Notes on Act II, scene iv

they: Cornwall and Regan

purpose: intention

shame: being in the stocks

cruel: a pun on "crewel," a type of yarn used in making garters

over-lusty: either tried to run away, or lusts after women's legs

nether-stocks: stockings for the lower legs (in this case, the stocks around his ankles)

durst: wouldn't dare

respect: they wouldn't do such an outrage, out of respect for the king; one should treat the king's messenger as you would the king himself

resolve: inform me what you have done to deserve this punishment, coming as my servant

commend: deliver

reeking post: sweating messenger

intermission: in spite of his interrupting my business, or with breaks in his speech because he was out of breath

meiny: attendants

displayed so saucily: behaved so insultingly to the king (back at Goneril's)

drew: drew his sword

blind: indifferent to his poverty

bags: money-bags

Fortune: is unfaithful, promiscuous, unreliable, never opens its door to the poor

dolours: sorrows, also a pun on "dollars"

mother: hysteria, a female disease which caused choking, shortness of breath, thought to rise up from the womb; "hysterica passio" is the Latin medical term

element: proper place

number: what's happened to his 100 knights? The fool will argue that they left when the king's fortunes began to fail.

An: If

ant: the ant in the fable works in the summer while there is opportunity to store up food, unlike the lazy grasshopper who waits until winter and has none. Lear has waited until "winter" (see the Fool's earlier line about the geese flying south) and is now unprepared for hard times.

stinking: everyone ought to be able to smell the decay of Lear's fortunes

great wheel: Fortune's wheel; when a great man's fortune begins to fail him, quit following him unless you want to share his fate.

form: show, serves only to gain favor, not out of true loyalty; similar to the phrase "fair weather friends" who only stick around when things are going well

pack: leave

wise: meant ironically, for those that flee, being disloyal, are actually the fools.

perdy: by God (French par Dieu)

fetches: excuses; when the king commands, there are no excuses

flying off: desertion

tends: awaits

office: duties

health: in health we are bound to such duties that illness prevents us from performing

forbear: be patient

headier: I quarrel with my more headstrong impulse

remotion: absence, remaining remote

practice: pretense

forth: out of the stocks

paste: pastry; the foolish woman tries to bake live eels

buttered his hay: the foolish man thought he was being kind, but horses won't eat greasy hay

sepulchring an adultress: if you were not glad to see me, I would have to think that your mother, now in her tomb (sepulcher), was unfaithful to me and you were not my daughter.

naught: wicked

here: at his heart; the vulture may allude to the myth of Prometheus, chained to a rock, whose liver was eaten by a vulture each day, as punishment for introducing fire to mankind

desert: worth; I hope that you are mistaken in your evaluation of her; that is more likely than that she has ignored her duty.

confine: you are at the limits of your natural life

discerns: understands your condition

becomes the house: suits my royal position (said with irony; Lear asking forgiveness would not suit his role as king); some editors suggest Lear kneels in mockery here as if speaking to Goneril -- or without the quotation marks, to Regan

unnecessary: old people are of no use

vouchsafe: grant

raiment: clothing

abated: deprived

train: followers

top: head

taking airs: infectious vapors

fen-sucked: drawn up from the swamps

tender-hefted: framed in a tender nature

bandy: tennis term, hit back

scant: reduce

bolt: lock on the door

offices: duties

to the purpose: come to the point

approves: confirms

stocked:   Q gives this line to Goneril "Who struck my servant..." that is, Oswald; in Q she's angry about the fight with Kent

allow: approves of 

indiscretion finds: poor judgement decides is an offence

dotage: senility

sides: Lear feels his heart is about to burst out of his body

sojourn: live with

abjure: renounce, give up

wage: fight

pinch: this is the hard decision I am forced to make

knee: kneel before

squire-like: as a servant

sumpter: pack horse

groom: Oswald

embossed carbuncle: swollen boil risen to a head

chide: scold

Jove: Jupiter (Greek Zeus), king of the gods known for throwing down thunderbolts.

Mend: improve your manners

mingle reason with your passion: those whose reason can recognize your passionate outbursts as the results of old age

avouch: swear by

charge: expense

amity: peaceful relations

depositaries: trustees of his kingdom

well-favoured: bad things look better when compared to worse

reason not the need: don't talk to me of what I need, I demand more than the bare necessities of life

superfluous: even beggars have some extra things they don't need merely to sustain life

gorgeous: if all you needed were warmth, you wouldn't wear these beautiful gowns, which hardly keep you warm anyway.

flaws: cracks

Or ere: before

bestowed: lodged

his particular: himself alone

purposed: determined

ruffle: rage

procure: bring on themselves

train: his knights, although in the next scene it seems all have left him except the Fool and Kent

incense: incite

abused: since he tends to listen to bad advice


Back to Act II, scene iv

Next scene

Table of contents