King Lear by William Shakespeare

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169 ‘with strain’d pride’ – an ironic attack on Kent. It is Lear who is being proud.

171 ‘nor our nature nor our place’ – more irony, as Lear is attacking Kent for offending against the bonds of nature and allegiance.

212 ‘a wretch whom Nature is ashamed/Almost t’acknowledge hers’ – in fact, it is Lear who is the ‘wretch,’ and in the course of the play, he will be reduced to a wretched state. The biblical idea that we will be judged ‘in the same way [we] judge others’ (Mt 7:1) may be relevant here: his false judgements recoil upon himself.

219-20 ‘of such unnatural degree/That monsters it’ – again the nature theme. To be ‘unnatural’ is to become a ‘monster.’

233ff ‘Better thou/Hadst not been born’...‘ we/Have no such daughter, nor shall ever see/That face of hers again’...‘be gone,/Without our grace, our love, our benison.’ – the audience are left in absolutely no doubt of the extent of Lear’s cruel nature. He is revealed as an exceptionally vicious and unpleasant man.

245 ‘Nothing. I have sworn, I am firm’ – Lear picks up again on Cordelia’s ‘nothing,’ providing further evidence of his egotism.

268 ‘The jewels of our father’ – a pointed comment. To Lear, Goneril and Regan are jewels, representing ‘outward show’ in the way an attractive surface can mark an unpleasant ‘inner reality.’ Cordelia’s later comments make quite clear to the audience that Goneril and Regan are as bad as their father, if not worse. Yet Cordelia still loves Lear, and is already forgiving him. The only reason, in fact, that the audience retains some sympathetic interest in Lear is that characters like Cordelia and Kent continue to love and respect him.

278-9 ‘You have obedience scanted,/And well are worth the want that you have wanted’ – in other words, ‘you deserve to suffer the same lack (of affection) that you have shown’ (‘worth’ = ‘worthy of;’ ‘want’ in the sense of ‘lack’). Goneril’s comment is unfair to Cordelia, but underlines one of the perspectives of the play: as you have done, so shall it be done unto you.

288 ‘You see how full of changes his age is’ – Goneril makes the not unreasonable point that Lear’s foolishness is the result of senility.

293-4 ‘’Tis the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself’ – this may be a slur, but the audience have no particular reason to doubt Regan here. She implies that Lear has always acted inconsistently and unpredictably. Goneril confirms that ‘The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash.’

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William Shakespeare
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

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The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul