King Lear Quotes in Context
by William Shakespeare

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"A Poor, Infirm, Weak, And Despised Old Man"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Lear, King of Britain, an old man, foolishly divides his kingdom between his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. He retains one hundred followers, the name of King, and the right to live with each daughter on an alternating monthly basis. Very shortly, however, Goneril, with whom he first resides, peremptorily reduces his retinue and criticizes him and his men. Lear puts a frightening curse on her and hurries off to live with Regan. Before he and his knights arrive, Regan is brought a letter from Goneril relating all that has happened. Lear is refused admittance by Regan until he apologizes to Goneril. When Goneril arrives, Lear realizes his daughters are in league against him. Reduced to impotent fury, he rushes out into the stormy, wild night with his fool. Now, we find him with his fool hurling his defiance at the elements as the storm rages about them.

LEARRumble thy bellyful. Spit fire, spout rain. . . .I tax not you, you elements, with unkindnessI never gave you kingdom, called you children,You owe me no subscription. Then let fallYour horrible pleasure. Here I stand your slave,A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man. . . .

"As Flies To Wanton Boys, Are We To The Gods"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The Earl of Gloucester has two sons. One, Edgar, is legitimate, the other, Edmund, illegitimate. Edmund conspires to turn the father against Edgar and deprive him of his birthright. Edgar flees into hiding, disguised as Tom, a madman. In the meantime, King Lear, who has turned over his kingdom to his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, is deprived of his retinue, refused shelter, and forced to wander on the heath. Enraged, deserted (except for his fool), humbled, and pushed to the edge of madness, Lear, accompanied by the fool stumbles upon Tom, the madman. Together, in a storm, they are rescued and the king and fool sent to safety by Gloucester, who does so despite the daughters' injunctions not to aid the king. Regan and her husband, the Duke of Cornwall, discover Gloucester's defection and, in a rage, blind him. Turned loose to go where he wishes, Gloucester, led by an old man, encounters his son, Edgar, still disguised as Tom, the madman.

GLOUCESTERIs it a beggar man?OLD MANMadman and beggar too.GLOUCESTERHe has some reason, else he could not beg.I' th' last night's storm, I such a fellow saw;Which made me think a man a worm. My sonCame then into my mind, and yet my mindWas then scarce friends with him. I have heard more since.As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;They kill us for their sport.

"Blow Winds, And Crack Your Cheeks"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: King Lear, old and foolish, has attempted to rid himself of the responsibilities of kingship by dividing his realm among his three daughters on the condition that each daughter declare her love for him. When the youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to indulge in the effusive love of her sisters, she is disinherited. Lear, however, soon discovers the seeming love of Goneril and Regan, his oldest daughters, and when Regan puts Kent, the king's courtier, into stocks and Goneril refuses to take the part of the aged monarch, he calls his daughters "unnatural hags" and rushes into the stormy night. On the heath with his faithful fool, he cries out against the elements:

LEARBlow winds, and crack your cheeks. Rage, blow,You cataracts, and hurricanoes, spoutTill you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks.You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,Singe my white head. And thou all-shaking thunder,Strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world,Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once,That makes ingrateful man.

"Child Rowland To The Dark Tower Came"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This line, in all probability derived by Shakespeare from a Scots ballad old when the Bard employed it, has roots deep in chivalry. "Child" was a common synonym for knight. Much obscure meaning is attached to these words uttered by Edgar, son of Gloucester, but most sensibly they can be interpreted as an erratic, mad snatch of song, half remembered, half improvised by the frantically dissembling Edgar. They...

(The entire section is 5,819 words.)