King Lear by William Shakespeare
Hi, I’m Cecilia Elise Wallin. And this is a video in my series Learn from the Classics of literature.
In some of the videos in this series, we will learn from the incomparable Shakespeare. 12 of Shakespeare’s greatest plays have been summarized into beautiful groundbreaking short stories by the British poet and novelist Edith Nesbit, and these short stories have been recorded by great LibriVox readers. One of these exquisite short stories is King Lear, by William Shakespeare.
KING LEAR was old and tired. He was aweary of the busi-
ness of his kingdom, and wished only to end his days
quietly near his three daughters, whom he loved dearly.
Two of his daughters were married to the Dukes of Albany and
Cornwall; and the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France
were both staying at Lear’s Court as suitors for the hand of Cor-
delia, his youngest daughter.
Lear called his three daughters together, and told them that he
proposed to divide his kingdom between them. “But first,” said he,
“I should’like to know how much you love me.”
Goneril, who was really a very wicked woman, and did not love
her father at all, said she loved him more than words could say;
she loved him dearer than eyesight, space or liberty, more than
life, grace, health, beauty, and honor.
“If you love me as much as this,” said the King, “I give you a
third part of my kingdom. And how much does Regan love me?”
“I love you as much as my sister and more,” professed Regan,
“since I care for nothing but my father’s love.”
Lear was very much pleased with Regan’s professions, and gave
her another third part of his fair kingdom. Then he turned to his
youngest daughter, Cordelia. “Now, our joy, though last not
least,” he said, “the best part of my kingdom have I kept for you.
What can you say?”
“Nothing, my lord,” answered Cordelia.
Nothing,” said Cordelia.
Nothing can come of nothing. Speak again,” said the King.
And Cordelia answered — “I love your Majesty according to my
duty, — no more, no less.”
And this she said, because she knew her sisters’ wicked hearts,
and was disgusted with the way in which they professed un-
bounded and impossible love, when really they had not even a right
sense of duty to their old father.
“I am your daughter,” she went on, “and you have brought me
up and loved me, and I return you those duties back as are right fit,
obey you, love you, and most honor you.”
Lear, who loved Cordelia best, had wished her to make more
extravagant professions of love than her sisters ; and what seemed
to him her coldness so angered him that he bade her begone from
his sight. “Go,” he said, “be for ever a stranger to my heart and
The Earl of Kent, one of Lear’s favorite courtiers and cap-
tains, tried to say a word for Cordelia’s sake, but Lear would not
listen. He divided the remaining part of his kingdom between Gon-
eril and Regan, who had pleased him with their foolish flattery,
and told them that he should only keep a hundred knights at arms for
his following, and would live with his daughters by turns.
When the Duke of Burgundy knew that Cordelia would have no
share of the kingdom, he gave up his courtship of her. But the
King of France was wiser, and said to her — “Fairest Cordelia,
thou art most rich, being poor — most choice, forsaken; and most
loved, despised. Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon. Thy dow-
erless daughter, King, is Queen of us — of ours, and our fair
“Take her, take her,” said the King; “for I have no such daugh-
ter, and will never see that face of hers again.”
So Cordelia became Queen of France, and the Earl of Kent, for
having ventured to take her part, was banished from the King’s
Court and from the kingdom. The King now went to stay with
his daughter Goneril, and very soon began to find out how much
fair words were worth. She had got everything from her father that
he had to give, and she began to grudge even the hundred knights
that he had reserved for himself. She frowned at him whenever she
met him ; she herself was harsh and undutiful to him, and her ser-
vants treated him with neglect, and either refused to obey his
orders or pretended that they did not hear them.
Now the Earl of Kent, when he was banished, made as though
he would go into another country, but instead he came back in
the disguise of a serving-man and took service with the King,
ho never suspected him to be that Earl of Kent whom he him-
self had banished. The very same day that Lear engaged him as his
servant, Goneril’s steward insulted the King, and the Earl of Kent
showed his respect for the King’s Majesty by tripping up the caitiff
into the gutter. The King had now two friends — the Earl of Kent,
whom he only knew as his servant, and his Fool, who was faith-
ful to him although he had given away his kingdom. Goneril was
not contented with letting her father suffer insults at the hands of
her servants. She told him plainly that his train of one hundred
knights only served to fill her Court with riot and feasting; and
so she begged him to dismiss them, and only keep a few old men
about him such as himself.
My train are men who know all parts of duty,” said Lear.
Saddle my horses, call my train together. Goneril, I will not
trouble you further — yet I have left another daughter.”
And he cursed his daughter, Goneril, praying that she might
never have a child, or that if $he had, it might treat her as cruelly
as she had treated him. And his horses being saddled, he set out
with his followers for the castle of Regan, his other daughter. Lear
sent on his servant Caius, who was really the Earl of Kent, with
letters to his daughter to say he was coming. But Caius fell in
with a messenger**of Goneril — in fact that very steward whom he
had tripped into the gutter —and beat him soundly for the mis-
chief-maker that he was; and Regan, when she heard it, put Caius
in the stocks, not respecting him as a messenger coming from her
father. And she who had formerly outdone her sister in professions
of attachment to the King, now seemed to outdo her in undutiful
conduct, saying that fifty knights were too many to wait on him,
that five-and-twenty were enough, and Gonerit (who had hurried
thither to prevent Regan showing any kindness to the old King)
said five-and-twenty were too many, or even ten, or even five,
since her servants could wait on him.
“What need one?” said Regan.
Then when Lear saw that what they really wanted was to drive
“him away from them, he cursed them both and left them. It was a
wild and stormy night, yet those cruel daughters did not care what
became of their father in the cold and the rain, but they shut the
castle doors and went in out of the storm. All night he wandered
about the heath half mad with misery, and with no companion but
the poor Fool. But presently his servant Caius, the good Earl of
Kent, met him, and at last persuaded him to lie down in a wretched
little hovel which stood upon the heath. At daybreak the Earl of
Keilt removed his royal master to Dover, where his old friends
were, and then hurried to the Court of France and told Cordelia
what had happened.
Her husband gave her an army to go to the assistance of her
father, and. with it she landed at Dover. Here she found poor King
Lear, now quite mad, wandering about the fields, sineing aloud to
h’mself and wearing a crown of nettles and weeds. Thev brought
him back and fed and clothed him, and the doctors gave him such
medicines as they thought might bring him back to his right mind,
and by-and-by he woke better, but still not quite himself. Then
Cordelia came to him and kissed him, to make up, as she said, foi
her sisters. At first he hardly knew her.
“Pray do not mock me,’* he said. /I am a very foolish, fond old
man, four-score and upward, and to deal plainly, I fear I am not in
my perfect mind. I think I should know you, though I do not know
these garments, nor do I know where I lodged last night. Do not
laugh at me, though, as I am a man, I think this lady must be my
“And so I am — I am,” cried Cordelia. “Come with me.”
“You must bear with me,” said Lear ; “forget and forgive. I am
old and foolish.”
And now he knew at last which of his children it was that had
loved him best, and who was worthy of his love; and from that
time they were not parted.
Goneril and Regan joined their armies to fight Cordelia’s army,
and were successful : and Cordelia and her father were thrown into
prison. Then Goneril’s husband, the Duke of Albany, who was a
good man, and had not known how wicked his wife was, heard
the truth of the whole story; and when Goneril found that her
husband knew her for the wicked woman she was, she killed her-
self, having a little time before given a deadly poison to her sister,
Regan, out of a spirit of jealousy.
But they had arranged that Cordelia should be hanged in prison,
and though the Duke of. Albany sent messengers at once, it was
too late. The old King came staggering into the tent of the Duke
of Albany, carrying the body of his dear daughter Cordelia in his
Oh, she is gone for ever,” he said. “I know when one is dead,
and when one lives. She’s dead as earth.”
They crowded round in horror.
“Oh, if she lives,” said the King, “it is a chance that does re-
deem all sorrows that ever I have left.”
The Earl of Kent spoke a word to him, but Lear was too mad
“A plague upon you murderous traitors all ! I might have saved
her. Now she is gone for ever. Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little. Her
voice was ever low, gentle, and soft — an excellent thing in woman.
I killed the slave that was hanging thee/’
” Tis true, my lords, he did,” said one of the officers from the
“Oh, thou wilt come no more,” cried the poor old man. “Do you
see this? Look on her — look, her lips. Look there, look there.”
And with that he fell with her still in his arms, and died.
And this was the end of Lear and Cordelia.”
King Lear, by William Shakespeare, adapted into a short story by Edith Nesbit
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