King Lear Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
KING LEAR What art thou? KENT A very honest-hearted fellow, and as poor as the king. KING LEAR If thou be as poor for a subject as he is for a king, thou art poor enough. What wouldst thou? KENT Service. KING LEAR Who wouldst thou serve? KENT You. KING LEAR Dost thou know me, fellow? KENT No, sir; but you have that in your countenance which I would fain call master. (1.4.3)
After Lear banishes his loyal servant Kent, Kent manages to find a way to serve his beloved master. Here, he appears on the heath, disguised as "Caius" in order to join Lear's retinue. But why? Lear's kind of a lousy master, after all. Some literary critics see Kent as upholding an old and dying model of service, where servants put their master's needs above all else. Kent's loyalty, say some, is pitted against Shakespeare's representation of Oswald, a disloyal servant who only ever looks out for himself. So, what do you think? Is the play nostalgic for the days when servants were loyal enough to follow their master's into their graves? Before you decide, you might want to check out the end, where Kent says he's going to follow his (dead) master on a "journey."
The country gives me proof and precedent Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices, Strike in their numb'd and mortified bare arms Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary; And with this horrible object, from low farms, Poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes, and mills, Sometime with lunatic bans, sometime with prayers, Enforce their charity. Poor Turlygod! poor Tom! That's something yet: Edgar I nothing am. (2.3.1)
When Edgar disguises himself as "Poor Tom," an inmate of Bedlam hospital and the kind of guy who roams about the country "roaring" like a madman and begging for charity, his plight draws our attention to the homelessness in the play and in Shakespeare's England. By the time Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Bedlam (a.k.a. Bethlehem Hospital) was an asylum notorious for its appalling conditions and brutal treatment of its patients, some of whom were given licenses to beg outside the hospital. Here, Edgar strips himself down to the skin with only a "blanket" to cover his "loins," ties his hair in knots, and smears his face with mud so that he cannot be recognized. "Edgar I nothing am" he announces, meaning, 1) he's no longer Edgar and 2) now that he's a homeless wanderer, he is nothing.
Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just (3.4.4)
This is an important moment for King Lear because he not only recognizes the homeless problem in his kingdom, he also realizes that something must be done about it. Here, Lear acknowledges that, as king, he had the power and authority to make some social changes. Lear also seems to propose a redistribution of wealth, which is a pretty radical and astonishing thing for a king to do.