What are the rhetorical devices in King Lear's speech in Act 4, scene 6?It is the speech where Lear is talking about adultry and saying that Gloucester's son Edmund is kinder than his daughters.

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

King Lear, Act IV, scene vi, is one of the great monologues in literature.  It's full of sexual imagery, analogies, and verbal irony (sarcasm).  Literally translated, it reads something like this (according to my No Fear Shakespeare):

Women are sex machines below the waist, though they’re chaste up above. Above the waist they belong to God, but the lower part belongs to the devil. That’s where hell is, and darkness, and fires and stench! Death and orgasm!

In the monologue Lear uses the following rhetorical devices:

Rhetorical question: "What was thy cause? Adultery?"

Animal imagery: "The wren goes to 't, and the small gilded fly"

Eye / Sight imagery: "Does lecher in my sight."

Verbal irony (sarcasm), sexual imagery, and analogy: "Let copulation thrive; for Gloucester's bastard son Was kinder to his father than my daughters Got 'tween the lawful sheets."

Animal imagery: "The fitchew (a skunk), nor the soiled horse, goes to 't / With a more riotous appetite."

Hell / fire imagery: "There's hell, there's darkness, there's the sulphurous pit," AND "Burning, scalding, stench, consumption;"

Appearance vs. reality motif (women are gods above the waist, devils below):

"Down from the waist they are Centaurs,"
Though women all above:
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends';

Analogy and apostrophe (compares Gloucester to an apothecary; addresses an apothocary not present):

Give me an ounce of civet,
good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination:
there's money for thee.

Read the study guide:
King Lear

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question