King Lear: A Verse Translation


In this excerpt from Act One , Shakespeare opened the scene with the characters speaking prose. When Lear enters, Shakespeare switches to blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). The scene ends with Regan and Goneril using prose.

The Enjoy Shakespeare translations respect Shakespeare's choices and retain the basic line structure.

from Act One

Scene One. A Room of State in Lear’s Palace


KENT (Earl of Kent, follower of Lear)

I thought the King favored the Duke of Albany more than Cornwall.

GLOUCESTER (Earl of Gloucester)

It always seemed so to us, but now with this division of the kingdom, it’s not clear which Duke he values most, for their portions are so carefully weighed that the closest scrutiny reveals no advantage in either share.

The scene starts

in prose


Isn’t this your son, my lord?


His parentage, sir, has been at my expense. I’ve blushed so often in acknowledging him that I’m immune to it.


I had no conception.


Sir, this young fellow’s mother surely did, at which point her womb grew round, and had indeed, sir, a son for her cradle before she had a husband for her bed. Do you detect a sin?


I do not wish a sin undone when its outcome seems so fit.


I also have a legitimate son, sir, a year or so older than this one, whose value in my account is no higher. This young chap came somewhat impertinently into the world before he was sent for, yet his mother was a beauty, there was good sport in making him, and so the dear bastard must be acknowledged. Do you know this noble gentleman, Edmund?

EDMUND (illegitimate son of Gloucester)

No, my lord.


My Lord of Kent. Remember him hereafter as my honored friend.


I offer my respect to your lordship.


I owe you my friendship and beg to know you better.


Sir, I’ll make myself deserving of it.


He has been away for nine years, and away he shall go again. [sound of a trumpet] The king is coming.


LEAR (King of Britain)

Bring in the lords of France and Burgundy, Gloucester.


I shall, my liege.


The language shifts

to blank verse


Meanwhile the murkier details of my plan.

Give me the map there. Note that I’ve divided

My kingdom into thirds: my firm intent’s

To shed all cares and duties in old age,

And pass them on to younger powers, while I,

Unburdened, crawl toward death. My sons-in-law,

You, Cornwall, and my no less loving Albany

I am determined to proclaim this hour

Each daughters’ dowry, so that future strife

May now be sorted out.

These two great princes, France and Burgundy,

Fine rivals for my youngest daughter’s love,

Have in this court paid long and amorous visits,

And now are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters—

Since now I will divest myself of rule,

Title to territory, cares of state—

Which of you three should I say loves me most

So I can then extend my largest bounty

To where the claim’s both natural and merited?

Goneril, my eldest-born, speak first.

GONERIL (eldest daughter of Lear)

Sir, my love for you is more than words can wield,

Dearer than eyesight, space to live, and freedom,

Beyond what is appraised as rich or rare,

No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honor;

As much as child can give or father find;

A love that makes voice poor and speech inept:

Beyond all measure and compare I love you.

CORDELIA (youngest daughter of Lear)

[aside] What should Cordelia say? Love, and be silent.


All of these regions, from this line to that,

With shady forests and with fertile plains,

With plenteous rivers and extensive fields,

I leave to you. To yours and Albany’s offspring

For all eternity. My second daughter,

My dearest Regan, wife to Cornwall, speak.

REGAN (daughter of Lear)

I’m made of that same fabric as my sister,

So price me at her worth. In my true heart

I too have filed this deed of love she’s drawn;

Only she falls too short, in that I see

Myself an enemy even to those joys

That carefully balanced sensibilities

Allow, and find my happiness derives

Alone from love for you.


                                       [aside] Next poor Cordelia!

But maybe not; since, I am sure, my love’s

More weighty than my tongue.


For you and for your progeny forever

Remains this ample third of my fair kingdom,

No less in space, in value, and in pleasures

Than that bequeathed to Goneril. Now, my joy,

Though last but not the least, to whose young love

The vines of France and milk of Burgundy

Strive to be linked, what can you say to gain

A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.


Nothing, my lord.






Nothing can come of nothing. Speak again.


Unhappy though it makes me, I cannot heave

My heart into my mouth. I love as much

As duty can demand—no more, no less.


Come now, Cordelia? Add more to your speech,

Or your endowment is at risk.


                                                    My lord,

You’ve fathered, raised, and loved me. In return,

I’ve been as dutiful as is expected,

Obeyed you, loved you, and so honored you.

Why have my sisters wed if all their love

Is owed to you? It’s likely, when I wed,

The lord whose hand receives my vows will carry

Half my love with him, half my care and duty:

I’m sure I’ll never marry like my sisters,

To only love my father.


Your heart agrees with this?


                                               It does, my lord.


So young, and so untender?


So young, my lord, and true.


Let it be so: your truth will be your dowry!

For by the sacred radiance of the sun,

The sorcery of Hecate, and the night;

By all the power of the stars above,

Which govern when we live or cease to be,

I disavow paternal obligations,

Relation and all claims on me through blood,

And as a stranger to my heart and me,

Deny you these forever. Barbarous Scythians,

Or those who feast upon their progeny

To gorge their appetites, will be as welcome

Here to my bosom, pitied and assisted,

As you my one-time daughter.


                                                   My good king—


Peace, Kent.

Don’t come between the dragon and his wrath.

I loved her most, and planned to wager all

On her kind care! [to Cordelia] Away, and leave my sight!—

My only peace is death, as I remove

Her father’s heart from her! Call France.

[Shocked ATTENDANTS do not respond]


Call Burgundy. Cornwall and Albany,


My other daughters will divide her third;

Let pride, which she calls frankness, be her dowry.

I will endow you jointly with my power,

With sole authority, and all the trappings

That come with majesty. And month by month

Retaining for my use one hundred knights,

Provided me by you, I’ll alternate

Residing with you two. I’ll still retain

My title, and all honors due a king.

But revenue, control, all other charges—

Belovèd sons, they’re yours; to make this firm,

This crown is split between you.

[Keeps his crown but gives a smaller crown, previously intended for Cordelia, to ALBANY and CORNWALL]


                                                      Royal Lear,

Whom I have always honored as my king,

Loved as my father, followed as my master,

As my great patron thought of in my prayers…


The bow is bent and drawn; avoid the shaft.


Let it strike even if its barbs invade

The tissues of my heart: Kent must be blunt

When Lear is mad. What would you do, old man?

Do you think duty will not dare to speak

If power bows to flattery? Honor calls for frankness

When majesty falls to folly. Retain your kingdom;

And use your soundest judgment to curtail

This hideous rashness. Slay me if I err:

Your youngest daughter does not love you least,

And can’t be empty-hearted if her voice

Does not sound hollow.


                                       Kent, on your life, no more.


My life I’ve always seen as but a stake

To bet against your enemies, not fear its loss,

Your safety my incentive.


                                            Out of my sight!


See better, Lear; and let me always be

The target in the center of your eye.


Now, by Apollo—


                           Now by Apollo, king,

You call your gods in vain.


O slave! O infidel! [laying his hand on his sword]

ALBANY (husband of Goneril) and CORNWALL (husband of Regan)

Dear sir, restrain your rage!


Kill your physician and then pass his fee

On to the foul disease. Withdraw your gifts,

Or while my throat can still ring out alarms,

I’ll tell you “You do evil.”


                                          Hear me, traitor!

Show your allegiance, hear me!—

[KENT kneels]

Since you have sought to make me break my vow—

Which I would never dare—and with forced pride

Have worked to block the discharge of my judgments—

Something my rank and nature can’t abide,

My power now disposed, take your reward.

Five days I will allow you to prepare

To shield yourself from hardships in this world,

But on the sixth you’ll turn your hated back

Upon my kingdom. If, on the tenth day following,

Your banished torso’s found in my dominions,

That moment is your death. Be gone! By Jupiter,

This shall not be revoked.


[pausing] Farewell, king. Since you choose to show this face,

Freedom lives elsewhere, banished from this place.

[to Cordelia] And pray the gods will shelter you, dear maid,

Whose thoughts are just and candidly displayed!

[to Regan and Goneril] And may your actions prove your speeches true,

That from your words of love good deeds ensue.

So Kent, O princes, bids you all adieu.

He’ll seek the old ways in a country new.

[Trumpet fanfare. Re-enter GLOUCESTER, with FRANCE, BURGUNDY, and ATTENDANTS]


Here’s France and Burgundy, my noble lord.


My Lord of Burgundy,

I will address you first, who with this king [indicating France]

Vies for my daughter’s hand. What is the least

You will require in dowry given outright

Before you cease this quest for love.

BURGUNDY (Duke of Burgundy, suitor to Cordelia)

                                                              Your majesty,

I seek no more than what your highness offered,

Nor will you offer less.


                                       Most noble Burgundy,

When prized by me, I held her at that value,

But now her worth has dropped. Sir, there she stands.

If any of this insubstantial figure,

Or all of it, with my displeasure added,

And nothing more, seems pleasing to your grace,

She’s there, and she is yours.


                                                 I’ve no reply.


Will you, with these deficiencies she owns,

Made friendless, now adopted by my hate,

Bequeathed my curses, cast out with my oath,

Take her, or leave her?


                                        Pardon me, royal sir,

But such conditions offer little choice.


Then leave her, sir, for by the power that made me,

I’ve tallied for you all her wealth. [to France] Great king,

I do not wish to lead your love astray

And wed it to my hate. I beg you then

To set your fondness on a worthier course

Than on this wretch whom even nature seems

Ashamed to call her own.

FRANCE (King of France, suitor to Cordelia)

                                           This is most strange,

That she, the foremost object of your love,

The topic of your praise, balm of your age,

Your best, your dearest, could in this wink of time

Commit an act so monstrous as to strip

Away all folds of favor. If her offense

Is not of such unnatural degree

As to repulse, your former, pledged affection

Was surely tainted. Thinking this of her

Requires a faith that nothing short of miracle

Could ever plant in me.


While there’s still time, I beg your majesty—

Given I lack that glib and oily art

To speak without intent to act, since what I pledge,

I do before I speak—to make it known

That it’s no stain of vice, murder, or malice,

No unchaste action or dishonest move,

That has deprived me of your grace and favor.

What I don’t have has made me all the richer—

An always-hustling eye, a tongue to match,

I’m glad I don’t have these—yet lacking them

Has cast me from your liking.


                                                   Better you

Had not been born than not to’ve pleased me better.


Is it just this—a natural reticence

Which often leaves the actions unannounced

That she intends to take? My lord of Burgundy,

What are you saying to her? Love’s not love

When it is mingled with concerns that fly

Beyond the central point. Will you have her?

She is herself a dowry.


                                      Royal king,

Just give the payment that you have proposed,

And I will take Cordelia by the hand,

Duchess of Burgundy.


Nothing. I’ve sworn it. I am firm.


I’m sorry, then, that having lost a father

You too must lose a husband.


Peace be with Burgundy!

Because concerns of wealth comprise his love,

I shall not be his wife.


Fairest Cordelia, who’s most rich when poor,

Most chosen when refused, loved when despised—

You and your virtues I will seize them here:

The law will let us take what’s thrown away.

Gods, gods! It’s strange that such a cold neglect

Ignites my love with feverish respect.

Your dowerless daughter, tossed into my hands,

Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France.

Not all the dukes of watery Burgundy

Could buy this low-priced, precious maid I see.

My queen, leave this unnaturalness behind.

Though you’ve lost here, a better place you’ll find.


You take her, France. Let her be yours, for we

Have no such daughter and shall never see

That face of hers again. [to Cordelia] So now go forth

Without our love, our blessing, or support.—

Come, noble Burgundy.



Bid farewell to your sisters.


Jewels of our father, with these tear-washed eyes

Cordelia leaves you. I see now what you are,

But, as a sister, am quite loath to call

Your faults by their true names. Love father well.

To your supposèd bosoms I commit him.

But if, alas, I still stood in his grace,

I'd recommend he seek a better place.

So, farewell to you both.


Do not prescribe our duties.


                                               Turn your thoughts

To pleasing France, who took you in like beggars

Take alms. With your obedience now so slack,

You well deserve to want what you now lack.


Time will unfold what layers of cunning hide:

Those who mask faults, in time shame must deride.

And may you prosper well!


                                               Come, fair Cordelia.

Goneril and Regan

switch to prose



Sister, there’s much I have to say about what most intimately concerns us both. It seems our father will depart from here tonight.


That’s most certain, and with you; next month with us.


Look how full of impulse his old age is. The observations we have made of this have not been few. He always loved our sister most, and the poor judgment he displayed here in casting her out is only too obvious.


It is, no doubt, the infirmities of his age, yet he has ever so slenderly known himself.


Even in his best and soundest years he was rash; thus, we must expect to receive from his age, not merely the imperfections of a deeply-embedded disposition but also an unruly wrong-headedness that the infirmity and irritability of his years bring with them.


It’s likely that Kent’s banishment is not the last of these impulsive fits and starts.


There are further formalities of leave-taking between France and him. I hope you’ll let us join forces on this. If our father can exercise authority in the manner just demonstrated, this just-concluded “surrender” of his power can only harm us.


We shall continue thinking about it.


We must do something while the iron’s in the fire.


© 2004 by Kent Richmond

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