King Lear Themes

Wisdom/knowledge/self-knowledgeCordelia – “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less.” (Act 1.1, Line 91)Kent – ” Do; Kill thy physician and the fee bestow upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy doom; or, whilst I can vest clamor from my throat, I’ll tell thee thou dost evil.” (Act 1.1, Line 164)Lear – “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” (Act 3.2, Line 57) Cordelia tells her father that she does not have the ability to top her sisters’ compliments. She knows that she cannot express her love for her father in words. She explains how she does not know how to communicate like them to manipulate her father which causes him to disown her in the end.Kent is attempting to tell King Lear that he’s done a very bad thing by banishing Cordelia.King Lear explains that people have sinned against him more than he has sinned in his life.
Morality/immoralityCordelia – “Why have my sisters husbands, if they say they love you all? Haply, when I shall wed, that lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry half my love with him, half my care and duty.” (Act 1.1, Line 99)Kent – ” Do; Kill thy physician and the fee bestow upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy doom; or, whilst I can vest clamor from my throat, I’ll tell thee thou dost evil.” (Act 1.1, Line 164) Cordelia believes it is not right that her sisters would rather give all of their love to their father and not their husbands. She explains in this quote that when she has a husband, she will make sure her husband will receive her love. The significance of her speech is to show that it is wrong to reserve all of her love for just her father.Kent believes that what King Lear did to Cordelia was not right. He tries to explain to the king about his wrong actions.
Foolishness/follyLear – “Let it be so! Thy truth, then, be thy dower! For, by the sacred radiance of the sun, the mysteries of Hecate, and the night; By all the operation of the orbs from whom we do exist and cease to be; Here I disclaim all my paternal care, Propinquity and property of blood, and as a stranger to my heart and me hold these, from this, for ever.” (Act 1.1, Line 109)”These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us. Though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects” (Act 1.2, Line 104) King Lear immediately disowns his daughter after she gave him a reasonable explanation as to why she could not express her love as powerful as her sisters. He believes that because Cordelia does not think the same way as her sisters, she is not worthy to be his daughter. This is foolish of King Lear because Cordelia was, in fact, his favorite but he chooses to throw her away just because of her outlook on love. He took such a small problem and turned it into a major issue.Gloucester is simply stating that “eclipses” are the reason why discord is occurring in his family, rather than finding out the real reason and failing to realize Edmund’s dishonesty and automatically assuming the worst about Edgar
Fortune/fortune’s wheelKent – “Fortune, good night; smile once more; turn thy wheel!” (Act 2.4, Line 167)Edmund – “The wheel is come full circle! I am here.” (Act 5.3, Line 174)Gloucester – “I have o’erheard a plot of death upon him.” (Act 3.6, Line 89) This quote is self-explanatory. Kent is placed in the stocks and as he catches up on his sleep, he wishes for the situation he is in to change.Edmund tells Edgar that his evil actions have returned to haunt him. The wheel is a representation that whatever had happened in the past has returned as if completing a cycle.Gloucester reveals King Lear’s fate.
Vision/eyes/seeingFool – “All that follow their noses are led by their eyes but blind men, and there’s not a nose among twenty but can smell him that’s stinking.” (Act 2.4, Line 66)Gloucester – “O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter! Abhorred villain! Unnatural, detested, brutish villain! worse than brutish! Go, sirrah, seek him. I’ll apprehend him. Abominable villain! Where is he?” (Act 1.2, Line 76)Gloucester – ” O dear son Edgar, The food of thy abus├Ęd father’s wrath, Might I but live to see thee in my touch,I’d say I had eyes again!” (Act 4.1, Line 24) The fool explains that everyone can see the king’s misery. Even blind men can smell that he is in distress. The fool tells Kent that King Lear is unable to see the trouble that will occur to him.Gloucester sees that Edgar is not a good son from what Edmund told him.Gloucester realizes that his blame on Edgar was wrong and that he regrets not loving him after he found out the truth when his eyes were gouged out.
Nature/naturalLear – “For, by the sacred radiance of the sun, the mysteries of Hecate, and the night; by all the operation of the orbs from whom we do exist and cease to be; here I disclaim all my paternal care, propinquity and property of blood” (Act 1.1, Line 110)Edmund – “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behavior, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains by necessity” (Act 1.2, Line 117)Lear – “I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.I never gave you kingdom, called you children.You owe me no subscription.” (Act 3.2, Line 16) King Lear calls out nature (the sun, night, etc.) to witness the detachment of the relationship between himself and Cordelia.Edmund complains how everyone prefers to blame nature on their actions.King Lear calls out on nature and dares it to give him its worst because he does not owe nature anything.

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