Lear curses Goneril

Act 1 Scene 4 – Key Scene

In this scene, Goneril has confronted her father with her complaints about the ‘hundred knights and squires’ who are staying with him in her castle. She complains that their noisy, arrogant and pleasure-seeking behaviour has made her home ‘more like a tavern or a brothel / Than a graced palace’ and asks him to cut down on his number of followers. In this extract from the scene, Lear is angry that Goneril should question him when he has given her everything. He curses her never to have a child or if she does, that it make her life a misery so that she understands how it feels to have an ungrateful child.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    You strike my people, and your disordered rabble
    Make servants of their betters.
    Enter Albany
    Woe that too late repents!— Is it your will?
    Speak, sir.— Prepare my horses.
    Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
    More hideous when thou show’st thee in a child
    Than the sea-monster!
    Pray, sir, be patient.
    Detested kite, thou liest.
    My train are men of choice and rarest parts,
    That all particulars of duty know
    And in the most exact regard support
    The worships of their name. O, most small fault,
    How ugly didst thou in Cordelia show!
    Which, like an engine, wrenched my frame of nature
    From the fixed place, drew from my heart all love,
    And added to the gall.
    O Lear, Lear, Lear!
    Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in,
    And thy dear judgement out!— Go, go, my people.

    Bird of prey, scavenger

    The best qualities.

    Why do you think Lear’s knights are so important to him?

    Like a piece of machinery, wrenched my normal way of being out of place, which drained the love from my heart and made it bitter.

    My lord, I am guiltless as I am ignorant
    Of what hath moved you.
    It may be so, my lord.—
    Hear, nature, hear, dear goddess, hear!
    Suspend thy purpose if thou didst intend
    To make this creature fruitful:
    Into her womb convey sterility,
    Dry up in her the organs of increase,
    And from her derogate body never spring
    A babe to honour her: if she must teem,
    Create her child of spleen, that it may live
    And be a thwart disnatured torment to her:
    Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
    With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
    Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
    To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
    How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
    To have a thankless child!— Away, away!

    How do you think Goneril might feel hearing her husband and her father talk to each other in this way?

    Immoral, corrupt.

    If she must have children, let her child be made of spite so that it grows to torment her in its unnatural and perverse behaviours.


    Erode, wear.

  • Listen

    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out?

  • Watch

    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in these two versions?

  • Imagine

    Explore some images from past versions of King Lear at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the scene feel right to you?