Internet Shakespeare Editions


From the Roxburghe Ballads. University of Victoria Library.

"May not an ass know when the cart draws the horse?" "Thou mad'st thy daughters thy mothers. . . when thou gav'st them the rod, and put'st down thy own breeches." So the Fool in King Lear tells his master of the error he has made in yielding his authority to his children*.

Shakespeare was very much of his time in the fear of disorder that is expressed in many of his plays. In his mature work, however, he increasingly recognises the impossibility of achieving ideal order in human affairs. One of the great statements of the disastrous effects of disorder is found in a dark and disturbing play, Troilus and Cressida. (Click here to read a homily on disorder.)

Titania speaks of disorder

. . . The ploughman [hath] lost his sweat, and the green corn*
Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drownèd field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion* flock;
The nine men's morris* is filled up with mud;
And the quaint mazes* in the wanton green,
For lack of tread, are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter here. . .
And thorough this distemperature* we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems'* thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet* of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing* autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries*; and the [a]mazèd world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which."
(A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2.1.94-114)


  1. Lear's disorderly children

    From 1.4.225-26,174-75. Lear himself later uses a similar image:

    Filial ingratitude,
    Is it not as [if] this mouth should tear this hand
    For lifting food to't?

  2. Glossary

    Here, as elsewhere in Shakespeare, wheat.
    The disease of the murrain, especially likely to hit herds in wet seasons.
    nine men's morris
    A game played--with nine men--on a small field with lines cut in the grass.
    Winding paths in the village green, the common area where cattle could be fed, and games played.
    Lack of even temperament in nature.
    A wreath of flowers.
    Uniforms, clothes.