Imagery in King Lear

Shakespeare uses imagery (writing that appeals to the senses) to complicate various themes of the play. One of the most notable examples of imagery in King Lear is imagery of the eyes in association with blindness and a lack of insight.

Imagery Examples in King Lear:

Act II - Scene I 1

"O, madam, my old heart is cracked, it's cracked!..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Gloucester’s use of “cracked” speaks to a breaking down of function and order, and the image of things, like Gloucester’s heart, becoming “cracked” appears elsewhere in the play and signifies madness. Shakespeare uses the imagery of the cracked heart in this line to help illustrate the connection between the pain of betrayal, like Lear has experienced, and madness.

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!..."   (Act III - Scene II)

This scene opens with Lear raging at the storm itself. Notice here the reappearance of the word “crack,” which brings to mind Lear’s earlier in Act II, scene i that his “my old heart is cracked, it's cracked!” Then, the word referred to the breaking down of Lear’s family structure and power, and here he invokes the storm’s wrath to destroy the law of the land. The storm carries on, physically causing chaos and metaphorically representing the disorder of the country.

"The holy water from her heavenly eyes,..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

Note the religious imagery that the Gentlemen uses to describe Cordelia’s reaction to the letter. Her tears are “holy water” and her eyes are “heavenly.” In comparison to her two sisters, Cordelia is characterized as angelic and saintly, and her compassion elevates her almost to a level of veneration. Furthermore, emphasizing Cordelia’s gentle nature here reminds the viewer of just how monstrous her sisters are.