While Shakespeare isn’t renowned for writing horror, he certainly understood the power of a macabre scene and the dramatic impact of horror when portraying just how evil a character could be.
He created a number of beautifully creepy and macabre scenes that hold definite appeal for horror fans, and which make great reading for October and Halloween.
There is one particularly macabre scene in King Lear where Lear’s daughter Regan and her husband, Cornwall, presided over the punishment of Gloucester for his “treason” in supporting Lear, the rightful king, after their rejection of him.
They are in Gloucester’s own home, no less, when they detain him, bind him to a chair and accuse him of treason. He has no idea of their evil intent, and reminds them more than once that they are his guests – and terrible ones at that.
Regan yanks hair out of Gloucester’s beard, and when Cornwall gouges out one of his eyes, presumably with a dagger, she picks up a sword and kills the servant who objects, then demands that Gloucester’s other eye be taken out, too. On doing so, Cornwall utters the words, “Out, vile jelly!” This really emphasises the vulnerability and delicate nature of the tissues and substance of the eye, and adds a brutally heartless element to the already macabre action.
Once Gloucester’s eyes are both out, Regan and Cornwall send him away bleeding and blinded while Cornwall complains that he has been hurt and demands that Regan takes care of him because he has a boo-boo. The fact that Cornwall is both still alive and able to see where he’s going demonstrates that he is nowhere near as badly hurt as either Gloucester or the dead servant, the irony of which is not lost on the audience, and underscores the self-absorbed evil of the pair.
It’s a grisly, gory scene that would fit right into any horror story or film.
I have included the scene below.
You might also check out Mya Gosling’s excellent cartoon recreation of the scene at Good Tickle Brain.
ACT III, SCENE VII. Gloucester’s castle.
Enter CORNWALL, REGAN, GONERIL, EDMUND, and Servants
CORNWALL Post speedily to my lord your husband; show him this letter: the army of France is landed. Seek out the villain Gloucester.
Exeunt some of the Servants
REGAN Hang him instantly.
GONERIL Pluck out his eyes.
CORNWALL Leave him to my displeasure. Edmund, keep you our sister company: the revenges we are bound to take upon your traitorous father are not fit for your beholding. Advise the duke, where you are going, toa most festinate preparation: we are bound to the like. Our posts shall be swift and intelligent betwixt us. Farewell, dear sister: farewell, my lord of Gloucester.
How now! where’s the king?
OSWALD My lord of Gloucester hath convey’d him hence:
Some five or six and thirty of his knights,
Hot questrists after him, met him at gate;
Who, with some other of the lords dependants,
Are gone with him towards Dover; where they boast
To have well-armed friends.
CORNWALL Get horses for your mistress.
GONERIL Farewell, sweet lord, and sister.
CORNWALL Edmund, farewell.
Exeunt GONERIL, EDMUND, and OSWALD
Go seek the traitor Gloucester,
Pinion him like a thief, bring him before us.
Exeunt other Servants
Though well we may not pass upon his life
Without the form of justice, yet our power
Shall do a courtesy to our wrath, which men
May blame, but not control. Who’s there? the traitor?
Enter GLOUCESTER, brought in by two or three
REGAN Ingrateful fox! ’tis he.
CORNWALL Bind fast his corky arms.
GLOUCESTER What mean your graces? Good my friends, consider
You are my guests: do me no foul play, friends.
CORNWALL Bind him, I say.
Servants bind him
REGAN Hard, hard. O filthy traitor!
GLOUCESTER Unmerciful lady as you are, I’m none.
CORNWALL To this chair bind him. Villain, thou shalt find–
REGAN plucks his beard
GLOUCESTER By the kind gods, ’tis most ignobly done
To pluck me by the beard.
REGAN So white, and such a traitor!
GLOUCESTER Naughty lady,
These hairs, which thou dost ravish from my chin,
Will quicken, and accuse thee: I am your host:
With robbers’ hands my hospitable favours
You should not ruffle thus. What will you do?
CORNWALL Come, sir, what letters had you late from France?
REGAN Be simple answerer, for we know the truth.
CORNWALL And what confederacy have you with the traitors
Late footed in the kingdom?
REGAN To whose hands have you sent the lunatic king? Speak.
GLOUCESTER I have a letter guessingly set down,
Which came from one that’s of a neutral heart,
And not from one opposed.
REGAN And false.
CORNWALL Where hast thou sent the king?
GLOUCESTER To Dover.
REGAN Wherefore to Dover? Wast thou not charged at peril—
CORNWALL Wherefore to Dover? Let him first answer that.
GLOUCESTER I am tied to the stake, and I must stand the course.
REGAN Wherefore to Dover, sir?
GLOUCESTER Because I would not see thy cruel nails
Pluck out his poor old eyes; nor thy fierce sister
In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs.
The sea, with such a storm as his bare head
In hell-black night endured, would have buoy’d up,
And quench’d the stelled fires:
Yet, poor old heart, he holp the heavens to rain.
If wolves had at thy gate howl’d that stern time,
Thou shouldst have said ‘Good porter, turn the key,
‘All cruels else subscribed: but I shall see
The winged vengeance overtake such children.
CORNWALL See’t shalt thou never. Fellows, hold the chair.
Upon these eyes of thine I’ll set my foot.
GLOUCESTER He that will think to live till he be old,
Give me some help! O cruel! O you gods!
REGAN One side will mock another; the other too.
CORNWALL If you see vengeance,—
First Servant Hold your hand, my lord:
I have served you ever since I was a child;
But better service have I never done you
Than now to bid you hold.
REGANHow now, you dog!
First ServantIf you did wear a beard upon your chin,
I’d shake it on this quarrel. What do you mean?
They draw and fight
First ServantNay, then, come on, and take the chance of anger.
REGANGive me thy sword. A peasant stand up thus!
Takes a sword, and runs at him behind
First Servant O, I am slain! My lord, you have one eye left
To see some mischief on him. O!
CORNWALL Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly!
Where is thy lustre now?
GLOUCESTER All dark and comfortless. Where’s my son Edmund?
Edmund, enkindle all the sparks of nature,
To quit this horrid act.
REGAN Out, treacherous villain!
Thou call’st on him that hates thee: it was he
That made the overture of thy treasons to us;
Who is too good to pity thee.
GLOUCESTER O my follies! then Edgar was abused.
Kind gods, forgive me that, and prosper him!
REGANGo thrust him out at gates, and let him smell
His way to Dover.
Exit one with GLOUCESTER How is’t, my lord? how look you?
CORNWALL I have received a hurt: follow me, lady.
Turn out that eyeless villain; throw this slave
Upon the dunghill. Regan, I bleed apace:
Untimely comes this hurt: give me your arm.
Exit CORNWALL, led by REGAN
Second ServantI’ll never care what wickedness I do,
If this man come to good.
Third Servant If she live long,
And in the end meet the old course of death,
Women will all turn monsters.
Second Servant Let’s follow the old earl, and get the Bedlam
To lead him where he would: his roguish madness
Allows itself to any thing.
Third Servant Go thou: I’ll fetch some flax and whites of eggs
To apply to his bleeding face. Now, heaven help him!
Read the rest of the play here.