20th March 2018

King Lear Notes



Act 1, scene 1


Page 11, King Lear.  Which of you shall we say doth love us most?

         That we our largest bounty may extend

          Where nature doth with merit challenge.


Page 15, King Lear.  By all the operation of the orbs*

From whom we do exist and cease to be*;

*Orbs: a ball which you look into to see your fate. The meaning of this is then: by control of God/fate.

*Be, meaning who create and end humans.


Page 15, King Lear.  Come not between the dragon and his wrath.


Page 15, King Lear.  Let pride, which she calls plainness, marry her.*

*This shows Cordelia’s weakness is pride


Page 17, King Lear.  The bow is bent and drawn, make from the shaft.*

*Keep out of the way my mind is made up. The arrow is drawn and bent means he can return, he can go back, but he is set on going ahead, even though the option is there.


Act 1, scene 2

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Edmunds speech beginning with:

“I do not well know, my lord. If it shall please

you to suspend your indignation against my

brother till you can derive from him better

testimony of his intent, you shall run a certain

course; where, if you violently proceed against

him, mistaking his purpose, it would make a great

the gap in your own honour, and shake in pieces the

heart of his obedience. I dare pawn down my life

for him, that he hath wrote this to feel my

affection to your honour, and to no further

the pretence of danger.”



‘I’m not sure, sir. If you could manage to contain your indignation against my brother till you can get a better picture of his intentions, it would be better because if you’re mistaken and over-react it would greatly damage your honour and shake his loyalty to the core. I’d stake my life on his loyalty: I think he’s written this to test my affection for your honour, and without any harmful intention.


Gloucester’s speech beginning with:

These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend

no good to us: through the wisdom of nature can

the reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself

scourged by the sequent effects: love cools,

friendship falls off, brothers divide: in

cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in

palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son

and father. This villain of mine comes under the

prediction; there’s son against father: the king

falls from bias of nature; there’s father against

child. We have seen the best of our time:

machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all

ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our

graves. Find out this villain, Edmund; it shall

lose thee nothing; do it carefully. And the

noble and true-hearted Kent banished! his

offence, honesty! ‘Tis strange.



Gloucester shook his head vigorously. ‘These recent eclipses of the sun and moon don’t bode well for us,’ he said, ‘though wise men can explain it away as this or that, nevertheless we still have to suffer the consequences. Love cools, friendship dwindles, brothers are divided – riots in cities, civil wars in countries, treason in palaces and the bond between father and son broken. This villain of mine falls into that mould – son against father. The king goes against his own nature: there’s father against child. Our best years are behind us. Plots, hypocrisy, treachery and chaos follow us distressingly to our graves. Investigate this villain, Edmund – you won’t lose anything by it – do it discreetly. And the noble and loyal Kent banished! His offence, honesty! It’s strange.’ He patted Edmund’s back and stumbled away, shaking his head.


  • This is the same as the previous scene, where King Lear’s two children who flattered him against their sister Cordelia, Edmund is going to overthrow and get rid of Edgar.


Edmunds speech beginning with:

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; fools by

heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and

treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,

liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of

planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,

by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion

of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish

disposition to the charge of a star! My

father compounded with my mother under the

dragon’s tail; and my nativity was under Ursa

major; so that it follows, I am rough and

lecherous. Tut, I should have been that I am,

had the maidenliest star in the firmament

twinkled on my bastardizing.



Edmund knew where his brother was and he made his way there. What his father had been saying was typical of the stupidity of the people around him: that when something bad happened, often as a result of our own extravagant behaviour, we blame it on the sun, the moon, the stars, as though we can’t help being villains – fools because heaven has commanded us to be fools: knaves, thieves and traitors because of the position of the spheres at our birth: forced to be drunkards, liars and adulterers by the stars, and all the evil in us thrust on us by divine intervention. What a wonderful evasion by a lecher to blame his goat-like disposition on a star! His father mated with his mother under the Dragon’s tail and he was born under the influence of Ursa Major, so it followed that he was rough and lecherous! Rubbish! He would have been exactly the same if the most chaste star in the firmament had twinkled over his bastardy!


Act 1, scene 3

The whole scene is based on the king and his daughter who is sick of her father doing nasty things, all the time.


Act 1, scene 4


The meaning of this scene is not entirely clear, it references not eating fish in the last line, meaning Catholics only ate fish on Fridays, so lear is saying he won’t stray from the rules.

Lear is not used to being told any, he no longer holds power, he has summoned his daughters, however now they have power and no longer go see him, so king lear is reacting to being told no.


Goneril finally comes to visit, and the fool is making fun of the king. Goneril comes to say the armies are fighting because of himself and she is saying he is losing it.


Page 81, Fool, “The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long, that it had it head bit off by it young”, is a nasty bird which steals and overrides it, Lear is the hedge sparrow and no Goneril is the cuckoo.


King Lear has now disowned his daughter, he now goes off to see Regan who he thinks may be his only daughter who loves him.


Page 87, King Lear, “It may be so, my lord.

Hear, nature, hear; dear goddess, hear!

Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend

To make this creature fruitful!

Into her womb convey sterility!

Dry up in her the organs of increase;

And from her derogate body never spring

A babe to honour her! If she must teem,

Create her child of spleen; that it may live,

And be a thwart disnatured torment to her!

Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth;

With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks;

Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits

To laughter and contempt; that she may feel

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is

To have a thankless child! Away, away!”


This is a heavy insult towards Goneril.


Insulting your daughter:

My daughter, you disgust me, your presence is like the smell of puke,

your good for nothing you worthless whore,

you sleep around making no attempt to support yourself.

Your fat slut, do you really think anyone to love you,

your dead mother killed herself out of hatred for your guts.

Why do you even return home, I care nothing about your wellbeing or whereabouts,

Go, return to your brothel you apaling girl.

Act 3 scene 1

Lines 4 to 14. What impression of Lear does the gentleman give? – Use evidence to support your answer and explain the specific images he uses to create this impression.

Act 3 scene 2

What images does Lear use in lines 1 to 9? What do they say of his inner mental state?

Act 3 scene 4

At the beginning of the scene, Lear speaks of “Tempest” in his mind

Find 2 quotes where he talks about this tempest. Explain what he is saying. Analyse the use of the word “tempest” – why would Shakespeare use the particular word to describe what is going on inside Lear’s head.

  1. “The tempest in my mind Doth from my senses take all feelings else Save what beats there.” – This means that Lear has a storm going on inside his head. As tempest means a violent windy storm. I think Shakespeare chose this word because it is an accurate representation of what Lear is thinking and what is occurring inside his head. The storm is caused by his daughter’s disrespecting him, and he is overthrown as King and now very poor, basically he has had a very bad run of events which have lead him to where he is now.
  2. “This tempest will not give me leave to ponder…” – This means that the storm gives him no break it constantly rages on inside his head. He tries to get it to leave so he can think clearly but you cannot rush a storm, it leaves when it wants to. This is only going to cause further issues for Lear and drive him crazier as I think we will see. This is all because of what his daughter and others have done to him. He is saying that the storm is nothing compared to the things that have happened to him, he is not sure what is going on.

Act 4 scene 2

Lines 38 to 49

  1. Transcribe the speech

ALBANY – Goneril, you aren’t worth the dust the wind blows in your face. I don’t trust you. You can’t trust anyone who abuses her own father, her flesh and blood. A woman who breaks off relations with her bloodline is like a branch that tries to break away from the tree. She will wither and come to a bad end.

GONERIL – Oh, shut up. Your words are idiotic.

ALBANY – Bad people can’t appreciate wisdom or goodness. They only like things as bad as themselves. What have you two sisters done? You’re tigers, not daughters. Barbaric degenerates, you’ve driven insane a kindly old father, whom even an angry bear would treat gently. Could my good brother-in-law—a man to whom the king gave half his kingdom—have allowed you to do it? If the heavens don’t punish these crimes immediately, the end will come. Human beings will become cannibals, like ravenous sea fishes.
  1. Examine the use of the word ‘tigers’ to describe Regan and Goneril. What does this word imply? Analyse its connotations

By calling them tigers rather than daughters implies that they are evil, they rip into people and act like animals, no regard for others. A tiger is a killer, an animal that looks after itself, first and foremost. Goneril and Regan have cast out their father, practically killed him off. They hid in the shadows and then ponced and took down their father.

  1. What picture is painted of Lear in this speech? What significant things do you notice about the language used to describe him?

He paints Lear as a victim. He calls him gracious and their father. He describes Lear as if he is in the right and that them his daughters have wronged him deeply. The language used is kind and as if he were referring to a friend or a brother.

Respond now!