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Quotes in King Lear

Quotes Examples in King Lear:

Act I - Scene I

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"Nothing will come of nothing..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Lear warns Cordelia that she will receive nothing from him if she doesn't profess her love. Cordelia loves Lear the most, but cannot find the words to express it. Her sisters, Goneril and Regan, deceive their father with flattery. The phrase "nothing will come of nothing" was a credo accepted by Christians during the Middle Ages. Of course, an important (Christian) exception is that God created the world from nothing.

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Goneril's ingratitude is "sharper than a serpent's tooth." Lear demands that Nature make Goneril infertile or that she be cursed with monstrous offspring. Lear clearly views either outcome as punishment for her betrayal; however, he doesn't seem to view his own serpent-like children as a potential reflection of his own character flaws (his arrogance, for example).

"More sinned against than sinning...."   (Act III - Scene II)

Lear calls upon the gods to avenge him because he can no longer do so. Lear ceded his authority to his daughters and was betrayed; he is now a "poor, infirm, weak, and despis'd old man" (line 20). Though he invokes the "dreadful summoners" to execute justice, he quickly adds that he is "More sinned against than sinning" and therefore doesn't need to be punished. Lear still seems unable to recognize his own flaws.

"O, that way madness lies;..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

King Lear believes that he will go mad if he continues to obsess about his daughters' betrayal. He is already going mad because of his obsession with Regan's and Goneril's crimes, so his sudden insistence on shunning the topic is potentially a further symptom of madness.

"Take physic, pomp..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

The "physic" Lear refers to is human wretchedness. For the first time in his life, Lear has been subjected to poverty and pain. The "pomp" of his former life blinded him to human suffering—he has "ta'en/Too little care" of the poor. He now calls upon all pompous men to experience the "physic" that is human suffering.

"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath...."   (Act III - Scene VI)

King Lear's jester, like many of the fools in Shakespeare's plays, is the person who usually perceives situations in the most honest way. Even though Lear is now completely dejected and mad, his jester continues to chide him about his character flaws—namely the arrogance that prompted Lear to give his kingdom to his ungrateful and wicked daughters.

"I have no way, and therefore want no eyes;..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Gloucester's resignation epitomizes the fatalism present in most of the play. Fate directs the outcome for each character, so it doesn't matter what a person does; his/her end has already been written. Gloucester doesn't need eyes to see that he has nowhere to go—he already knows it.

"every inch a king:..."   (Act IV - Scene VI)

Though Lear is technically the king, he doesn't seem very kingly anymore. We have seen him deteriorate ever since the betrayal of his daughters. Lear himself has denounced the pomp of kingship, so declaring himself "every inch a king" seems both mad and desperate.

"we came crying hither: Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air, We wawl and cry. ..."   (Act IV - Scene VI)

Shakespeare creates a poetic conceit out of the commonplace occurrence of newborns crying when they are born (which is how they clear their air passages and start breathing). King Lear suggests, however, that newborns cry because they are somehow aware that they have entered the world of suffering.

"full circle: ..."   (Act V - Scene III)

"Full circle" means that the wheel of fortune has completed its circuit and Edmund's horrendous deeds have returned to haunt him. "Full circle" is not karma, however; it is Fate.

"let's away to prison:..."   (Act V - Scene III)

King Lear fantasizes about spending the rest of his life in prison with his daughter, Cordelia. He can't seem to face the reality that neither of them will likely be spared in the British camp.

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