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.
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.
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
Why are you here? Are you here forever?
Where is the young Scotswoman? Where is she?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
There is no cause. How could there be a cause?
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?
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.
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 . . . .
HYGD stirs uneasily in her sleep.
Speak lower, low; for your good fame, speak low --
If she should waken thus . . . .
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.
I must not leave her ere the woman comes --
Or will some other woman . . . .
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.
[He follows the PHYSICIAN out by the door at the back. Queen HYGD awakes at his last noisy words as he disappears.
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.
Mother, were you calling?
Have I awakened you?
They said that you were sleeping.
Why are you left alone, mother, my dear one?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
But women need not wed these men.
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 . . . .
My little curse. Send her away -- away. . . .
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. . . .
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.
Then you must haste to find him;
He may be riding now. . . .
But Gerda said she saw him enter here.
Indeed, he is not here. . . .
Let me look. . . .
You are too noisy. Must I make you go?
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.
Though she is wilful, obeying only the King,
She is a very little child, mother,
To be so bitterly thought of.
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?
I think I am only faint. . . .
Give me the cup of whey. . . .
[GONERIL takes the cup and, supporting HYGD, lets her drink.
There is too little here. When was it made?
Yester-eve. . . . Yester-morn. . . .
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. . . .
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.
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
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?
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.
I found the Queen alone. I heard her cry your name.
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.
The Queen has had not food since yester-night.
Madam, that is too monstrous to conceive:
I will seek food. I will prepare it now.
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
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
LEAR (leaning over the side of her chair)
Lady, what do you read?
I read a letter, Sire.
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
You should not carry a king's letters about,
Nor hoard a king's letters.
Must the King also stand in the presence now?
Pardon my troubled mind; you have taken my letter from me.
[LEAR seats himself and takes GORMFLAITH's hand.
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.
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.
Did Merryn at your bidding, then, forsake her Queen?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Come here, mad thing -- come back!
Your shadow will wake the Queen.
Hush, hush! That angry voice
Will wake the Queen.
[She lifts the crown from the peg, and returns with it.
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.
Hush, hush! It is too late;
I dare not go again.
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.)
Come to the garden: you shall hear me there.
I dare not leave the Queen. . . . Yes, yes, I come.
No, you are better here: the guard would see you.
Not when we reach the pathway near the appleyard.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
Princess, what has she done? Who has left her?
She must have been alone.
Goneril Where is Gormflaith?
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.
She has been here,
And she has left the Queen. This is her deed.
Ah, cruel, cruel! The shame, the pity --
[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!
[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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
Come back! Help me and shield me!
[She disappears through the curtains.
GONERIL has sprung to her feet at the first sound of
LEAR enters through the garden doorway, leading GORMFLAITH by the hand.
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.
What do you mean? Young madam, will you mock?
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.
The Queen has seen me.
She is safe in bed.
Do not speak low: you voice sounds guilty so;
And there is no more need -- she will not wake.
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?
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?
She had long been dying. and she would have died
Had all her dutiful daughters tended her bed.
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.
Punishment once taught you daughterly silence;
It shall be tried again. . . . What has she said?
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 --
What has she said?
Continue in your joy of punishing evil,
Your passion of just revenge upon wrong-doers,
Unkingly and untrue?
Enough: what do you know?
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?
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.
My king, you leave me!
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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)
[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.
Goneril, Gormflaith, Gormflaith. . . . Have you seen Gormflaith?
I led her to her chamber lately, Sir.
Aye, she is in her chamber. She is there.
Have you been there already? Could you not wait?
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?
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.
But this is not my hand:
(Looking about him on the floor)
Where is the other letter?
Is there another letter? What should it say?
There is no other letter if you have none.
"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.
Her name stands twice therein: her perfume fills it:
My knife went through it ere I found it on her.
The filth is suitably dead. You are my true daughter.
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.
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,