Act IV - Scene VI

Fields near Dover.

[Enter Gloucester, and Edgar dressed like a peasant]

GLOUCESTER:
When shall we come to the top of that same hill?
EDGAR:
You do climb up it now: look, how we labor.
GLOUCESTER:
Methinks the ground is even.
EDGAR:
Horrible steep.Hark, do you hear the sea? (5)
GLOUCESTER:
No, truly.
EDGAR:
Why, then, your other senses grow imperfect
By your eyes' anguish.
GLOUCESTER:
So may it be, indeed:(10)
Methinks thy voice is altered; and thou speak'st
In better phrase and matter than thou didst.
EDGAR:
You're much deceived: in nothing am I changed
But in my garments.
GLOUCESTER:
Methinks you're better spoken.(15)
EDGAR:
Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles: half way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!(20)
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen, that walk upon the beach,
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminished to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight: the murmuring surge,(25)
That on the unnumbered idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high. I'll look no more;
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.
GLOUCESTER:
Set me where you stand.(30)
EDGAR:
Give me your hand: you are now within a foot
Of the extreme verge: for all beneath the moon
Would I not leap upright.
GLOUCESTER:
Let go my hand.
Here, friend, 's another purse; in it a jewel(35)
Well worth a poor man's taking: fairies and gods
Prosper it with thee! Go thou farther off;
Bid me farewell, and let me hear thee going.
EDGAR:
Now fare you well, good sir.
GLOUCESTER:
With all my heart.(40)
EDGAR:
[aside] Why I do trifle thus with his despair
Is done to cure it.
GLOUCESTER:
[kneeling] O you mighty gods!
This world I do renounce, and, in your sights,
Shake patiently my great affliction off:(45)
If I could bear it longer, and not fall
To quarrel with your great opposeless wills,
My snuff and loathed part of nature should
Burn itself out. If Edgar live, O, bless him!
Now, fellow, fare thee well. [falls forward](50)


EDGAR:
Gone, sir: farewell.
And yet I know not how conceit may rob
The treasury of life, when life itself
Yields to the theft: had he been where he thought,
By this, had thought been past. Alive or dead?(55)
Ho, you sir! friend! Hear you, sir! speak!
Thus might he pass indeed: yet he revives.
What are you, sir?
GLOUCESTER:
Away, and let me die.
EDGAR:
Hadst thou been aught but gossamer, feathers, air,(60)
So many fathom down precipitating,
Thouedst shivered like an egg: but thou dost breathe;
Hast heavy substance; bleed'st not; speak'st; art sound.
Ten masts at each make not the altitude
Which thou hast perpendicularly fell:(65)
Thy life's a miracle. Speak yet again.
GLOUCESTER:
But have I fall'n, or no?
EDGAR:
From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.
Look up a-height; the shrill-gorged lark so far
Cannot be seen or heard: do but look up.(70)
GLOUCESTER:
Alack, I have no eyes.
Is wretchedness deprived that benefit,
To end itself by death? 'Twas yet some comfort,
When misery could beguile the tyrant's rage,
And frustrate his proud will.(75)
EDGAR:
Give me your arm. Up—so. How is't? Feel you your legs? You stand.
GLOUCESTER:
Too well, too well.
EDGAR:
This is above all strangeness.
Upon the crown o' the cliff, what thing was that(80)
Which parted from you?
GLOUCESTER:
A poor unfortunate beggar.
EDGAR:
As I stood here below, methought his eyes
Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,
Horns whelked and waved like the enridged sea:(85)
It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy father,
Think that the clearest gods, who make them honors
Of men's impossibilities, have preserved thee.
GLOUCESTER:
I do remember now: henceforth I'll bear
Affliction till it do cry out itself(90)
‘Enough, enough,’ and die. That thing you speak of,
I took it for a man; often 'twould say
‘The fiend, the fiend:’ he led me to that place.
EDGAR:
Bear free and patient thoughts.
But who comes here?(95)

[Enter King Lear, fantastically dressed with wild flowers]

The safer sense will ne'er accommodate
His master thus.
KING LEAR:
No, they cannot touch me for coining; I am the king himself.
EDGAR:
O thou side-piercing sight!(100)
KING LEAR:
Nature's above art in that respect. There's your pressmoney.
That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper:
draw me a clothier's yard. Look, look, a mouse! Peace,
peace; this piece of toasted cheese will do 't. There's my
gauntlet; I'll prove it on a giant. Bring up the brown bills. O,(105)
well flown, bird! i' the clout, i' the clout: hewgh!
Give the word.
EDGAR:
Sweet marjoram.
KING LEAR:
Pass.
GLOUCESTER:
I know that voice.(110)
KING LEAR:
Ha! Goneril, with a white beard! They flattered me like a dog; and told me I had white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there. To say ‘ay’ and ‘no’ to every thing that
I said!—‘Ay’ and ‘no’ too was no good divinity. When the rain came to wet me once, and the wind to make me chatter; when the thunder would not peace at my bidding; there I found 'em, there I smelt 'em out. Go to, they are not men o' their words: they told me I was every thing; 'tis a lie, I am not ague-proof.
GLOUCESTER:
The trick of that voice I do well remember:(120)
Is 't not the king?
KING LEAR:
Ay, every inch a king:
When I do stare, see how the subject quakes.
I pardon that man's life. What was thy cause? Adultery?
Thou shalt not die: die for adultery! No:(125)
The wren goes to 't, and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight.
Let copulation thrive; for Gloucester's bastard son
Was kinder to his father than my daughters
Got 'tween the lawful sheets.(130)
To 't, luxury, pell-mell! for I lack soldiers.
Behold yond simpering dame,
Whose face between her forks presages snow;
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure's name;(135)
The fitchew, nor the soiled horse, goes to 't
With a more riotous appetite.
Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above:
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,(140)
Beneath is all the fiends';
There's hell, there's darkness, there's the sulphurous pit,
Burning, scalding, stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie! pah, pah!
Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten(145)
my imagination: there's money for thee.
GLOUCESTER:
O, let me kiss that hand!
KING LEAR:
Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality.
GLOUCESTER:
O ruined piece of nature! This great world
Shall so wear out to nought. Dost thou know me?(150)
KING LEAR:
I remember thine eyes well enough. Dost thou
squiny at me? No, do thy worst, blind Cupid! I'll not
love. Read thou this challenge; mark but the penning of it.
GLOUCESTER:
Were all the letters suns, I could not see one.(155)
EDGAR:
I would not take this from report; it is,
And my heart breaks at it.
KING LEAR:
Read.
GLOUCESTER:
What, with the case of eyes?
KING LEAR:
O, ho, are you there with me? No eyes in your(160)
head, nor no money in your purse? Your eyes are in a
heavy case, your purse in a light; yet you see how this
world goes.
GLOUCESTER:
I see it feelingly.
KING LEAR:
What, art mad? A man may see how this world(165)
goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond
justice rails upon yond simple thief. Hark, in thine ear:
change places; and, handy-dandy, which is the justice,
which is the thief? Thou hast seen a farmer's dog bark at
a beggar?(170)
GLOUCESTER:
Ay, sir.
KING LEAR:
And the creature run from the cur? There thou
mightst behold the great image of authority: a dog's
obeyed in office.
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!(175)
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lust'st to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp'st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.
Through tattered clothes small vices do appear;(180)
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks:
Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it.
None does offend, none, I say, none; I'll able 'em:
Take that of me, my friend, who have the power(185)
To seal the accuser's lips. Get thee glass eyes;
And like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not. Now, now, now, now:
Pull off my boots: harder, harder: so.
EDGAR:
O, matter and impertinency mixed! Reason in madness!(190)
KING LEAR:
If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes.
I know thee well enough; thy name is Gloucester:
Thou must be patient; we came crying hither:
Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air,
We wawl and cry. I will preach to thee: mark.(195)

[Lear takes off his crown of weeds and flowers.]

GLOUCESTER:
Alack, alack the day!
KING LEAR:
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools: this a good block;
It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
A troop of horse with felt: I'll put 't in proof;(200)
And when I have stol'n upon these sons-in-law,
Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!

[Enter a Gentleman, with Attendants]

GENTLEMAN:
O, here he is: lay hand upon him. Sir,
Your most dear daughter—
KING LEAR:
No rescue? What, a prisoner? I am even(205)
The natural fool of fortune. Use me well;
You shall have ransom. Let me have surgeons;
I am cut to the brains.
GENTLEMAN:
You shall have any thing.
KING LEAR:
No seconds? all myself?(210)
Why, this would make a man a man of salt,
To use his eyes for garden water-pots,
Ay, and laying autumn's dust.
GENTLEMAN:
Good sir,—
KING LEAR:
I will die bravely, like a bridegroom. What!(215)
I will be jovial: come, come; I am a king,
My masters, know you that.
GENTLEMAN:
You are a royal one, and we obey you.
KING LEAR:
Then there's life in't. Nay, if you get it, you shall
get it with running. Sa, sa, sa, sa.(220)

[Exit Lear running; Attendants follow]

GENTLEMAN:
A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch,
Past speaking of in a king! Thou hast one daughter,
Who redeems nature from the general curse
Which twain have brought her to.
EDGAR:
Hail, gentle sir.(225)
GENTLEMAN:
Sir, speed you: what's your will?
EDGAR:
Do you hear aught, sir, of a battle toward?
GENTLEMAN:
Most sure and vulgar: every one hears that,
Which can distinguish sound.
EDGAR:
But, by your favor,(230)
How near's the other army?
GENTLEMAN:
Near and on speedy foot; the main descry
Stands on the hourly thought.
EDGAR:
I thank you, sir: that's all.
GENTLEMAN:
Though that the queen on special cause is here,(235)
Her army is moved on.
EDGAR:
I thank you, sir.

[Exit Gentleman]

GLOUCESTER:
You ever-gentle gods, take my breath from me:
Let not my worser spirit tempt me again
To die before you please!(240)
EDGAR:
Well pray you, father.
GLOUCESTER:
Now, good sir, what are you?
EDGAR:
A most poor man, made tame to fortune's blows;
Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows,
Am pregnant to good pity. Give me your hand,(245)
I'll lead you to some biding.
GLOUCESTER:
Hearty thanks:
The bounty and the benison of heaven
To boot, and boot!

[Enter Oswald]

OSWALD:
A proclaimed prize! Most happy!(250)
That eyeless head of thine was first framed flesh
To raise my fortunes. Thou old unhappy traitor,
Briefly thyself remember: the sword is out
That must destroy thee.
GLOUCESTER:
Now let thy friendly hand(255)
Put strength enough to 't.

[Edgar interposes]

OSWALD:
Wherefore, bold peasant,
Darest thou support a published traitor? Hence;
Lest that the infection of his fortune take
Like hold on thee. Let go his arm.(260)
EDGAR:
Chill not let go, zir, without vurther 'casion.
OSWALD:
Let go, slave, or thou diest!
EDGAR:
Good gentleman, go your gait, and let poor volk pass. An
chud ha' bin zwaggered out of my life, 'twould not ha' bin zo
long as 'tis by a vortnight. Nay, come not near th' old man;(265)
keep out, che vor ye, or ise try whether your costard or my
ballow be the harder: chill be plain with you.
OSWALD:
Out, dunghill!
EDGAR:
Chill pick your teeth, zir: come; no matter vor your foins.(270)

[They fight, and Edgar knocks him down]

OSWALD:
Slave, thou hast slain me: villain, take my purse:
If ever thou wilt thrive, bury my body;
And give the letters which thou find'st about me
To Edmund earl of Gloucester; seek him out
Upon the British party: O, untimely death!(275)

[Oswald Dies]

EDGAR:
I know thee well: a serviceable villain;
As duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire.
GLOUCESTER:
What, is he dead?
EDGAR:
Sit you down, father; rest you(280)
Let's see these pockets: the letters that he speaks of
May be my friends. He's dead; I am only sorry
He had no other death's-man. Let us see:
Leave, gentle wax; and, manners, blame us not:
To know our enemies' minds, we 'ld rip their hearts;(285)
Their papers, is more lawful.
[Reads] 'Let our reciprocal vows be remembered. You have many opportunities to cut him off: if your will want not, time and place will be fruitfully offered. There is nothing done, if he return the conqueror: then am I the prisoner, and his bed my goal; from the loathed warmth whereof deliver me, and supply the place for your labor.
'Your—wife, so I would say—affectionate servant,

      ‘Goneril.’

O undistinguished space of woman's will!
A plot upon her virtuous husband's life;
And the exchange my brother! Here, in the sands,(295)
Thee I'll rake up, the post unsanctified
Of murderous lechers: and in the mature time
With this ungracious paper strike the sight
Of the death-practised duke: for him 'tis well
That of thy death and business I can tell.(300)
GLOUCESTER:
The king is mad: how stiff is my vile sense,
That I stand up, and have ingenious feeling
Of my huge sorrows! Better I were distract.
So should my thoughts be severed from my griefs,
And woes by wrong imaginations lose(305)
The knowledge of themselves.

[Drum afar off.]

EDGAR:
Give me your hand:
Far off, methinks, I hear the beaten drum:
Come, father, I'll bestow you with a friend.

[Exeunt]

Footnotes

  1. Edgard refers to “eyes” as a metaphor for mood, internal suffering, or a signal of one’s inner feelings. Rather than referring only to the physical body parts that Gloucester no longer has, Edgar expands the meaning of “eyes” to something that is accessible to his father.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Edgar’s argument, that sight is a corrupting influence that leads to one’s downfall, could be an allusion to multiple stories from antiquity. In the story of Tiresias, the prophet is blinded by Athena for watching her bathe naked; Oedipus stabs out his own eyes after he realizes that he has fulfilled a prophecy to marry his mother and murder his father. Both men lose their physical sight and gain insight into the lives of others and their own lives. Within this allusion, blindness is recast as the only way to truly see.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Overtly, this line means that Edgar is playing with his father in order to cure him of his despair. He will get his father to jump off of what he believes is a tall cliff and realize that he does not want to die when he jumps onto flat ground. However, the syntax of this line offers another reading: Why do I fool him thus when his despair, or desire to kill himself, is enough to cure him of it?

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. With these words, Gloucester asks the gods to forgive him for his attempted suicide and for them to watch and guide over his actions in the future, reaffirming the belief that Gloucester has had in the gods and fate. This declaration proves to be a pivotal moment for Edgar, who after hearing this approaches his father and addresses him as his son.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The two old men finally come together in this scene, both disabled and barely able to conduct proper communication: Gloucester is blind; Lear is insane. However, while the blind Gloucester is able to recognize Lear despite his lack of sight, Lear’s insanity makes him the truly blind one. Shakespeare therefore also provides more on how madness is equated with insight in this exchange by showing that disability may offer clarity in certain aspects, but it may also prevent communication in others.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Since clothing is a symbol of status, “tattered clothes” is a metaphor for the poor and “robes and furred gowns” is a metaphor for the rich. When Lear says, “Plate a sin with gold/ And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks,” Lear is essentially saying that the corruptions and “sin[s]” of the rich are much more easily veiled than those of the poor due to their wealth and stature. Clothing again becomes a symbol of character. The rich can hide their ugly nature beneath jewels and gold, and not be forced to answer for their misdeeds—the poor cannot.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Shakespeare often inverts the popular proverb "Fortune favors fools." Here, King Lear is fortune's fool; he, as the tragic hero, is certainly not favored. His foolishness (banishing Cordelia and dividing his kingdom between Regan and Goneril) triggers the tragic plot, in which he is always out of Fortune's favor.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. 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.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. This speech by Edgar is an excellent example of Shakespeare's word-magic. Edgar and Gloucester are standing on a bare stage. Edgar is not even looking down, and Gloucester cannot see anything. Yet Shakespeare creates the illusion of the view--and even the breeze-- from the top of a high cliff. He does this indirectly. Edgar is not describing the view from that imaginary height for poetic effect but in order to mislead his father, who intends to commit suicide by jumping. Everything looks small from up there, according to Edgar. The fishermen walking on the beach look like mice. The best analogy is to the birds. The crows and choughs are hovering only halfway down the side of the cliff and yet they seem as small as beetles. The incoming and outgoing surf that must be causing the countless pebbles to make a loud rattling sound cannot even be heard up there. This brings to mind Matthew Arnold's poem about the same place, "Dover Beach," in which the poet says:

    Listen! you hear the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,
    Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
    With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
    The eternal note of sadness in.

    — William Delaney
  11. Note the alliteration of "W" sounds in "wet," "once," and "wind," suggesting a rainstorm. 

    What Lear says about being taught humility by the stormy elements is very similar to what Duke Senior says in Act 2, Scene 1 of As You Like It.

    Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,--
    The seasons' difference: as the icy fang
    And churlish chiding of the winter's wind,
    Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
    Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say,
    'This is no flattery: these are counsellors
    That feelingly persuade me what I am.'
    Sweet are the uses of adversity;
    Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

    — William Delaney
  12. One of the wonders of this scene is the way in which Shakespeare mixes comedy and pathos. We do not know whether to laugh at these wretched old men or cry. Shakespeare is demonstrating that life itself is a mixture of comedy and tragedy. 

    — William Delaney
  13. Meaning immune to fever. This is probably one of Shakespeare's many coined words.

    — William Delaney
  14. Every time Lear says things of this nature, as he does throughout the play, it only serves to emphasize the weakness and helplessness of his impoverished condition and his old age. Perhaps it is his realization of the truth that infuriates him the most. What he keeps threatening to do stands in sharp contrast to his abject decrepitude. All his threats are but feeble echoes of his domineering voice in the opening scene of the play, when he compared himself with a fire-breathing dragon. When he had royal power his threats meant something, and everybody listened to him. Now he is only talking to himself.

    — William Delaney
  15. Centaurs were mythological creatures with human heads and torsos but horses bodies. They were always depicted as males, and their horse-like bodies were evidently intended to suggest that they had strong sexual appetites. Lear may be the first to suggest that there were such things as female centaurs, but this is what makes the metaphor so striking. It stands to reason that if there was a race of such creatures, there would have to be females to reproduce them. In Walt Disney's admirable animated film Fantasia (1940), both male and female centaurs appear in the episode that accompanies part of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony No. 6.

    — William Delaney
  16. The bill was a spear-like weapon with a hook-shaped blade which could be used for pulling armored knights off their horses and chopping through armor. There were several types of bills distinguished by the length of the shaft and the shape of the blade. English bills included black, brown, and forest bills. The distinguishing characteristic of the weapon was its hook. Lear is imagining that he is engaged in a big battle. Evidently he had considerable military experience in his earlier life.

    — William Delaney
  17. Shakespeare's plays were enacted with few if any props or backdrops. The settings were suggested through costuming. If it was a court scene, for example, the actors would be dressed in their finery. If it was a battle scene, the actors would be wearing armor. Here the appearance of Lear tells us that he has been existing out in the open country for a long time, and also that he has gone mad.

    — William Delaney
  18. It would appear that Lear has actually been eating mice. He probably is seeing a real field mouse but just imagines that he has a bit of cheese to attract it to him. If he is eating anything he can find in the wild, he brings to mind the words of Edgar, pretending to be mad Tom, in Act 3, Scene 4:

    But mice and rats, and such small deer,
    Have been Tom's food for seven long year.

    When Lear says "Peace, peace," he means: "Be quiet. Don't frighten the mouse away." Then the word "peace" makes him think of the word "piece." So he says "This piece of toasted cheese will do it." By "do it" he of course means that it will attract the mouse so he can catch it and eat it. Obviously Lear is out of his mind. He cannot control his thoughts.

    King Lear may have also been eating some of the other things Edgar mentions in his speech:

    Poor Tom; that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, the wall-newt and the water; that in the fury of his heart, when the foul fiend rages, eats cow-dung for sallets; swallows the old rat and the ditch-dog; drinks the green mantle of the standing pool...

    Lear's wild appearance shows that he has been wandering alone for a long time. He must have been eating something. 

    The words "drinks the green mantle of the standing pool" are strangely beautiful, almost like a Japanese haiku. Shakespeare must have loved nature. A stagnant pond will develop a light coating of live vegetation which would also contain various kinds of larvae and other organic matter; and it is conceivable that it could, and did, provide sustenance for destitute humans.

    — William Delaney
  19. Lear is disgusted with sex and with women because his own copulation led to the creation of Goneril and Regan. 

    — William Delaney
  20. This advice to Gloucester is extremely significant because it shows how much Lear has changed since the first part of the play as a result of all the painful experiences he has undergone. In Act 1, Scene 4, right after he returns from hunting, and just before his violent argument with his daughter Goneril, he says:

    Let me not stay a jot for dinner; go get it ready.

    That was Lear's attitude and manner throughout his life--until he made the mistake of giving his kingdom away and trusting in his daughters' love. Like a lot of old people, Lear has discovered that he is not really terribly important, but at the same time he has acquired wisdom.

    — William Delaney
  21. 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.

    — William Delaney
  22. This is an intentionally comical suggestion. Lear is imagining the common kind of watering can with a big handle and long spout that pours many jets of water out of its big round nozzle. He has reached such a state of wretchedness that he is even making jokes about his condition.

    Humor often deals with painful situations. James Thurber, one of America's greatest humorists, famously defined humor as follows:

    Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.

    Thurber also said:

    Humor is a serious thing. I like to think of it as one of our greatest earliest natural resources, which must be preserved at all cost.

    — William Delaney
  23. Lear does not know that Gloucester's bastard son Edmund betrayed his father and was responsible for Gloucester being blinded and cast out of his own castle. Lear's statement seems to echo what Edmund says about himself in the soliloquy which opens the second scene of Act I.

    — William Delaney
  24. This has a double meaning. As King he would naturally be concerned about maintaining a strong army. However, as a king without a kingdom, he keeps thinking about getting revenge on Goneril, Regan, and their husbands. A bit later in this scene he says:

    It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
    A troop of horse with felt: I'll put 't in proof;
    And when I have stol'n upon these sons-in-law,
    Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!

    No doubt he would include his own daughters in the slaughter if he had the power.

    — William Delaney
  25. Lear seems to be especially disgusted with human sexuality because it was his own lust that led to the conception of Goneril and Regan. In this respect he resembles Gloucester, whose lust led to the conception of Edmund, who has cost him his eyes and made him so wretched that he wants to commit suicide. One of the ideas that runs throughout King Lear is that people never know how their children are going to turn out, although most parents begin with great expectations of their little infant sons and daughters. 

    — William Delaney
  26. Lear has been living in the open for some time and must smell bad. We can imagine him saying, "Let me wipe it first," and then smelling his own hand. He would obviously be smelling his own excrement and then saying, "...it smells of mortality." Here he is saying in effect that human beings are made of excrement.

    — William Delaney
  27. Tolstoy’s remark that marriage is “slavery, satiety, repulsion” and means putting up with the proximity of  “ugliness, dirtiness, smell, sores,” is matched by Lear’s well known outburst: “But to the girdle do the gods inherit, / Beneath is all the fiends; / There’s hell, there’s darkness, there’s the sulphurous pit, / Burning, scalding, stench, consumption...etc., etc.”

    George Orwell, "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool”

    Leo Tolstoy wrote a scathing polemic on Shakespeare with emphasis on his play King Lear. It is titled "Tolstoy on Shakespeare" and accessible online. George Orwell published a rebuttal in his essay "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool," also accessible online. Both essays are extremely interesting and thought-provoking.

    — William Delaney
  28. Lear had an inflated opinion of himself because he was born to royal status and was flattered and fawned upon from birth. Even as a young prince he was surrounded by flatterers. This is what he means by saying they told him he had white hairs in his beard ere the black ones were there. His flatterers were praising him for his wisdom even before he was old enough to have any kind of beard. Throughout the entire play Lear is learning that he is just an ordinary mortal and learning to identify with other ordinary mortals. He is also learning to recognize the hypocrisy in much of humanity. Lear might be compared with the young prince in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, with the young Pip in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, and with Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, to name only a few.

    "They flattered me like a dog" does not mean Lear is thinking they petted and coddled him the way they might treat a pampered spaniel; but rather he is thinking that each of his flatterers behaved like a dog slobbering on his hand and wagging its whole body from its shoulders down to the tip of its tail. Antony says something similar to Brutus and Cassius in Julius Caesar:

    You show'd your teeth like apes, and fawn'd like hounds,
    And bow'd like bondmen, kissing Caesar's feet;  (V.i)

    — William Delaney