Gormflaith
    Come back! Help me and shield me!
      [She disappears through the curtains.
      GONERIL has sprung to her feet at the first sound of GORMFLAITH'S voice.
      LEAR enters through the garden doorway, leading GORMFLAITH by the hand.
    Lear                                        What is to do?

    Goneril (advancing to meet them with a deep obeisance)
    O, Sir, the Queen is dead: long live the Queen.
    You have been ready with the coronation.

    Lear
    What do you mean? Young madam, will you mock?

    Goneril
    But is not she your choice?
    The old Queen thought so, for I found her here,
    Lipping the prints of her supplanter's feet,
    Prostrate in homage, on her face, silent.
    I tremble within to have seen her fallen down.
    I must be pardoned if I scorn your ways:
    You cannot know this feeling that I know,
    You are not of her kin or house; but I
    Share blood with her, and, though she grew too worn
    To be your Queen, she was my mother, Sir.

    Gormflaith
    The Queen has seen me.

    Lear                          She is safe in bed.

    Goneril
    Do not speak low: you voice sounds guilty so;
    And there is no more need -- she will not wake.

    Lear
    She cannot sleep for ever. When she awakes
    I will announce my purpose in the need
    Of Britain for a prince to follow me,
    And tell her that she is to be deposed. . . .
    What have you done? She is not breathing now.
    She breathed here lately. Is she truly dead?

    Goneril
    Your graceful consort steals from us too soon:
    Will you not tell her that she should remain --
    If she can trust the faith you keep with a queen?
      [She steps to GORMFLAITH, who is sidling toward the garden door-way, and, taking her hand, leads her to the foot of the bed.
    Lady, why will you go? The King intends
    That you shall soon by royal, and thereby
    Admitted to our breed: then stay with us
    In this domestic privacy to mourn
    The grief here fallen on our family.
    Kneel now; I yield the eldest daughter's place.
    Why do you fumble in your bosom so?
    Put your cold hands together; close your eyes,
    In inward isolation to assemble
    Your memories of the dead, your prayers for her.
      [She turns to LEAR, who has approached the bed and drawn back the curtain.
    What utterance of doom would the king use
    Upon a watchman in the castle garth
    Who left is gate and let an enemy in?
    The watcher by the Queen thus left her station:
    The sick bruised Queen is dead of that neglect.
    And what should be the doom on a seducer
    Who drew that sentinel from his fixt watch?

    Lear
    She had long been dying. and she would have died
    Had all her dutiful daughters tended her bed.

    Goneril
    Yes, she had long been dying in her heart.
    She lived to see you give her crown away;
    She died to see you fondle a menial:
    These blows you dealt now, but what elder wounds
    Received them to such purpose suddenly?
    What had you caused her to remember most?
    What things would she be like to babble over
    In the wild helpless hour when fitful life
    No more can choose what thoughts it shall encourage
    In the tost mind? She has suffered you twice over,
    Your animal thoughts and hungry powers, this day,
    Until I knew you unkingly and untrue.

    Lear
    Punishment once taught you daughterly silence;
    It shall be tried again. . . . What has she said?

    Goneril
    You cannot touch me now I know your nature:
    Your force upon my mind was only terrible
    When I believed you a cruel flawless man.
    Ruler of lands and dreaded judge of men,
    Now you have done a murder with your mind
    Can you see any murderer put to death?
    Can you --

    Lear                 What has she said?

    Goneril
    Continue in your joy of punishing evil,
    Your passion of just revenge upon wrong-doers,
    Unkingly and untrue?

    Lear                           Enough: what do you know?

    Goneril
    That which could add a further agony
    To the last agony, the daily poison
    Of her late, withering life; but never word
    Of fairer hours or any lost delight.
    Have you no memory, either, of her youth,
    While she was still to use, spoil, forsake,
    That maims your new contentment with a longing
    For what is gone and will not come again?

    Lear
    I did not know that she could die to-day.
    She had a bloodless beauty that cheated me:
    She was not born for wedlock. She shut me out.
    She is no colder now. . . . I'll hear no more.
    You shall be answered afterward for this.
    Put something over her: get her buried:
    I will not look on her again.
      [He breaks from GONERIL and flings abruptly out by the door near the bed.

    Gormflaith
    My king, you leave me!

    Goneril                             Soon we follow him:
    But, ah, poor fragile beauty, you cannot rise
    While this grave burden weights your drooping head.
      [Laying her hand caressingly on GORMFLAITH's neck, she gradually forces her head farther and farther down.
    You were not nurtured to sustain a crown,
    Your unanointed parents could not breed
    The spirit that ten hundred years must ripen.
    Lo, how you sink and fail.

    Gormflaith             You had best take care,
    For where my neck has bruises, yours shall have wounds.
    The King knows of your wolfish snapping at me:
    He will protect me.

    Goneril                 Aye, if he is in time.

    Gormflaith (taking off the crown and holding it up blindly toward Goneril with one hand)
    Take it and let me go!

    Goneril                         Nay, not to me:
    You are the Queen's, to serve her even in death.
    Yield her her own. Approach her: do not fear;
    She will not chide you or forgive you now.
    Go on your knees; the crown still holds you down.
      [GORMFLAITH stumbles forward on her knees and lays the crown on the bed, then crouches motionlessly against the bedside.

    Goneril (taking the crown and putting it on the dead Queen's head)
    Mother and Queen, to you this holiest circlet
    Returns, by you renews its purpose and pride;
    Though it is sullied with a menial warmth,
    Your august coldness shall rehallow it,
    And when the young lewd blood that lent it heat
    Is also cooler we can well forget.
      [She steps to GORMFLAITH.
    Rise. Come, for here there is no more to do,
    And let us seek your chamber, if you will,
    There to confer in greater privacy;
    For we have now interment to prepare.
      [She leads GORMFLAITH to the door near the bed.
    You must walk first, you are still the Queen elect.
      [When GORMFLAITH has passed before her GONERIL unsheathes her hunting knife.

    Gormflaith (turning in the doorway)
    What will you do?

    Goneril (thrusting her forward with the haft of the knife)
                On. On. On. Go in.
      [She follows GORMFLAITH out.
      After a moment's interval, two elderly women, one a little younger than the other, enter by the same door: they wear black hoods and shapeless black gowns with large sleeves, that flap like the wings of ungainly birds: between them they carry a heave cauldron of hot water.

    The Younger Woman
    We were listening. We were listening.

    The Elder Woman                     We were both listening.

    The Younger Woman
    Did she struggle?

    The Elder Woman    She could not struggle long.
      [They set down the cauldron at the foot of the bed.

    The Elder Woman (curtseying to the Queen's body)
    Saving your presence, Madam, we are come
    To make you sweeter than you'll be hereafter,
    And then be done with you.

    The Younger Woman (curtseying in turn)
    Three days together, my Lady, y'have had me ducked
    For easing a foolish maid at the wrong time;
    But now your breath is stopped and you are colder,
    And you shall be as wet as a drowned rat
    Ere I have done with you.

    The Elder Woman (fumbling in the folds of the robe that hangs on the wall
    Her pocket is empty; Merryn has been here first.
    Hearken, and then begin:
    You have not touched a royal corpse before,
    But I have stretched a king and an old queen,
    A king's aunt and a king's brother too,
    Without much boasting of a still-born princess;
    So that I know, as a priest knows his prayers,
    All that is written in the chamberlain's book
    About the handling of exalted corpses,
    Stripping them and trussing them for the grave:
    And there it says that the chief corpse-washer
    Shall take for her own use by sacred right
    The coverlid, the upper sheet, the mattress
    Of any bed in which a queen has died,
    And the last robe of state the body wore;
    While humbler helpers may divide among them
    The under sheet, the pillow, and the bed-gown
    Stript from the cooling queen.
    Be thankful, then, and praise me every day
    That I have brought no other women with me
    To spoil you of your share.

    The Younger Woman
    Ah, you have always been a friend to me:
    Many's the time I have said I did not know
    How I could even have lived but for your kindness.
      [The ELDER WOMAN draws down the bedclothes from the Queen's body, loosens them from the bed, and throws them on the floor.

    The Elder Woman
    Pull her feet straight: is you mind wandering?
      [She commences to fold the bedclothes, singing as she moves about.

      A louse crept out of my lady's shift --
      Ahumm, Ahumm, Ahee --
      Crying "Oi! Oi! We are turned adrift;
      The lady's bosom is cold and stiffed,
      And her arm-pit's cold for me."

      [While the ELDER WOMAN sings, the YOUNGER WOMAN straightens the Queen's feet and ties them together, draws the pillow from under her head, gathers her hair in one hand and knots it roughly; then she loosens her nightgown, revealing a jewel hung on a cord round the Queen's neck.

    The Elder Woman (running to the vacant side of the bed)
    What have you there? Give it to me.

    The Younger Woman                      It is mine:
    I found it.

    The Elder Woman
                                Leave it.

    The Younger Woman                      Let go.

    The Elder Woman
                               
                                Leave it, I say.
    Will you not? Will you not? An eye for a jewel, then!
      [She attacks the face of the YOUNGER WOMAN with her disengaged hand.

    The Younger Woman (starting back)
                                Oh!
      [The ELDER WOMAN breaks the cord and thrusts the jewel into her pocket.

    The Younger Woman
    Aie! Aie! Aie! Old thief! You are always thieving!
    You stole a necklace on your wedding day:
    You could not bear a child, you stole your daughter.
    You stole a shroud the morn your husband died.
    Last week you stole the Princess Regan's comb.
      [She stumbles into the chair by the bed, and throwing her loose sleeves over her head, rocks herself and moans.

    The Elder Woman (resuming her clothes-folding and her song)
      "The lady's linen's no longer neat;" --
      Ahumm, Ahumm, Ahee --
      "Her savour is neither warm nor sweet;
      It's close for two in a winding sheet,
      And lice are too good for worms to eat;
      So here's no place for me."
      [Goneril enters by the door near the bed: her knife and the hand that holds it are bloody. She pauses a moment irresolutely.

    The Elder Woman
    Still work for old Hrogneda, little Princess?
      [GONERIL goes straight to the cauldron, passing the women as if they were not there: she kneels and washes her knife and her hand in it. The women retire to the back of the chamber.
    Goneril (speaking to herself)
    The way is easy: and it is to be used.
    How could this need have been conceived slowly?
    In a keen mind it should have leapt and burnt:
    What I have done would have been better done
    When my sad mother lived and could feel joy.
    This striking without thought is better than hunting;
    She showed more terror than an animal,
    She was more shiftless. . . .
    A little blood is lightly washed away,
    A common stain that need not be remembered;
    And a hot spasm of rightness quickly born
    Can guide me to kill justly and shall guide.
      [Lear enters by the door near the bed.

    Lear
    Goneril, Gormflaith, Gormflaith. . . . Have you seen Gormflaith?

    Goneril
    I led her to her chamber lately, Sir.

    Lear
    Aye, she is in her chamber. She is there.

    Goneril
    Have you been there already? Could you not wait?

    Lear
    Daughter, she is bleeding: she is slain.

    Goneril (rising from the cauldron with dripping hands)
    Yes, she is slain: I did it with a knife:
    And in this water is dissolved her blood,
          (Raising her arms and sprinkling the Queen's body)
    That now I scatter on the Queen of death
    For signal to her spirit that I can slake
    Her long corrosion of misery with such balm --
    Blood for weeping, terror for woe, death for death,
    A broken body for a broken heart.
    What will you say against me and my dead?

    Lear
    That now you cannot save yourself from me.
    While your blind virgin power still stood apart
    In an unused, unviolated life,
    You judged me in my weakness, and because
    I felt you unflawed I could not answer you;
    But you have mingled in mortality
    And violently begun the common life
    By fault against your fellows; and the state,
    The state of Britain, that inheres in me
    Not touched by my humanity or sin,
    Passions or privy acts, shell be as hard
    And savage to you as to a murderess.

    Goneril (taking a letter from her girdle
    I found a warrant in her favoured bosom, King:
    She wore this on her heart when you were crowning her.

    Lear
    But this is not my hand:
          (Looking about him on the floor)
    Where is the other letter?

    Goneril
    Is there another letter? What should it say?

    Lear
    There is no other letter if you have none.
          (Reading)
    "Open you window when the moon is dead,
    And I will come again.
    The men say everywhere that you are faithless. . . .
    And your eyes shifty eyes. Ah, but I love you, Gormflaith." . . .
    This is not hers: she'd not receive such words.

    Goneril
    Her name stands twice therein: her perfume fills it:
    My knife went through it ere I found it on her.

    Lear
    The filth is suitably dead. You are my true daughter.

    Goneril
    I do not understand how men can govern,
    Use craft and exercise the duty of cunning,
    Anticipate treason, treachery meet with treachery,
    And yet believe a woman because she looks
    Straight in their eyes with mournful, trustful gaze,
    And lisps like innocence, all gentleness.
    Your Gormflaith could not answer a woman's eyes.
    I did not need to read her in a letter;
    I am not woman yet, but I can feel
    What untruths are instinctive in my kind,
    And how some men desire deceit from us.
    Come, let these washers do what they must do:
    Or shall your your Queen be wrapped and coffined away?
      [She goes out by the garden doorway.

    Lear
    I thought she had been broken long ago:
    She must be wedded and broken, I cannot do it.
      [He follows GONERIL out. The two women return to the bedside.

    The Elder Woman
    Poor, masterful King, he is no easier,
    Although his tearful wife is gone at last:
    A wilful girl shall prick and thwart him now.
    Old gossip, we must hasten: the Queen is setting.
    Lend me a pair of pennies to weight her eyes.

    The Younger Woman
    Find your own pennies: then you can steal them safely.

    The Elder Woman
    Praise you the gods of Britain, as I do praise them,
    That I have been sweet-natured from my birth,
    And that I lack your unforgiving mind.
    Friend of the worms, help me to lift her clear
    And draw away the under sheet for you;
    Then go and spread the shroud by the hall fire --
    I never could put damp linen on a corpse.
      [She sings.

      The louse made off unhappy and wet; --
      Ahumm, Ahumm, Ahee --
      He's looking for us, the little pet;
      So haste, for her chin's to tie up yet,
      And let us be gone with what we can get --
      Her ring for thee, her gown for Bet,
      Her pocket turned out for me.

    Curtain.

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