Study Guide

King Lear

by William Shakespeare

King Lear Quotes

Important Quotations

Dearer than eyesight, space and liberty

Goneril introduces a long series of eye and sight references which reverberate around Gloucester's blinding (3.7). Her formal rhetoric of love is manifestly insincere, but satisfies the vain and foolish Lear, who gives her half the Kingdom. Cordelia cannot compete with her sisters lies. Lear consistently misunderstands love, thinking it can be quantified – when Goneril and Regan combine to reduce his following he says 'Thy fifty do yet double five and twenty, And thou art twice her love' (2.2.448-449).

nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.

Lear, finding his vain-glorious set-piece of flattery falling flat, tries to wheedle some more fitting compliments from Cordelia. 'Nothing' is one of the key words in the play, and Lear's chilling formulation introduces the grim nihilism which is Lear's central mood. It is already a proverb when Shakespeare uses it.

O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!

Perhaps Lear's mind begins to go as he struggles with the consequences of giving away his power. He has already had difficulty in understanding the treatment he now receives in 1.4. He has always been King, and now he is not, he no longer recognises himself. To the Fool, he is already 'Lear's shadow' (1.4.222). Lear's madness may be thought to predate the beginning of the play, (or he would never have given everything away0, and this may be a lucid moment. Is it that the behaviour and expectations of a King are mad in someone without actual power?

O, reason not the need !

Lear's point is that he should be allowed something not out of need, but love, or at least politeness and custom. He carries on: 'Allow not nature more than nature needs / Man's life is cheap as beasts' (2.2.455-456). If we have only what we truly need, we are no better than animals. Lear is shortly to extend this critique, taking the other side of the argument, standing in the rain and shouting, and decrying wealth and privilege.

I am a man / More sinned against than sinning

Lear, now cast out on the heath, attempts to claim the storm as part of a scheme of divine justice, but the storm is apparently indifferent. He is probably wrong about sin: it is his pride that has got him into this mess. He still does not see himself, and the remark is merely self-pitying. However, as the surrounding evil continues to mount, we come to feel sorry for Lear ourselves.

the rain it raineth every day

The Fool, (as does Edgar later), preaches stoicism; endurance in the face...

(The entire section is 1170 words.)

King Lear Essential Quotes

Essential Passage by Character: King Lear

Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'ld use them so
That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She's dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.

Is this the promised end?

Or image of that horror?

Fall, and cease!

This feather stirs; she lives! if it be so,
It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows
That ever I have felt.

O my good master!

Prithee, away.

'Tis noble Kent, your friend.

A plague upon you, murderers, traitors all!
I might have saved her; now she's gone for ever!
Cordelia, Cordelia! stay a little. Ha!
What is't thou say'st? Her voice was ever soft,
Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.
I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee.

'Tis true, my lords, he did.

Did I not, fellow?
I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion
I would have made them skip: I am old now,
And these same crosses spoil me. Who are you?
Mine eyes are not o' the best: I'll tell you straight.

Act 5, Scene 3, Lines 305-333

In the play's culmination, King Lear, out of his madness, at last comes to the full realization of all that is caused by his hubris and self-love. Having wandered away from the protection of the Duke of Gloucester and Kent, he has been captured by Edmund, imprisoned with his loyal daughter Cordelia. Albany has arrested Edmund for the treason he has committed against the king. Lear’s unfaithful daughters, Goneril and Regan, are dead. Regan has been poisoned by Goneril out of suspicion and jealousy, should she manage to snare Edmund in her newfound widowhood. Out of grief at Edmund’s arrest and sure execution, Goneril has committed suicide. In a duel, Edgar, the legitimate son of the Duke of Gloucester, has mortally wounded Edmund, who lies dying. In a last ditch attempt to do something good, he warns Albany that he has ordered the deaths of Lear and Cordelia. They are to be hanged in an attempt to make it appear that the two have committed suicide. The guards rush to their place of imprisonment, but it is too late. Cordelia has been hanged, but Lear managed to kill the hangman before he himself suffered the same fate. Cordelia’s body is carried to the stage by Lear himself.

In his grief, Lear castigates those remaining alive in their seeming indifference to all the loss that...

(The entire section is 1268 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Fatalism

Away, get thee away; good friend, be gone:
Thy comforts can do me no good at all;
Thee they may hurt.

Alack, sir, you cannot see your way.

I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;
I stumbled when I saw: full oft 'tis seen,
Our means secure us, and our mere defects
Prove our commodities. O dear son Edgar,
The food of thy abused father's wrath!
Might I but live to see thee in my touch,
I'ld say I had eyes again!

How now! Who's there?

O gods! Who is't can say 'I am at the worst'?
I am worse than e'er I was.

'Tis poor mad Tom.

And worse I may be yet: the worst is not
So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'

Fellow, where goest?

Is it a beggar-man?

Madman and beggar too.

He has some reason, else he could not beg.
I' the last night's storm I such a fellow saw;
Which made me think a man a worm: my son
Came then into my mind; and yet my mind
Was then scarce friends with him: I have heard more
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport.

Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 15-40

Gloucester, blinded at the command of his illegitimate son Edmund, wanders the barren countryside, accompanied by an old man. He is met by his legitimate son Edgar, who is disguised as a beggar to protect his life from the death warrant signed by Gloucester, based on the false accusations of Edmund.

Earlier in the scene, Edgar reflects that it is better to be a beggar and openly despised than to be quietly despised but flattered. He taunts the “unsubstantial air” (reflecting his disbelief in the gods and their interest in mankind) that has blown him into such a low estate. He then sees his father, blinded and led by a peasant.

The old peasant expresses his loyalty to the Duke of Gloucester, stating that he has always been loyal, even from the time of the duke’s father. Yet Gloucester can accept no comfort; his despair is at its lowest point.

The old man resists leaving, saying, “You cannot see your way.” In total resignation, Gloucester says, “I have no way.” He does not need eyes to see where he is going if he has nowhere to go. In fact, states...

(The entire section is 1160 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear, Michael Foster