Shakespeare's King Lear


  • Intro

    William Shakespeare is one of the best loved playwrights in the history of English literature. He began his career as an actor and playwright around 1592, not long after the first public playhouses were opened in London. He wrote at least 37 plays, many of which were very successful both at court and in the public playhouses. This extract is from the 1608 quarto edition of King Lear, a tragedy in which an aging king goes insane as the social hierarchy around him crumbles.


    Shakespeare was writing at a time of great cultural and intellectual development, with wonderful discoveries and innovations taking place in the fields of arts and sciences. Scholars were taking a renewed interest in classical languages, and explorers and traders were making intrepid expeditions to the New World. Shakespeare therefore had a wealth of words with which to tell his tales. Words to enter the lexicon at this time include enthusiasm, skeleton, utopian, bizarre, chocolate, explore, and violin. Many of the expressions found in Shakespeare's plays are today part of our everyday language usage, including 'love is blind' and 'I must be cruel to be kind'. In this extract we see how Shakespeare is a master of insults. For example, Kent, a character in the play King Lear, describes a rogue steward as:

    "A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, fifthly-worsted-stocking knave; a lilly-livered, action-taking, whoreson glass-gazing super serviceable finical rogue, one-trunk-inheriting slave' (Act II, Scene II).

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  • Transcript

    Shakespeare's King Lear

    Enter Kent, and [Oswald the] Steward.

    Steward. Good cuen to thee friend, art of the house?

    Kent. I.           Stew. Where may we set our horses?

    Kent. It'h mire.         Stew. Prethee if thou love me, tell me.

    Kent. I love thee not.         Stew. Why then I care not for thee.

    Kent. If I had thee in Lipsburiepinfold, I would make thee care for mee.

    Stew. Why dost thou use me thus? I know thee not.

    Kent. Fellow I know thee.

    Oswald. What dost thou know me for?

    Kent. A knave, a rascall, an eater of broken meates, a base, proud, shallow, beggerly, three shewted hundred pound, filthy worsted-stocken knave, a lilly lyver'd, action taking knave, a whorson glassegazing superfinicall rogue, one truncke inheriting slave, one that would'st be a baud in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the sonne and heire of a mungrell bitch, whom I will beat into clamorous whyning, if thou denie the least sillable of the addition.

    Stew. What a monstrous fellow art thou, thus to raile on one, that's neither knowne of thee, nor knowes thee.

    Kent. What a brazen fac't varlet art thou, to deny thou knowest mee; is it two dayes agoe since I beat thee, and tript up thy heeles before the King? draw you rogue, for though it be night, the Moone shines, ile make a sop of the moone-shine a'you, draw you whorson-cullyonly-barber-munger, draw.

    Stew. Away, I have nothing to doe with thee.

    Kent. Draw you rascall, you bring letters against the King, and take Vanitie the puppets part, against the royaltie of her father; draw you rogue, or ile so carbonado your shankes; draw you rascall, come your wayes.

    Stew. Helpe, ho, murther, helpe.

    Kent. Strike you slave, stand rogue, stand you neate slave, strike.

    Stew. Helpe, ho, murther, helpe.

    Enter Edmund with his rapier drawne, Gloster the Duke and Dutchesse. 

    Bast. [Edmund]: How now, what's the matter?

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