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Imagery in Shakespeare's King Lear

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/20/2012

King Lear uses very descriptive language and vivid images to get it's point across. Some themes include comparison of people to animals, and violent descriptions of nature.

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    Examples of Imagery

    Quote: "Come not between the dragon and his wrath." (I, i, 124).

    Senses: Sight

    Analysis: The image of Lear as a dragon highlights his hot temper. Shakespeare uses animal imagery to represent beastly characteristics of his characters. It also serves as a warning to Kent and foreshadows Kent's expulsion from the kingdom. The use of the dragon image provides evidence of Lear's madness and his inability to control his emotions.

    Quote: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child!" (I, iv, 312-13).

    Senses: Touch. Sight

    Analysis: Shakespeare uses metaphor and hyperbole to compare the sting of his daughter's betrayal to getting bit by a serpent, an image closely associated with evil. Comparing his daughter to a serpent is another example of animal imagery,.

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    More Imaginative Imagery

    Quote: "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! / You cataracts and hurricanes, spout / Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks! / You sulphurous and thought-executing fires, / Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts, / Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder, / Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world! / Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once / That make ingrateful man! Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain! / Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters: / 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." (III, ii, 1-20).

    075-King-Lear-and-Fool-in-a-Storm-q75-335x500 Senses: Touch, Sound, Sight, Sound, Smell

    Analysis: This is one heckuva storm: The raging wind cracks cheeks; steeples are drenched; sulphur abounds, fires rage, white heads are singed; the skies rumble. The intensity of the storm is welcomed compared to the mistreatment Lear suffers from his daughters. The raging storm mirrors the tumult in Lear's mind and the state of disorder caused by his abdication of the throne.

    Quote: "Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, / That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, / How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, / Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you / From seasons such as these?" (III, iv, 28-31).

    Senses: Sight, Touch

    Analysis: Lear's description suggests remorse at not taking better care of his subjects when he had the chance. The scene is also symbolic of the damage done to Britain's citizens on account of the turmoil caused by Lear handing his kingdom to unworthy heirs.

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    Quote: "He was met even now / As mad as the vexed sea; singing aloud; / Crowned with rank fumitor and furrow weeds, / With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, / Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn." (IV, iv, 1-6).

    Senses: Sound, Sight

    Analysis: This description of the king emphasizes the depth of his insanity. I can see him now, dancing behind the bush, covered in weeds and singing like a loon.

    Quote: "Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones: / Had I your tongue and eyes, I'd use them so / That heaven's vaults should crack. She's gone for ever!" (V, iii, 258-61).

    Senses: Sound, Sight

    Analysis: Lear expresses the depth of his sorrow over Cordelia's death. Note once again the animal imagery connected with howling. Note also the reference to heaven cracking, yet another example of natural disorder reflecting the chaos caused by Lear's abdication.

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    If you found this analysis of King Lear imagery helpful, check out other Shakespeare study guides at

King Lear Study Guide

Don't be blinded by stupidity on your nest test. Read this study guide an inherit the kingdom of A students.
  1. Shakespeare's King Lear: A Summary of All Four Acts
  2. Important Quotes from King Lear
  3. Major Themes in King Lear
  4. King Lear Character Analysis
  5. Imagery in Shakespeare's King Lear