Welcome Brawlers – at long last – to the speeches podcast of King Lear!
King Lear is such an amazing play, filled to the brim with memorable speeches and scenes that we could have practically taken moments at random in the play and just posted that up. Instead, we decided to let you do the work for us.
Thanks, by the way. We appreciate it. We’ll pay you back later when we go viral.
“Hear me, my lord.”Act II, scene 4, lns 261-286 (Thanks to @everydayshakes for the suggestion!) Speakers: Goneril, Regan and Lear
In this scene, Lear is berating his daughters for wanting to take away his entourage. They state that he shouldn’t need them because they have servants to take care of him. lear, however, responds to them by pointing out that without those desires and wishes for things which are not strictly necessary for survival, nothing separates us from beasts. As he mentions, his daughters don’t need jewelry and fancy dresses to survive and yet they want them just the same. So, as he says, don<t ask me why I want these knights – I want them because I want them.
“These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend…”Act I, scene 2, lns 104-133 (Thanks to @theshakesforum for the suggestion!) Speakers: Gloucester, Edmund
Gloucester is giving us a lesson in astrology. He’s explaining that it’s only normal that the kingdom is being turned inside out given that the starts are themselves all out of whack. He appears to see disaster for humanity in every celestial event. As soon as he walks off-stage, Edmund tells us how he feels: what the hell does the day you were born on have to do with the decisions you make. You are the way you are because you choose to be, not because of some accident of birth.
“Away! the foul fiend follows me!”Act III, scene 4, lns 47-70 Speakers: Edgar, Lear, Fool, Kent
This is one of the many scenes where Edgar puts on his crazy hat and pretends to be Tom O’Bedlam, a wandering, mad, demon-haunted beggar. Why is he doing this/ To hide from Gloucester and everyone else trying to kill him. Parental advisory: includes a joke about nudity.
“Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile.”Act 4, scene 2, lns 39-69 Speakers: Albany, Goneril
The armies of France have landed in England and everyone is rallying to meet them on the field. Or, everyone except for Albany who has realized that Goneril is evil and that to fight on their side is basically to fight against Lear. In the end, he does decide to take to the field because he decides that English sovereignty is more important than this Goneril/Regan vs. Lear business. Here, Goneril is trying to get him to fight by calling him a pussy – “mew.”
“Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones.”Act V, scene 3, lns 263-319 Speakers: Lear, Kent, Edgar, Gentleman, Messenger, Albany
lear walk on stage holding the dead (?) Cordelia in his arms. Is this really how this is going to end? Don’t they deserve to be together one last time? Unfortunately, it is not to be and she is gone. We were going to include only the opening section but it’s such a powerful scene that we figured, what the heck: let’s let it run to it,s bitter end.
Next week (and it will be next week this time), something a little different from master Shakespeare? Something involving a shipwreck, maybe? And a happy ending?
To quote Kent: “Is this the promised end,” where Cordelia and Lear are reunited and live together for a few more years, where Lear is restored and we’re spared the worse case scenario?
In a word, nope.
In scene 1, Edmund and Regan are discussing whether or not Albany will have taken to the field or not; it seems that he has been wracked with doubt and remorse for his part in Lear’s mistreatment. They send a messenger to check on the news. Regan then asks Edmund if he truly loves her and not Goneril. She makes him swear to never have any private discussions with her and the sudden arrival of Goneril with Albany. Of course, the first thing Goneril says is that she would rather lose the battle than Edmund. Seems that Albany has chosen to take to the field in the end, motivated by what he sees as a French invasion to which they should all be opposed.
They all leave save Albany and Edgar shows up in disguise. He gives him the letter incriminating Goneril and Edmund – the one he was so conveniently was given by Oswald, remember? He tells him to read the letter before they take the field. Then, if they should win, to sound a duel so the disguised Edgar can bring his brother to justice.
The last word of the scene belongs to Edmund, however, as he considers his situation: he`s promissed to marry both. He’ll make use of Albany’s army for now but figures that once the battle is done, which ever sister wants him more can figure out how to get rid of Albany. We also learn that Albany intends to pardon Cordelia and Lear once the fight is done. Edmund can`t have any of that and plans to eliminate them.
The next scene is short exchange between Gloucester and Edgar which takes place while the battle rages around them. Edgar first makes Gloucester take shelter beneath a tree and promises that, should he survive the fight, he will take care of his father. Unfortunately, the battle does not go their way and Lear and Cordelia are taken prisoner. Edgar returns and tries to take his father with him to safety, but his father just wants to lie there and die. Edgar reminds him that the right thing to do is to endure this life until it is out time to go. Gloucester begrudgingly agrees and they leave.
Can it get any worse? In the words of Edgar, yes: “And worse I may be yet: the worst is not / So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.'”
Very uplifting stuff.
Bring on scene 3, the final scene of the play. Edmund orders Lear and Cordelia taken into custody. Lear is happy enough to simply be able tp spend his final days with his one honest daughter, even if it should be in jail. They are taken away. As soon as they are gone, Edmund sends a messenger with the order for their execution. Albany and the others come on the scene and Albany asks for Edmund to turn over the prisoners to him. Edmund tells him that he ordered them taken away but they can address this tomorrow. Albany does not approve of his temerity and calls him on his lack of authority: “Sir, by your patience, / I hold you but a subject of this war, / Not as a brother.” Or, in other words: “who the hell do you think you are?”
Regan is quick to defend her champion Edmund, stating that he basically has whatever authority Regan decides she wants to give him. In fact, she declares Edmond her husband and master. Albany tells him them that this decisions really isn’t theirs to make (Albany outranks the others because he is married to the eldest daughter. That should technically make him the next king and the king has the right to veto his family’s marriage plans.) Regan charges Edmund to fight Albany for his right but Albany instead arrests him. He shows them the letter and tells Edmund that there is someone here to challenge these claims.
Sure enough, at the third sound of the trumpet, Edgar (still in disguise) shows up to challenge Edmund, accusing him of being a traitor to his brother, father, country, gods and pretty much anything else you can think of. Edmund technically could choose to fight this duel because the challenger is not clear, but he decides that Edgar looks noble enough so says, “what the heck” and accepts the challenge.
Edmund was willing to use all the tricks to get his hands on the throne earlier but now he won’t use a legal technicality to avoid a fight. Why not? Pride? Again, who the hell knows.
Either way, they fight and Edmund falls.
Albany then accuses Goneril of being in on the plot and shows her the letter, which she does not deny. He sends someone after her because he seems worried that she will kill herself. Edmund acknowledges his crimes and asks to see who his challenger was. Edgar finally reveals his identity and is embraced by Albany. When Edgar explains how he hid himself, we learn that Gloucester dies of shock of the news of Edgar’s survival. He also explains that Kent was Caius, who had returned to watch over his king despite his banishment.
A messenger arrives with news that Goneril has stabbed herself but not before poisoning her sister Regan. That seems to jolt Albany into the sudden realisation that they totally forgot about Cordelia and Lear who are probably being murdered as they speak! Edmund decides that he wishes to atone in some small way for his actions (for no reason that I can tell) and gives them his sword to show to the captain so their lives might be spared.
As Edmund is being led off, the messenger runs off to deliver the message. Will he make it?
Lear walks onto the stage, holding Cordelia in his arms. Is she dead? Is there some life left in her? As Kent asks, is this death, or an image of death? While he seems to think that she is dead at first, he desperately wants her to still be alive. Lear himself killed her would-be executioner but was he able to do so in time. The audience at this point is likely expecting her to wake up. As we’ve discussed, the Lear story has been around for a while before Shakespeare, and in it Lear and Cordelia get to live together for a while before he passes away peacefully. But not here.
Despite his pleading, she’s gone and nothing can bring her back. We then learn that Edmond has killed himself but that hardly seems to matter. Lear finally dies next to his daughter. With this final scene, Kent walks off and Albany leaves the realm in Edgar’s care.
The last act ended one a conspiratory note where we overheard Tullus Aufidius and one of his lieutenants plotting Coriolanus’ downfall. However, in act V, scene I, we leave Aufidius to his scheming and turn our attention back to Rome. Cominius returns from his visit to the Volscian camp where he has pleaded with Coriolanus to lay down his arms and not strike against Rome. He gives the gathered tribunes and patricians a play by play of his petition but his mission is a failure: Coriolanus will not cease his hostile actions against Rome. Furthermore, he appears to have broken all of his bonds of affection with Rome and its citizens. He has become a relentless juggernaut of war. With few options available to them, the Romans convince Menenius – Coriolanus’ closet friend – to journey to the Volscian camp and see if he can leverage their friendship into compassion for Rome.
When Menenius arrives at the Volscian camp in scene 2, he is initially denied access to Coriolanus by the sentinels standing guard outside the camp. (Curiously enough, these are also identified as Senators in our online edition.) They say that Coriolanus has no interest in speaking with anyone from Rome. Menenius argues with them that Coriolanus will want to hear from him given their long friendship but they only respond that he should hate Rome, as Coriolanus does, because they banished its greatest warrior. Aufidius and Coriolanus arrive on the scene, drawn by the sound of the argument at the gates. Menenius tries to plead his case but Coriolanus tells him that he has cut all ties with Rome and won’t hear another word. He does, however, hand him a letter before sending him on his way.
After Cominius and Menenius’ failure to talk Coriolanus out of taking his vengeance on Rome, the desperate Romans go to their backup plan and send in the women: Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia, his wife Virgilia, his son (young) Martius, and Valeria, a friend of the family. Coriolanus has just sworn not to listen to any more petitions from Rome when they three women and the boy Martius are lead into the camp at the start of scene 3. Coriolanus swears to act “As if a man were author of himself,” as if his family was of no significance to him and he exists in the world unfettered by relationships. At first, he stands his ground but when the women kneel and Volumnia pleads with him he finds himself unable to remain unmoved. He agrees to broker a peace between the Volscians and the Romans but in convincing him to stand down, Coriolanus believes his mother has doomed him.
In scenes 4 and 5, the Romans receive the good news that they won’t be crushed beneath Coriolanus’ war machine thanks to the pleas of the three women. It seems Menenius is mistaken and that Coriolanus does, in fact, have “more mercy / in him than there is milk in a male tiger.” The news arrives just in time because the angry plebeians have captured the tribune Junius Brutus and are threatening to kill him slowly for having banished Coriolanus. As the people welcome the women home, they repeal his banishment.
Coriolanus, however, is not returning home in scene 6. As he has sworn to serve as a soldier to the Volscian cause, he returns to Antium to continue his service as well as to deliver the final terms of the peace treaty he has negotiated on behalf of the Volsces. Before he arrives, Tullus Aufidius has prepared a letter for the Volscian in which he accuses Coriolanus of being a traitor to the Volscian cause. Aufidius is worried that if he allows Coriolanus to address the people he will be able to sway them from sentencing him to death and se he decides to strike Coriolanus before he can give an account of his actions. Coriolanus presents the lords of Antium with the treaty but Aufidius tells them not to read it. He and his men fall upon Coriolanus and kill him. In the aftermath, Aufidius tells them that he just saved them from danger by killing Coriolanus. Moments later, he orders his body to be carried out and buried with honours.
The final act of Coriolanus seems like a bit of a letdown in the end. The tension builds in the first few scenes until at last the women talk him out of waging war and return to the city to great acclaim. The final scene in particular is very disappointing. Coriolanus returns to the city and before he can do anything, he’s once again accused of treason. He’s unceremoniously murdered by Aufidius and his lackeys and then, in the same breath, his body is carried off-stage and the play ends. This is actually an interesting trend we’ve noticed while reading our way through Shakespeare’s plays. A lot of them are really rockin’ through the first four-and-a-half acts but then they wrap up awkwardly or suddenly in a way that’s really unsatisfying or downright confusing. Either Shakespeare wasn’t good with endings or there’s something we haven’t quite understood about what made for a good ending in the late 16th century.
For instance, the short speech which caps this play, in which Aufidius claims to regret his actions, seems totally disingenuous. Is that intentional on Shakespeare’s part? While we’ve seen all of Aufidius’ plotting behind the scenes and have every reason to distrust his words, the lords of Antium have not. It’s likely he’s not saying these words for our benefit but for that of the Volscian lords in attendance. That would paint him as a sort of ‘Noble Brutus’ – the one who kills Julius Caesar because he believes him to be a tyrant, not the tribune Brutus in Coriolanus – who kills Coriolanus to avoid a greater danger to the Volsces.
It’s also interesting that Shakespeare ends the play here because in Plutarch, we learn that after Coriolanus’ death some of the Volsces’ other enemies saw their chance to attack them and picked them to pieces. Tullus Aufidius is eventually killed and the Volsces never recover. They’re eventually conquered by the Romans, making Coriolanus’ death one of the factors in the Roman Republic’s early expansion. Still, does Coriolanus in fact “have a noble memory”? Not so sure.
In our next podcast, we’ll be revisiting some of our favourite speeches from Coriolanus. If you have any passages you’d like us to discuss, please leave us a comment!
Also, don’t forget to check in on some of our Brawlers: