Important King Lear Quotes
Quote: “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty / According to my bond; no more nor less.” (Act I, scene i).
Analysis: Cordelia proves that politics may not be for her. Her choice to answer honestly gets her banished and gets her inheritance revoked. Cordelia’s profession of love is ironic insomuch that she is the only one of the three sisters to speak the truth and that she loves the King the most. Her honesty impresses the King of France enough to become his wife. This incident also demonstrates Lear’s inability to see things as they are.
Quote: “O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars / Are in the poorest thing superfluous. / Allow not nature more than nature needs, / Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s.” (II, iv).
Analysis: Lear responds to his daughter’s plea to rid himself of his knights on the grounds that he doesn’t need them. Lear’s response that to limit individuals to only their needs reduces them to mere beasts shows keen insight on what makes humans human and the importance of the individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. King Lear’s eyes are opened later in the play as he wanders without shelter and expresses regret over not treating the poor and homeless better when he was king.
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).
Analysis: One of the major themes of the play is the inability to see things for what they are. The tragedy of King Lear is caused by his inability to recognize reality: (1) He believes Goneril’s and Regan’s lies about their love for him; (2) He falsely accuses Cordelia of being disloyal, when in fact, she is the only one of the three who loves him; (3) He banishes Kent for treason when he is the most loyal of Lear’s servants; (4) Lear falsely believes that he can abdicate responsibility without negative consequences. At this point in the play, Lear recognizes the plight of the poor in his kingdom and regrets not having done more to help them. At last, Lear recognizes his past folly, but it’s too late.
Additional Quotes from King Lear
Quote: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; / They kill us for their sport.” (IV, ii).
Analysis: Gloucester wanders the heath after being blinded by Cornwall. He laments his fate and questions the justice of the gods. He questions the disorder in the Universe, a disorder reflected by the raging storm.
Quote: “When we are born, we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools” (IV, vi)
Analysis: Lear laments his fate. Instead of Lear condemning fate, perhaps he should take personal responsibility for his situation. It is Lear who chooses to abdicate his responsibility as king. It is Lear who chooses to disown his only loyal daughter. It is Lear who chooses to banish his most loyal servant. It is Lear’s choices that bring about his downfall, not fate.
Quote: “I am a very foolish fond old man, / Fourscore and upward, not an hour more or less; / And, to deal plainly, / I fear I am not in my perfect mind.” (IV, vii)
Analysis: Shakespeare uses meiosis to create humor. It is painfully obvious that Lear has gone completely mad. His response that “I fear I am not in my perfect mind” is an understatement. The irony is that Lear recognizes the errors of his ways and sees things as they are during his insanity.
Quote: “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices / Make instruments to plague us.” (V, ii)
Analysis: Edgar recognizes the vices in men and understands how those vices haunt men. He realizes Lear’s foolishness, anger and pride and certainly recognizes Gloucester’s adultery as the cause of many of his problems.
Quote: “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more, / Never, never, never, never, never! / Pray you, undo this button: thank you sir. / Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips, / Look there, look there!” (V, iii).
Analysis: Lear agonizes over the death of Cordelia. As he looks upon her he hallucinates that she has returned to life, a final moment of comfort before he dies.
Quote: “The weight of this sad time we must obey; / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. / The oldest hath borne most: we that are young / Shall never see so much, nor live so long.” (V, iii)
Analysis: Edgar comments on the horrific nature of recent events, understanding that Kent will most likely die and that although he will live, he will never see anything as tragic as what happens to Lear or Gloucester, his father.
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This post is part of the series: King Lear Study Guide
- Shakespeare’s King Lear: A Summary of All Four Acts
- Important Quotes From Shakespeare’s King Lear
- Major Themes in King Lear
- King Lear Character Analysis
- Imagery in Shakespeare’s King Lear