Act III - Scene II

Another part of the heath. Storm still.

[Enter King Lear and Fool]

KING LEAR:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,(5)
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, all germains spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!
FOOL:
O nuncle, court holy-water in a dry house is better than(10)
this rain-water out o' door. Good nuncle, in, and ask thy
daughters' blessing: here's a night pities neither wise man nor fool.
KING LEAR:
Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters:(15)
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;
I never gave you kingdom, called you children,
You owe me no subscription: then let fall
Your horrible pleasure: here I stand, your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man:(20)
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters joined
Your high engendered battles 'gainst a head
So old and white as this. O! O! 'tis foul!
FOOL:
He that has a house to put's head in has a good headpiece.(25)


     The codpiece that will house

     Before the head has any,

     The head and he shall louse;

     So beggars marry many.(30)

     The man that makes his toe

     What he his heart should make

     Shall of a corn cry woe,

     And turn his sleep to wake.

For there was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass. (35)
KING LEAR:
No, I will be the pattern of all patience; I will say nothing.

[Enter Kent]

KENT:
Who's there?
FOOL:
Marry, here's grace and a codpiece; that's a wise man and a fool.(40)
KENT:
Alas, sir, are you here? things that love night
Love not such nights as these; the wrathful skies
Gallow the very wanderers of the dark,
And make them keep their caves: since I was man,(45)
Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never
Remember to have heard: man's nature cannot carry
The affliction nor the fear.
KING LEAR:
Let the great gods,(50)
That keep this dreadful pother o'er our heads,
Find out their enemies now. Tremble, thou wretch,
That hast within thee undivulged crimes,
Unwhipped of justice: hide thee, thou bloody hand;
Thou perjured, and thou simular of virtue(55)
That art incestuous: caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practiced on man's life: close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents, and cry
These dreadful summoners grace. I am a man(60)
More sinned against than sinning.
KENT:
Alack, bare-headed!
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel;
Some friendship will it lend you 'gainst the tempest:
Repose you there; while I to this hard house—(65)
More harder than the stones whereof 'tis raised;
Which even but now, demanding after you,
Denied me to come in—return, and force
Their scanted courtesy.
KING LEAR:
My wits begin to turn.(70)
Come on, my boy: how dost, my boy? art cold?
I am cold myself. Where is this straw, my fellow?
The art of our necessities is strange,
That can make vile things precious. Come, your hovel.
Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart(75)
That's sorry yet for thee.
FOOL:
[Singing] He that has and a little tiny wit—
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,—
Must make content with his fortunes fit,(80)
For the rain it raineth every day.
KING LEAR:
True, my good boy. Come, bring us to this hovel.

[Exeunt King Lear and Kent]

FOOL:
This is a brave night to cool a courtesan. I'll speak a prophecy ere I go:

     When priests are more in word than matter;(85)

     When brewers mar their malt with water;

     When nobles are their tailors' tutors;

     No heretics burned, but wenches' suitors;

     When every case in law is right;

     No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;(90)

     When slanders do not live in tongues;

     Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;

     When usurers tell their gold i' the field;

     And bawds and whores do churches build;

     Then shall the realm of Albion(95)

     Come to great confusion:

     Then comes the time, who lives to see't,

     That going shall be used with feet.

This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time.(100)

[Exit Fool.]

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Recall the connection here to Kent’s claim that only the miserable can see miracles in Act II, scene ii. When you are desperate, even shoddy things like this hut can seem precious. Only in Lear’s madness and desperation has he been able to see the beauty in the world. Again, Shakespeare shows that those we deem “mad” sometimes have the clearest insights.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The Fool is saying that Nature affects everyone the same regardless of their social position. His statement also plays with the dynamic between “wise men” and “fools.” We’ve seen how the Fool and Lear have been trading roles so far in the play, and this comment reveals how wise the Fool is—even though he is essentially saying that wise men and fools are one and the same. This idea is supported by the idea that Lear is gaining more insight into events and himself as his mental faculties are compromised. The effect, therefore, of the Fool’s words is to show how madness and knowledge are intertwined as the lines between them become blurred.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. This line clearly informs the audience that Lear’s madness has begun to strongly take hold of him. However, Shakespeare complicates this by showing that Lear has a sense of self-awareness; that is, he realizes that it is happening to him. The Fool has shown that wisdom and madness are connected, and this line supports this notion by suggesting that as Lear’s “wits begin to turn,” he’ll get greater insight into himself.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. 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.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. This is striking imagery. Lear is saying that he doesn't care if the storm causes a flood that will cover the roofs of all the buildings and then even rise higher and cover the cocks, or roosters, on the weathervanes. It was evidently common to have metal weathervanes in the shape of roosters on steeples. Many such silhouetted roosters are still to be seen on weathervanes today. To say "drowned the cocks" is playing with words, suggesting that these silhouetted birds are living roosters.

    — William Delaney