Notable Quotes in King Lear

     
               my love's
More ponderous than my tongue

    —After hearing her older sisters deliver extravagant declarations of love for their father, King Lear, Cordelia tells herself that she is the one who loves him more than words can say.


     
               Now, our joy,
Although our last and least

    —King Lear, having given their portions of the kingdom to his two eldest daughters, turns to the one he loves best, Cordelia.


     
               Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.

    —King Lear, having enticed Cordelia to speak (competitively) of her love for him in order to compete for the most opulent third of his kingdom, is insulted by his youngest daughter's answer, "Nothing, my lord."




     
               mend your speech a little,
Lest it may mar your fortunes.

    —King Lear is warning Cordelia that she has everything to lose by refusing to elaborate upon her filial devotion.


     
               Lear: So young, and so untender?
Cordelia: So young, my lord, and true.

    —King Lear asks his daughter how she can be so young and already so unkind. Cordelia replies that she is young and loyal.


     
               Come not between the dragon and his wrath.
    —King Lear is warning Kent that he needs to stop criticizing his decision to disown his best-loved daughter.


     
               Do: Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow
Upon thy foul disease.

    —The Earl of Kent has been challenging King Lear's decision to disown Cordelia and Kent's opinion so infuriates Lear that he reaches for his sword: Kent's response is impertinent, as an earl tells the king to go ahead and kill the only person who is trying the heal him of the "foul disease" [perhaps a disease of ego] which caused him to disown his favorite daughter.


     
               I want that glib and oily art,
To speak and purpose not;

    —Cordelia is trying to explain to her king and father that the reason she offended him should be considered a virtue, as she lacks the ability to make speeches with no intention of following through on her promises [unlike some sisters may be implied].


     
               A still-soliciting eye,
    —Cordelia further explains to her king and father that the reason she offended him is that she is bad at currying favor [another virtue].


     
               Nothing: I have sworn; I am firm.
    —King Lear shows Cordelia with his crown exactly how much she can expect from him from now on out: zero.


     
               Thy dow'rless daughter, king, thrown to my chance,
Is queen of us, of ours, and our fair France:

    —The King of France is elated to have a chance to claim Cordelia, the "dow'rless daughter," (who he said earlier was "herself a dowry").


     
               I know you what you are, / And like a sister am most loath to call
Your faults as they are named.

    —Cordelia tells her sisters in farewell that she knows what they are really like, but, because they are her sisters, will not call their faults by their true names.


     
               Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides.
Who cover faults, at last shame them derides.

    —Cordelia warns Goneril that the future shall reveal the cold-hearted plotting that her craftiness now hides.


     
               'Tis the infirmity of his age:
    —Goneril has just pointed out Lear's changeableness and poor judgment [in casting off Cordelia, his former favorite] and Regan agrees, attributing his actions to the decline of age.


     
               Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take / More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed, / Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,

    —Edmund, bastard son to the Earl of Gloucester, considering the good and bad sides of being a bastard, thinks that the stealthy enjoyment of natural sexual appetite [at his begetting] took more strength of constitution and natural vigor than the "dull, stale, tired" bed acts that go into creating a whole tribe of shallow fools.


     
               We have seen the best of our time. Machinations,
hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders,
follow us disquietly to our graves.

    —Gloucester is feeling gloomy because his bastard son, Edmund, just convinced him that his son Edgar [Gloucester's legal heir and Edmund's half brother] is plotting against his life. He rails against fate and destiny that are reflected in natural portents like eclipses, saying that the best of our time has passed and that it will be downhill from here on out, full of hollow political machinations, with treachery and ruin trailing us to our graves.


     
               This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when
we are sick in fortune,—often the surfeits of our own
behaviour,—we make guilty of our disasters the sun,
the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by
necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves,
drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced
obedience of planetary influence;

    —Edmund calls out the foolishness ["foppery"] of people [like his father, Gloucester] who believe that the stars determine their fate [while ignoring excesses ("surfeits") in their own behavior].


     
                And pat he comes like the catastrophe of the old
comedy: my cue is villainous melancholy, with a
sigh like Tom o' Bedlam.

    —Edmund speaks of his brother Edgar as he approaches:—And on cue he comes, like the neat, final wrap-up of a tried-and-true comedy; my cue is melancholy [with a villainous purpose] expressed like the sigh of a homeless beggar.


     
                that which ordinary men are fit for, I am
qualified in; and the best of me is diligence.

    —Kent [who has been banished] is in disguise trying to persuade Lear that he is capable of service.


     
                Truth's a dog must to kennel; he must be whipped
out, when Lady the brach may stand by the fire
and stink.

    —The fool's saying [in his roundabout way] that he is being punished for speaking the truth, that a dog is treated better than he is.


     
                  Have more than thou showest,
   Speak less than thou knowest,
   Lend less than thou owest,

    —The Fool sings a little ditty whose lessons seem to have little relation to Lear's issues; perhaps he is trying to get Lear to say the word "nothing," the word the Fool later twists round and round.


     
                   Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous when thou show'st thee in a child
Than the sea-monster!

    —When Goneril's husband appears, Lear turns to him and curses ingratitude itself for showing itself in Goneril, his child, which makes its appearance especially hideous.


     
                  How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!

    —After cursing Goneril for her ingratitude, Lear notes the pain her words and demeanor make him feel.



     
                  How far your eyes may pierce I can not tell:
Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.

    —Albany, wondering what his wife understands, tells her diplomatically that while striving for improvement, we often ruin a good thing, perhaps suggesting that since she has half the kingdom, the number of Lear's train is negligible.


     
                  the son and heir of a mongrel bitch:
    —Kent is hurling insults at Oswald, who as Goneril's steward, represents the anti-Lear forces.      
                  I have seen better faces in my time
Than stands on any shoulder that I see
Before me at this instant.

    —Kent insults Cornwall directly [to his face, about his face] while Cornwall is trying to resolve the issue between Kent and Oswald.                         A good man's fortune may grow out at heels:
    —Gloucester is expressing his concern for Kent, who is now locked in stocks, but Kent tells him not to worry—that a good man's luck may just wear out, just like shoes and socks.      
                  Fortune, good night: smile once more; turn thy wheel!
    —Kent, all alone, is settling down for the night locked in stocks; he asks Fortune to smile on him, yet seems ready for any turn of Fortune's wheel.


     
                  Hysterica passio, down, thou climbing sorrow,
Thy element's below!

    —Lear feels uncontrollable emotion arising [Hysterica passio was thought to be the result of vapors rising from the bowels to the head] and orders it back to its natural place below.


     
                  That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm,
But I will tarry; the fool will stay,

    —The Fool sings a little ditty to King Lear about not being able to trust those who serve only for their own "gain" [reward, advantage or benefit; nowadays, mostly money]; they will pack it in when it rains and leave you alone in a storm—so unlike the Fool who will stay by your side [in any kind of storm implied].


     
                  Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of her confine. You should be rul'd and led
By some discretion that discerns your state
Better than you yourself.

    —Regan is not mincing words in her effort to manage her father: she calls her father old, so old that someone [more capable than himself] should manage his affairs.


     
                  Return to her, and fifty men dismiss'd?
No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose
To wage against the enmity o' th' air,
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl,—
Necessity's sharp pinch!

    —King Lear tells Regan that he would rather become homeless, become a comrade of the wolf and the owl and endure the pain of necessity's sharp pinch [hunger and cold] rather than return to Goneril's and allow half of his train to be dismissed.


     
                  O, reason not the need! our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life's as cheap as beast's.

    —King Lear tells Regan that need [of a train] should be irrelevant as even the poorest beggar possesses something not necessary to maintain life: allow only the necessities and man's life becomes as meaningless as a beast's.


                        And let not women's weapons, water-drops,
Stain my man's cheeks!

    —King Lear pleads with the heavens not to let him cry.
                  I have full cause of weeping; but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,
Or ere I'll weep. O Fool, I shall go mad!

    —King Lear says that though he has a good cause for weeping, his heart will break into fragments before he will weep. Then he crys out to the fool that he shall go mad.


     
                  Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

    —King Lear dares the wind, rain, lightning and thunder to do their worst: to rage until the weathercocks on the steeples are drowned, to scorch his white head, to strike flat the earth's roundness, to crack the molds nature uses to replenish the life which supports ungrateful man!


     
                  I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;
I never gave you kingdom, call'd you children,
You owe me no subscription: then let fall
Your horrible pleasure: here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man:

    —King Lear tells the elements he does not blame them [for their fury] because he never gave them his kingdom, or called them children, so they owe him no allegiance: then let loose what you will: here I stand a slave to "your horrible pleasure," a poor, feeble, weak and despised old man.


     
                The Fool:  For there was never yet fair woman but she made / mouths in a glass.
               King Lear: No, I will be the pattern of all patience; / I will say nothing.

    —The Fool is trying [unsuccessfully] to divert Lear from his troubles and the storm. King Lear's response is a total disconnect; he seems not to have been listening to anything but his own dark thoughts.


     
                  I am a man
More sinn'd against than sinning.

    —King Lear encourages the gods that control the elements to strike their enemies [enemies to good] and lists different types of sinners, concluding that the balance of sin is in his favor: the sins against him are greater than the sins he has committed.


     

                  The art of our necessities is strange,
That can make vile things precious. Come, your hovel.

    —King Lear thinks that his wits might be in jeopardy which makes him notice the cold; he remarks with wonder how the necessities of the body can make a vile hovel seem precious when you are wet and cold in a storm.


     

                  O, that way madness lies; let me shun that;

    —King Lear's thoughts keep returning to Goneril and Regan's betrayal, until he reminds himself that dwelling on such dark thoughts is the path to madness which he must avoid.


     
                  Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel

    —King Lear's thoughts turn to the plight of the poor and their vulnerability in a storm, a subject he acknowledges he has considered too little in his life. Lear dares himself to take his cure [his 'physic' or course of medicine] by exposing himself to what the 'houseless' wretches must endure.


     
Edgar
                  Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill: alow, alow,
loo, loo!
    —Edgar, still pretending madness, sings a fragment of an old rhyme, followed by hunting cries or a ballad refrain; 'Pillicock' was both a term of endearment and a euphemism for penis.

                  out-paramoured the Turk:
Still telling mad stories about doing the 'act of darkness' with his previous mistress, Edgar now claims that he has had more mistresses than the Sultan.


     
King Lear                  Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou
owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep
no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on
's are sophisticated! Thou art the thing itself:
unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare,
forked animal as thou art. Off, off, you lendings!
come unbutton here.

    —Ignoring Edgar's mad stories, King Lear is still reconsidering human limitations in light of their vulnerability to storms, and concludes that without possessions [without borrowing from other animals], man is 'such a poor bare, forked animal' and immediately starts tearing off his own clothing, as if to prove his own point.


     

                  Prithee, nuncle, be contented; 'tis a naughty
night to swim in.


    —The fool is trying to discourage King Lear from taking off his clothes.



     
                  drinks the green mantle of the
standing pool;

    —Edgar continues spinning Poor Tom's hardships as his disguise.                
   But mice and rats, and such small deer,
Have been Tom's food for seven long year.

    —Tom's life has been been a constant struggle to survive for seven long years.                
   The prince of darkness is a gentleman:

    —Consorting with the devil is not nearly so loathsome when the devil is a gentleman.                
   His word was still, "Fie, foh, and fum,
I smell the blood of a British man."

    —Edgar lends credence to his disguise as Tom o' Bedlam with these rambling comments about Child Rowland.