King Lear quotes

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child.” LEAR: King Lear has cut a deal with the two more flattering of his three daughters: he will turn power over to them as long as he can keep the name and respect due to a king, and so long as they alternately host him and his train of a hundred knights. Once they’ve got the power, of course, Regan and Goneril renege on their part of the bargain. When Goneril, as prelude to disbanding Lear’s miniature army, objects to the group’s rowdiness, the king is furious. Her ingratitude is to Lear “sharper than a serpent’s tooth.” He demands that Nature render Goneril infertile, or, if his daughter must “teem” (give birth, like an animal), that her child be a “thwart disnatur’d (unnatural and perverse) torment to her, as she is to him. He vividly imagines a monstrous infant stamping wrinkles in Goneril’s brow, and burning her cheeks with its “cadent” (falling) tears.Act I Scene IV
“I am a manMore sinned against than sinning.” LEAR: Lear is no hypercritical sinner, but if he is seen as still refusing to admit his own shortcomings, and failing to realise that the gods may be trying and punishing him as well as others, this remark will seem self-pitying. Thrown out of doors by his own daughters, the anguished Lear cries upon the storming heavens to execute justice, since he is now powerless to do so. Having ceded his authority, and been betrayed for it, the king comes to realize that he is but a “poor, infirm, weak, and despis’d old man” (line 20). As the storm beats down on his naked head, he invokes the “dreadful summoners”—the gods who tend to judgment and retribution—but hastily adds that he is himself “More sinn’d against than sinning.” In this pathetic moment, Lear exemplifies in the extreme a possessive parent with ungrateful children, as he chalks up their transgressions on a cosmic balance sheet. The storm seems a manifestation of his fury, and—still clinging to the royal imperative—Lear commands it to strike where he, being weak, cannot. Act III Scene II
“We two alone will sing like birds i’the cage.” LEAR: In this speech, which is deeply ironic in relation to Lear’s banishment of her from his sight in Act I, Cordelia alone seems to exist for Lear. He is no longer interesting in politics and court manipulation. This is said after his reconciliation with Cordelia. At the very end of this play, Lear and Cordelia are prisoners in the British camp. Here the insane Lear addresses his daughter, expressing his fantasy of spending the rest of his life in prison with her. He is sane enough to know his own guilt, however: “I’ll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness.” Cordelia is subsequently killed, and the mad Lear dies as well. These words reflect Lear’s central trait throughout the play: he is in denial of reality at every turn. Even now, in his madness and defeat he cannot face the political inevitability that neither he nor his daughter is likely to be spared. Act V Scene III
“My wits begin to turn.” LEAR: Lear’s mind shifts to a new level which he registers as the onset of madness but which may show a glimmer of greater self-awareness. The storm mirrors the Lear’s internal confusion. The storm is to show the transition in theking and he reveals his madness.Act III Scene II
“Here I am, your slave- a poor, infirm, weak, despised old man.” LEAR: Such a pity change it is for the great king whom he was. Such a transformation is important for he could face the chaos, in the kingdom and in his soul, in a new, different way.Act III Scene II
“Thou hast a daughterWho redeems nature from the general curseWhich twain have brought her to.” GENTLEMAN: saying that Cordelia is so honest and virtuous and amazing that it cancels out the evil nature of Goneril and Regan.Act IV Scene VI
“Thou, Nature, art my goddess” EDMUND: Nature has many connotations in the play, most notably the bonds of nature, the ties of natural affection between parent and child. In rejecting these ties, Edmund appeals to the laws of the jungle in effect, and aligns himself with beasts as against custom, morality and order, as a way of justifying himself. He has something of the morality vice and something of the stage Machiavel in him, but his energy, his humour and the contemptuous treatment of him by his father make him initially very engaging. Act I Scene II
“Why brand they usWith base? With baseness, bastardy? Base, base?” EDMUND: In this speech, Edmund raises questions against social stigmatisation of the bastards, for no faults of theirs. Act I Scene II
“Now gods, stand up for bastards!” EDMUND: Edmund isn’t entitled to the land his legitimate brother will gain off their father. Therefore Edmund is angry at law. The use of the word GODS hints that Edmund isn’t christian- possible pagan. Act I Scene II
“I have used it, nuncle, e’er since thou mad’st thy daughters thy mothers” FOOL: the fool has been singing and using riddles ever since Lear gave his power over to his daughters- trying to warn the king of his daughters. Reverse of natural order. The fool is saying that since the King has given away his power the traditional gender roles of the day have been reversed and also…Act I Scene IV
“And I’ll go to bed at noon.” FOOL: Last words of the fool. There are many different ideas about why the fool disappears at this point in the play. Around the time the play was written (1606) people were hanged at noon- later referenced to when Lear says, “my poor fool is hanged.” There is a strong suspicion that the fool and Cordelia are the same person therefore the fool must leave before Cordelia returns. One is that Lear has become his own fool, and acquired his own wisdom therefore there is no need for the fool anymore. Another reading is that Edgar (Poor Tom) has taken the fools place.Act III Scene VI
“Our joy” LEAR: describing Cordelia shows how she is the favourite over her two older sisters. Act I scene I
“This heartShall break into a hundred thousand flaws” LEAR: after Goneril has refused to look after Lear and his Knights and wants them out of her house, Regan then explains how she is not ready to receive them and she doesn’t want to. Lear now feels abandoned by all three of his daughters. Act II Scene IV
“Art cold? I am cold myself.” LEAR: speaking to the fool. 1st time in this scene we see Lear have any consideration for others. Shows that even though Lear’s actions in Act I Scene I seem rather extreme, he is a kind hearted man underneath, it is just that his pride hides it sometimes.Act III Scene II
“Those pelican daughters.” LEAR: Lear compares his daughters to “pelicans.” In Shakespeare’s day, mother pelicans were thought to have wounded their breasts so their young could feed off their blood. King Lear’s being a bit of a martyr here, as he suggests that he is like a mother pelican who has been sacrificed so his greedy daughters can thrive. Self-sympathising. Act III Scene IV
“Is man no more than this?” LEAR: Lear is showing a new kind of awareness here, asking himself new questions and searching for new answers. Once he notices Edgar’s hideous rags, he begins to tear off his own clothes to come closer to Edgar’s state of the unaccommodated animal. At this point, he sees no difference between man and beast. Lear relates to Edgar’s madman rantings, showing how far he has fallen from his lofty status as king.Act III Scene IV
“Because I would not see thy cruèl nailsPluck out his poor old eyes” GLOUCESTER: The reason he helped Lear escape to Dover, he knew that Goneril and Regan were against him. Gloucester is loyal to the king and helped him when he was in need, unlike his daughters who allowed him to be left out vulnerable in an absolutely terrible storm.
“The weight of this sad time we must obey.Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.The oldest hath borne most. We that are youngShall never see so much, nor live so long.” EDGAR: Very last words of the play. Refers to the very first scene of the play when Cordelia is so truthful to her father highlighting the virtue in her actions. The use of caesura brings dramatic pauses into the phrase when spoken, means the words will have a larger impact on the audience. Feeling and seeing have powerful resonances in the play. Rhyming couplets. In the first Folio (this version) Edgar speaks the last lines giving the audience hope that he and Albany will rule together as it is possible here Edgar is using the royal plural, and also optimism for the youth. However in the Quarto Albany has the last lines- gives the audience the impression that he is leaving. Many ways of staging this- possible that both Albany and Edgar have one hand each on the crown taken from Edmund who took it from Lear.
“time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides.” CORDELIA: What is hidden is doomed to be revealed by time. He who covers his faults is shamed in the end. Cordelia hints at the true nature of her sisters’ motivation, especially after her dowry is split between them, yet she does not confront them in thepresence of her father, for fear of breaking her poor father’s heart. This is yet another example of the paternal love embedded within Cordeila’s soul, yet the lunatic king is unable to see the truth within Cordelia’s soul.
“why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no breath at all?” LEAR: Heartbroken at the death of Cordelia he is questioning…Act V scene III
“The wonder is he hath endured so long; he but usurped his life.” KENT: He has been through so much he was clutching onto his life Act V Scene III
“The strings of life began to crack” KENT: Foreshadows the death and the end of the old order. Act V Scene III
“So young my lord and so true” CORDELIA: to Lear – She is explaining to her father that she is sure of what she is saying, she is simply being honest- but could be interpreted as brutality. Opposition to the quote about lear ‘thou should have been wise before you were old’. She knows that her sisters are evil or sycophantic.
Edmund switches from verse to prose When Edmund is in the company of others he has to be reserved and restrained because of his bastardy. When alone full of emotion.
“As flies to wanton boys we are to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” GLOUCESTER: Perhaps the most desperate lines in a desperate play, the Duke of Gloucester’s speech culminates scene after scene of abject cruelty and senseless brutality. For the kindness he has shown the disgraced King Lear on a stormy night Gloucester has been blinded by two of the king’s enemies, Lear’s daughter Regan and her husband. Also emphasises natural power over humans.
‘Unnatural Hags’ LEAR: Lear’s misogyny talking about Goneril and Regan – unnatural because they are defying men – very strange
‘My daughters or rather a disease of the flesh.” LEAR: Misogyny – offensive/brutish – flesh. Ironic- as the play can be interpreted as Cordelia being the reasoning behind Lear’s madness- she is what has given him the disease of madness and eventually causes him death.
“I would divorce me from thy mother’s tomb” LEAR: indulges in their imagined illegitimacy – rejects her from the play – only mention of the mother in the play.
‘degenerate bastards’ LEAR: fantasises about his children being illegitimate so he can blame that on their behavior
‘old fond eyes… i’ll pluck ye out’ LEAR: Stresses how hurt and angered he is by his daughters’ ingratitude. ‘old fond eyes… i’ll pluck thee out’ Denys himself the luxury of weeping – his femininity is suppressed – thought as weak.
“We’ll go to supper i’ th’ morning.” FOOL: reversal of natural order, whole world is upside down and opposite.
‘I am ashamed that thou has power to shake my manhood thus’ LEAR: When Goneril reduces Lear’s retinue of knights (so, reducing any power Lear had left after he divided his kingdom), Lear responds as though Goneril has emasculated him—he says his “manhood” has been shaken. For Lear, power and masculinity go hand and hand.
‘all licensed fool’ GONERIL: the fool is given free lenience unlike the women – is that because he is a man and cordelia has no place defying her father
‘Here, nature, dear goddess hear.. into her womb convey sterility’ LEAR: like edmund calls upon the goddess of nature to inflict wrong doing act I Scene IV
‘Thou gavest thy golden one away’ FOOL
“I’ll kneel down and ask of thee forgiveness.” LEAR: After his reconciliation with Cordelia he realises his wrongdoings and asks her to forget his foolish decisions at the beginning of the play. Lear is willing to get down on his knees -supplication of Cordelia- she is now the one with the power.
‘teem’ LEAR: Wants Goneril to have to give birth like an animal more imagery of the kings daughters being animalistic