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Vocabulary in King Lear
Vocabulary Examples in King Lear:
Act I - Scene I
"Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
The adjective here is actually “plighted” and it refers to a bad condition or state. So, Cordelia is suggesting that the sisters’ cunning, or plans to gain power from their father, are not as subtle or crafty as they believe. The word “hides” relates to the theme of blindness and insight: the truth of the sisters’ plans will be uncovered and the faults in their characters will be revealed.
"yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
In this context, “slenderly” means “slightly” or “barely.” Regan and Goneril are discussing their concerns about their father’s actions, and Regan’s comment illustrates that Lear has always lacked any amount of personal insight. Their conversation suggests that they will find ways to deny their father authority and power in order to increase their own. Note how Goneril says that they must “look to his age” to inform their actions because of the “unruly waywardness” that Lear’s old age has caused. This means that they’ll likely argue that Lear is not fit enough to rule or make decisions for himself.
"For you, great king..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Lear says this part to the King of France. Since he has stripped Cordelia of her dowry, Lear tells the King of France that he should withdraw his courtship of Cordelia in favor of someone "worthier," which is to say someone with more possessions and wealth. The King of France's response demonstrates how such worth is not how he values people, particularly one he loves.
"strangered..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
When the noun “stranger” is used as a verb, the desired effect is to make someone or something become a stranger. Since Lear is Cordelia’s father and guardian, this verb takes on the additional meaning of “disowned” to emphasize how Cordelia is not only now a stranger to Lear, but she has also been stripped of her dowry.
"sith..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
This is an archaic spelling of the word "since." Another archaic usage is the second person singular, or "thou" that is used throughout. While today we use "you" as a singular and plural pronoun, historically the use of "thou" for a singular pronoun was common—parallel to tu and vous in French.
"recreant..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Lear’s accusing Kent a “recreant” means that he considers Kent “unfaithful” or a “traitor.” A recreant is someone who is unfaithful to a belief, and since Lear is the king and sovereign, it is expected that his subjects obey his will and follow his orders. Lear’s use of this word reinforces this image of Lear as someone who expects obedience from others.
"Know that we..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Lear’s choice of words reveals an example of the royal “we” used by ruling monarchs to emphasize how they speak for the nation, rather than for themselves by using the pronouns “we,” “our,” and “ours.”
"I cannot conceive you. ..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Shakespeare has the Earl of Kent use the word “conceive” here to mean that he doesn’t quite follow what the Earl of Gloucester is saying. However, Gloucester uses Kent’s choice of words as an opportunity to use its other meaning: the ability for a woman to get pregnant. The exchange is likely meant to be humorous for Shakespeare’s audience, who would have appreciated the low-brow humor.
"his generation messes..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
In this context, the word “messes” refers to “meals” or “food.” Since Lear includes the words “his generation” (meaning here one’s own children) along with gorging an appetite, Lear is referring to cannibalism.
"moiety..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
An archaic term, “moiety” means a half, or a part or a portion of something. In this case, the Earls of Kent and Gloucester are discussing Lear’s plans to give up the throne and give it to his daughters.
"barbarous..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
In all contexts, the adjective “barbarous” has negative connotations. Its meaning ranges from uncivilized to lacking culture to being mercilessly harsh or cruel. Here, Lear emphasizes how he feels about Cordelia by stating that she is the same to him as any the barbarous Scythian.
"adieu..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
The French word adieu means “farewell.” However, due to the long history between the English and the French, many French words have been appropriated into the English language and are commonly used even to this day. In Shakespeare’s time, the ruling classes had stronger ties with the French than the lower classes, and so the prevalence of French words in aristocratic speech was much more common.
"orbs..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
In this context, an “orb” is a planet. King Lear is swearing by the sun, moon, and all planets that he disowns Cordelia.
"miscreant..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
A “miscreant” is someone who is villainous or depraved. King Lear automatically calls his most trusted advisor a miscreant for trying to defend Cordelia.
"mar..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
To “mar” means to spoil or ruin. King Lear is suggesting that he is unsatisfied with Cordelia’s reply, and that she should amend it so that she does not harm her chances of receiving a dowry.
"liege..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
A “liege” is a sovereign to whom allegiance is due—in this case, King Lear. The phrase “my liege” has a connotation of loyalty and respect when addressing the ruler, similar to the phrase “my lord.”
"Hecate..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Hecate is the greek goddess of witchcraft and the moon. Throughout the play, King Lear will refer to various gods and goddesses as a way to appeal to divine justice and a sense of natural order to make sense of events.
"durst ..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
The term “durst” is the archaic form of the verb “dare.” King Lear is saying that he has not been so bold as to break any vow yet.
"dowers..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
A “dower,” or dowry, is the estate that a wife brings to her husband. King Lear will divide his estate into three parts and announce each of his daughters’ dowries depending upon who loves him most.
"champains riched..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
“Champains riched” means rich and open countryside. King Lear gives Goneril lands that are rich and beautiful for her declaration of filial love.
"brazed..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
“Brazed” means hardened or impervious, usually in regard to feelings of shame or embarrassment. The Earl of Gloucester is essentially stating that he has had to acknowledge Edmund as his illegitimate son so many times that he no longer feels embarrassed by admitting it.
"benison..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
A “benison” is a spoken blessing or benediction. Here, King Lear refuses to give his blessing for Cordelia’s marriage to the King of France.
Act I - Scene II
"moonshines..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
When coupled with the numbers twelve and fourteen, we understand that this is an archaic term for months, the length of which were originally derived by cycles of the moons.
"unstate ..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
To “unstate” means to give up one’s rank or wealth. Here, Gloucester is essentially saying that he would give anything to be free of doubts about the letter’s veracity.
"fops..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
The word “fop” has negative connotations and is the equivalent to calling someone a weak-minded fool. This word choice provides insight into how Edmund views those around him.
"Tom o' Bedlam..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
“Tom o’ Bedlam” is not a specific person, but rather the name given to any person that is a wandering beggar. When Edmund says he must, “sigh like Tom o’ Bedlam,” he means that he must feign sadness and regret, and sigh like a beggar.
"fain..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
The word “fain,” no longer in common use, means “willingly” or “obligingly.” In this context, Edmund says that if the letter had good news, he would swear the handwriting to be his brothers. Since it contains bad news, he says he’s inclined to believe to not be Edgar’s.
"surfeit..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
“Surfeits” are excesses. Edmund suggests that humans attempt to blame the heavens or nature for their misfortunes, but it is often human desire for excess that is actually to blame when things go awry.
"My father compounded with my mother ..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
The verb “compound” means to put together parts so as to form a whole. Based on the context here, we see that Edmund is using it as a term to mean that his parents had sexual intercourse.
"casement ..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
A “casement” is a window, and a “closet,” in this context, is a private room. Edmund is saying that the letter had been thrown into his room through the window.
"cue..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
A "cue" is a signal for an actor's entrance or speech; Edmund is sarcastically saying that Edgar has entered right on schedule.
"base..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
In this context, “base” is an adjective used to describe someone who is lowborn. In Shakespeare’s time, Edmund would be considered base because he was born out of wedlock.
"comedy..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
Today we recognize comedy as a particular genre involving humorous events and storylines. However, here Edmund uses its more traditional meaning—simply, a play or a drama.
"auricular assurance..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
The phrase “auricular assurance” means to hear for oneself. Edmund is offering to speak to Edgar to secure his confession, while Gloucester secretly listens in.
"France in choler parted!..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
In medieval science, emotions were believed to be derived from bodily fluids, or humors, and the balance of them. In this case, choler refers to yellow bile, a humor associated with the liver and believed to cause anger. So, Gloucester is saying that the King of France left Lear’s court in anger.
"anon..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
“Anon” is an archaic adjective meaning “soon” or “quickly.” Edgar’s haste indicates that he trusts that Edmund’s warning is true, and awaits further advising.
"character..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
By “character,” Gloucester means the handwriting in the letter. Note here how he trusts Edmund to answer this question, suggesting that Gloucester either doesn’t know his son Edgar’s handwriting or that he blindly trusts Edmund to tell the truth.
"abominable..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
“Abominable” means detestable and loathsome. Gloucester believes that Edgar has written the letter, and he immediately views his son as a villain without seeking any explanation from Edgar.
"if this letter speed, And my invention thrive..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
In addition to Edmund revealing his ambitious desires, we also learn here of how he will begin to realize them. The mention of a letter in conjunction with the phrase “invention thrive” (which means that a fabrication or a lie does what it is intended to do) tells us that Edmund has created a letter meant to accomplish a certain goal. We shall shortly see what the goal is and the contents of the letter.
Act I - Scene III
Act I - Scene IV
"She'll flay thy wolvish visage...." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
“Visage” means “face.” Lear curses Goneril by comparing her to an animal; in this case, her face to a wolf. In doing this, Lear states that Goneril is no better than an animal in her disposition and behavior—she does not have the respect for family ties that a human should.
"your whoreson dog! you slave! you cur!..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
A “whoreson” is a bastard son, and a “cur” is a low-bred dog. Lear uses references to various animals to insult and degrade others. Throughout the play, Shakespeare will use animals to symbolize the lowest status to which humans can descend.
"deboshed ..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
“Deboshed” is an early variant of the term “debauched,” which means depraved. King Lear’s attendants are again described as being an unruly and rowdy bunch.
"retinue..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
A “retinue” is a group of attendants accompanying a high-ranking person. Goneril considers King Lear’s retinue extremely obnoxious, and he finds this offensive and disrespectful.
"lubber's length..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
A “lubber” is a clumsy, stupid fellow, and to “measure one’s length” means to fall flat on the ground. The disguised Earl of Kent is taunting Oswald here, suggesting that Oswald can “tarry,” meaning stay put, but he will only be further made a fool of when Kent trips him again.
"knave..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
A “knave” is a servant or a tricky and deceitful fellow. King Lear uses the term to refer to his Fool, who is both his servant, and a bit of a wise trickster. The Fool can be honest in his clever insights, but any criticism of King Lear is lightened with humor.
"epicurism..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
Goneril is outraged by the behavior of her father’s servants. Among many things, she accuses the servants of “epicurism,” which is the philosophy of pleasure-seeking.
"Sirrah, you were best take my coxcomb...." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
A “coxcomb” is a fool’s hat, which has a red crest resembling a cock’s comb. As the Fool attempts to place his coxcomb on the Earl of Kent’s head, the coxcomb becomes a symbol of Kent’s foolishness for following King Lear despite Lear’s irrational political choices.
"clotpoll..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
A “clotpoll,” also spelled “clodpoll,” is a blockhead or dolt. King Lear is using this word as an insult to Oswald.
"attasked..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
To be “attasked” for something is to be blamed for it. Goneril is essentially saying that Albany’s concern for King Lear shows his ignorance, rather than his kindness.
"abatement..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
An “abatement” is a reduction. The knight has noticed that King Lear is being treated unkindly by his servants, the duke, and his own daughter.
"thou hast pared thy wit o' both sides, and left nothing i' the middle..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
The Fool does not make a direct point here, preferring to convey it through an image. The verb “to pare” means to slice or cut, and so the Fool says that Lear has cut off his intelligence on both sides, which could symbolically refer to Goneril and Regan since Lear gave each of them half of his estate. Having done this, Lear has “left nothing in the middle.” Therefore, the Fool suggests that Lear’s having no power or land of his own is the result of not having any “wit,” or power of reason.
Act I - Scene V
" slip-shod..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
The word “slip-shod” refers to walking in footwear that loosely fits one’s foot. The joke here is that since Lear’s wit is not in his heels, his brain won’t need slippers to protect it. The jokes in this passage are not meant to be funny, and as keen readers will notice, Lear is barely listening to the Fool, who continues to tease him.
"kibes..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
These are small, open sores that can form on the heel when walking and not providing one’s feet with proper protection, such as either wearing poorly fitting shoes or none at all. Additionally, they can form from frostbite, or exposure to cold temperatures.
Act II - Scene I
"moon..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
The moon in this context refers to Hecate, the Greek goddess of the moon and witchcraft. By telling Gloucester that Edgar was invoking Hecate and mumbling “wicked” incantations, Edmund associates Edgar with dark magic. This slick trickery helps Edmund to further deceive Gloucester, and others, into being convinced of Edgar’s guilt and villainy.
"capable..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
In this context “capable” means “able to inherit.” When Gloucester states that he will “make Edmund” capable,” he means that he will find some way to make Edmund his heir. During this time, Gloucester would face difficulty doing so since Edmund is an “illegitimate” son—the legal system would recognize Edgar as the rightful heir.
"bewray ..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
“Bewray” means to expose or divulge someone’s secrets. Gloucester is telling Cornwall that Edmund has exposed Edgar’s murderous plans.
"alarumed..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
“Alarumed” is an archaic word meaning “stirred.” What Edmund describes here is something similar to an adrenaline rush. Edmund means that Edgar was scared off by Edmund’s emboldened and energized response in the face of a budding quarrel.
"'twixt..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
The presence of the apostrophe at the beginning of a word, like here, signals an omission of letters. While “‘twixt” and “twixt” are found in the dictionary, they are a shortening of the word “betwixt,” which means “between.” Curan is therefore asking Edmund if he has heard the rumors of war occurring between Albany and Cornwall.
"ear-kissing arguments?..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
An ear being kissed is easy to picture: someone’s mouth is close to another’s ear. Such an image is often associated with whispers, rumors, or confessions. In this case, “ear-kissing arguments,” in conjunction with the word “whispers” earlier, means “rumors.”
Act II - Scene III
"Blanket my loins: elf all my hair in knots;(10)..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
When Edgar says that he will “blanket [his] loins” and “elf all [his] hair in knots,” this means that he will wear a loincloth and make his hair matted and tangled. This will help Edgar disguise himself as a beggar, which will certainly differ from his appearance as a nobleman. However, consider Edgar’s disguise in comparison to Kent’s. Neither disguise should really fool those who know them well, and yet they seem to—again showing how much certain characters lack insight.
Act II - Scene IV
"dolors..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
“Dolor” means grief or suffering, but “dollar” is the English name for the German coin “thaler” of varying value. The Fool may be using the term for its double meaning, suggesting that Lear’s daughters will give him more pain than money in the coming year.
"Ha, ha! he wears cruel garters..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Upon seeing Kent, the Fool immediately starts to ridicule him. He calls the stocks Kent’s “cruel garters” (garters being a band worn to keep socks or stockings up one’s leg) and his “wooden nether-socks.” Since clothes often represent station in Shakespeare’s plays, the Fool uses such language to portray Kent’s pitiful position.
Act III - Scene I
"Fie on this storm!..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Pronounced “figh,” “fie” is an interjection means to express distaste, anger, or outrage at someone or something that has occurred. When something is the target of the interjection, it is followed by the preposition “on.” In this context, Kent is expressing his anger at the physical storm happening in the area; however, we can also examine the storm as a metaphor for the disorder happening in the kingdom and the disintegration of the lawful order.
"out-wall..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
By “out-wall” Kent is referring to his outward disguise. Kent does not want his identity to be revealed, and thus sends identifying items that only Cordelia would know to be his.
Act III - Scene II
"pother..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
A “pother” is a disturbance or an uproar. The “dreadful” disturbance that Lear is referring to is the storm. Lear again invokes the gods, associating them with divine order and justice. He suggests that they will move the storm “o’er the heads” of those who truly deserve it—the murderers and “incestuous” villains.
"cataracts ..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Shakespeare uses the term “cataracts” to mean the figurative floodgates of heaven, which are thought to hold back the rain. Notice that Lear speaks directly to these floodgates, stating: “You cataracts and hurricanoes.” This is an example of personification, or attributing human qualities to non-human things.
"all germains spill at once, That make ingrateful man!..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
As Lear calls on the storm to throw the world into chaos, this line provides support for how his anger is targeted at his daughters. The word “germains” means something akin to “seeds,” and so Lear is asking the storm to destroy all the seeds from which ungrateful people grow. Lear considers his daughters monstrously ungrateful for everything he has done for them, and his anger reveals itself further here.
Act III - Scene IV
"Come, good Athenian. ..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Moments earlier, Lear told Kent that he will go but will take the disguised Edgar with him, claiming Edgar to be his “philosopher.” Calling Edgar a “good Athenian” serves to also call him a Greek philosopher, because the people of Athens were associated with the field of philosophy and the pursuit of knowledge. In doing this, Lear shows that he values the disguised Edgar as a person of wisdom and knowledge, and since Edgar is appearing to be mad, Lear's preferring his company speaks to Lear's mindset.
"Those pelican daughters...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
During Shakespeare's time it was commonly believed that pelican young fed off of their mother’s own blood. Lear is suggesting that he has been a good father, charitable and kind, and Goneril and Regan have been incredibly ungrateful. Notice again, the use of animals to symbolize Goneril and Regan’s lack of basic compassion and humanity.
"Fathom and half, fathom and half!..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
A “fathom” is a unit of length comprised of about six feet. When Edgar exclaims that the water in the hovel is a “fathom and half,” this means nine feet in depth. Note that Edgar is merely pretending to be mad here, as opposed to Lear who is actually becoming mad.
"Take physic, pomp, Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
By “Take physic, pomp” King Lear means something like, "pompous men, take a taste of your own medicine." The medicine (“physic”) that Lear is thinking of is exposure to the elements. Lear has been thrown out by his ungrateful daughters, and for the first time, is exposed to the elements of nature as a poor man rather than a “pomp.” His current situation helps him to recognize that he has not helped those in need as much as he could. Lear suggests that the rich be exposed to this level of poverty to come to the same humble realization.
Act III - Scene VI
"litter..." See in text (Act III - Scene VI)
Gloucester has prepared a “litter” (a carriage or cart) to help get Lear to safety. Gloucester’s willingness to protect Lear, potentially at the expense of his own safety, shows that Gloucester is loyal to Lear. Gloucester is willing to sacrifice himself for Lear, and for what he considers the rightful social and familial order.
"Hopdance..." See in text (Act III - Scene VI)
“Hoppedance” refers to “Hoberdidance,” which is the name of a malevolent sprite or fiend that is mentioned in the morris dance. The morris dance is a lively English traditional folk dance, usually accompanied by music.
"Frateretto calls me; and tells me Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness...." See in text (Act III - Scene VI)
In the context of Edgar’s phrase, “Frateretto” likely refers to the name of a devil that is sharing secrets about Nero spending time in the “lake of darkness”—likely a reference to hell or the underworld. Nero, the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty, was the Roman Emperor from 54–68 CE, and his rule is associated with tyranny and extravagance.
Act III - Scene VII
"Out, vile jelly!..." See in text (Act III - Scene VII)
“Jelly” here refers to the necessary liquids of the eye that aid in its function. In this case, Shakespeare’s use of the term “vile” has a double meaning. Cornwall suggests that Gloucester’s eye is vile in that it belonged to someone who has committed “treason,” but the line itself is vile in referring to the eye in such a grotesque manner.
"to a most festinate preparation..." See in text (Act III - Scene VII)
The verb “to festinate” has similar meaning to the verb “to hasten” although here it is used as an adjective to modify the noun “preparation.” So, Cornwall is telling Edmund to inform the Duke of Albany to make fast preparations regarding the reports of the French army’s landing on English soil.
" questrists..." See in text (Act III - Scene VII)
A “questrist” is a seeker, or a person who goes in search of another person.
Act IV - Scene I
"Sirrah..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
“Sirrah” was an address form in Elizabethan England used to address boys or men over whom the speaker assumed authority. Glocester calls Edgar “sirrah” because he does not realize that this is his son and a noble man.
"I cannot daub it further...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
The verb “to daub” has an archaic meaning that refers to someone or something putting on a false exterior. In this case, the disguised Edgar’s grief at seeing his father is so strong that he worries that he cannot maintain his ruse as Poor Tom for much longer.
"fourscore..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
“Fourscore” is four times twenty, or eighty. If the old man has been Gloucester’s tenant for fourscore years, this means that Gloucester is at least eighty years old.
"esperance, ..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
The word “esperance,” as well as the French esperance, the Spanish esperanza, and the Italian speranza all derive from the late Latin *spērantia, which means “hope” or “expectation.”
Act IV - Scene II
"pluck..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Pluck” draws the reader’s mind back to Goneril’s command to “pluck out his [Gloucester’s] eyes,” rather than killing him instantly as Regan suggests. Here, Goneril subconsciously invokes the idea of divine justice: just as she had Gloucester’s eyes “plucked” out so will her objectives be “plucked” from her. “Pluck” and “hateful life” seem to be Goneril foreshadowing her own downfall.
"the distaff..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Distaff” refers to a spindle for weaving that was symbolic of womanhood. In claiming that she will “give the distaff” to her husband, Goneril emasculates him. She symbolically trades places with the master of her house by claiming the “arms” of the army and giving the spindle to her husband.
"Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile: Filths savor but themselves...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Filths” here refers to the “vile,” or evil, people, and “savor” means “to enjoy” or “to delight in.” Albany continues to berate Goneril for her actions, claiming that evil people will see true good as evil and their own evil actions as good. By expressing this, Albany accuses Goneril (and Regan) of being blind to her own misdeeds against her father because of her desire for power.
"have you madded...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
The word “mad” can be used as a verb, as it is used here, to mean “to make someone lose their mind.” By using the verb form of the word, Albany puts all of the blame on his wife and sister-in-law, accusing Goneril (and Regan) of making Lear go mad and lose his mind. Lear’s daughters have attributed his madness to his age, blind to their own role in bringing it on because of their selfishness. Albany has begun to see through his wife’s greed to get a better understanding of events.
Act IV - Scene III
"gave her dear rights To his dog-hearted daughters, ..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Kent has revealed that while Lear is experiencing moments of clarity, he refuses to see Cordelia because he is so ashamed of how he treated her. Note the language here and how it represents Lear’s view of his children: Cordelia has “dear rights,” with “dear” not only meaning cherished or beloved, like a father might feel for his daughter, but also “treasured” or “valuable,” like the value of the estate she was owed. In contrast, the other daughters are described with animal imagery, emphasizing their base desires and lack of filial commitment.
Act IV - Scene V
"Edmund, I think, is gone, In pity of his misery, to dispatch His nighted life:..." See in text (Act IV - Scene V)
This statement is meant to be ironic. Edmund is not going to put an end to his father’s life out of pity but rather to protect his evil ambitions. “Dispatch” in this context means to put an end to.
"oeillades ..." See in text (Act IV - Scene V)
This is a French that comes from the French for “eye,” or oeil. Regan uses this word to claim that Goneril gave Edmund significant and flirtatious looks.
Act IV - Scene VI
"deficient sight..." See in text (Act IV - Scene VI)
Edgar refers to his ability to see as “deficient sight” that will cause his literal fall off the cliff. Metaphorically “deficient sight” caused his father’s downfall too, as Gloucester’s despair comes from his loss of sight and social position. Within this speech Edgar recasts “sight” as a negative quality. This is one of the ways in which Edgar tries to reverse his father’s despair.
Act IV - Scene VII
"—poor perdu!—..." See in text (Act IV - Scene VII)
The adjective “poor” here is actually a little redundant; the nature of work that a “perdu” performs is already dangerous and not enviable. Perdus are soldiers who are assigned to extremely hazardous duties, often standing guard in dangerous, exposed positions.
Act V - Scene I
"for my state Stands on me to defend, not to debate...." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
As an illegitimate child, Edmund would not have received any of his father’s estate or social status. “State” in this context means social position. Edmund has fought for his place in the nobility and concludes this monologue by reaffirming his aims: despite his romantic entanglements with both women, he will “defend” or maintain his “state” or social position. This soliloquy offers the audience a motive behind Edmund’s actions and generates a small amount of empathy for the character.
Act V - Scene III
"Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates him much(375) That would upon the rack of this tough world Stretch him out longer...." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
“Vex” means to trouble or disturb. After having prayed for Lear’s heart to break so that his suffering could be put to an end, Kent says that Lear’s soul must be left alone to pass peacefully from this world. Kent reveals himself once again as one of the most sympathetic characters of the play, understanding the depth of Lear’s suffering.
"Know, my name is lost; By treason's tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit:..." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
“Canker-bit” means eaten away by canker grubs, which are insects that feed on the teak tree and shrubs. When Albany asks for Edgar’s name and rank, Edgar (in disguise) says that he has lost his name and title to treason. The term “canker-bit” reminds us of Edmund’s parasitic treachery. Edmund has taken the title of the Earl of Gloucester by any means necessary, even though by traditional political order, Edgar should have been the rightful heir. Edgar once again disguises his identity here, as he feels that it has been stolen from him.
"Whose age has charms in it, whose title more, To pluck the common bosom on his side,(55) An turn our impressed lances in our eyes Which do command them...." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
Here, Edmund identifies the danger in Lear’s popularity: his old age, and his former title as king endear him to the common people. To prevent the people from turning against Albany, Edmund claims that he has sent Lear and Cordelia to prison. Notice that Edmund uses “pluck” when he describes Lear’s charismatic power over the common people. This “pluck” echoes the “plucking” of Gloucester’s beard, and Goneril’s command to “pluck out his eyes.” In this way, “pluck” seems to suggest violence or signal nefarious action within this play.
"full circle: ..." See in text (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.