reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s . . .
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
If it be you that stir these daughters’ hearts
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger,
And let not women’s weapons, water-drops,
Stain my man’s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags,
No, I’ll not weep.
I have full cause of weeping, but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,
Or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!
Lear delivers these lines after he has
been driven to the end of his rope by the cruelties of Goneril and
Regan (2.4.259–281). He rages against them,
explaining that their attempts to take away his knights and servants
strike at his heart. “O, reason not the need!” he cries, explaining
that humans would be no different from the animals if they did not
need more than the fundamental necessities of life to be happy.
Clearly, Lear needs knights and attendants not only because of the
service that they provide him but because of what their presence
represents: namely, his identity, both as a king and as a human
being. Goneril and Regan, in stripping Lear of the trappings of
power, are reducing him to the level of an animal. They are also
driving him mad, as the close of this quotation indicates, since he
is unable to bear the realization of his daughters’ terrible betrayal.
Despite his attempt to assert his authority, Lear finds himself
powerless; all he can do is vent his rage.