King Lear Explication Essay, Research Paper
King Lear s speech in Act IV Scene 6 marks the point in the play where Lear reaches a revelation. Although he is mad, in his madness he finally realizes the truth about life and about his daughters. The themes that emerge through the use of imagery, sound, and diction are mainly social justice and appearance versus reality. This scene shows Lear as a different person: One with compassion for the poor, but spite for those with authority. He does not speak in an enraged tone, but his anger can be detected nonetheless. As Edgar says in the following lines, Lear s words are matter and impertinency mixed/ reason in madness . What Lear says is not sane, but it contains a great amount of insight
In the first part of his speech, Lear uses animal imagery to show that all is not natural in the chain of beings. The creature runs from the cur -where creature can also mean a beggar, and cur can be either a mongrel dog or a despicable person- implies that the two words are interchangeable and it is difficult to distinguish humans from beasts. According to Lear, a dog can be obeyed in office and placed in a higher social standing than the common person despite the lack of human intellect. This ties in with the themes of social justice and appearance versus reality. Any fool will be obeyed as long as he has a title of authority. A person in office has the illusion of greatness, but in reality, they can be beasts. The clothing imagery in these lines also contributes to these themes. Clothing is a means to hide one s sins, and the richer the garments, the greater the vices hidden beneath them. Small vices appear when a person is wearing rags, but these same vices are plated with gold on the rich so that nothing can harm them. A strong lance could not break the shield of a wealthy sinner, but even so little as a pygmy s straw could pierce through the fabric of a poor individual. Justice disappears once the robes and furs are off. Lear uses clothing as a metaphor for corruption and hypocrisy, which is why he removes his boots, the last of his rich clothing. Lear makes references to sight images such as glass eyes and things hidden from sight. Expensive clothing has the ability to haze a person s sight. It conceals evil and causes others to look the other way when signs of sin appear. He tells Gloucester to get glass eyes in order to see the things thou dost not . Both characters have been blind when it came to justice and their children, so they need glasses to be able to see truth.
The sounds in his speech express Lear s attitude and also show his fall into madness. He begins with prose, which Shakespeare often uses to communicate insanity in his characters, but switches to iambic pentameter after 3 lines. In this transition his madness begins to show signs of reason. In the second last line, he once again breaks from the iambic to give a spondaic now, now, now, now! It is as if his train of thought and rhythm of speech change as he remembers he wants to pull off his boots. The alliteration of creature and cur and the fact that they are cacophonic sounds emphasizes those two words to show that they can be substituted for each other. Usurer and cozener also have similar sounds and end in the same letters to show that they are both equally guilty and that one is not better than the other. There are many hard d and b sounds giving the speech a harsh tone and putting many breaks in it. Explosive sounding words like beadle , bloody , and pierce draw attention to Lear s contempt, and s sounds such as strip and scurvy sound like spiteful, hissing words. The repetition of the word none in line 184 displays Lear s instability and insecurity. He is attempting to convince himself that he is still powerful and can authorize people to act as they wish. He ends off with so , a sigh of relief finishing his revelation.
The words spoken by Lear in this scene were carefully chosen to convey their message across. Many of them suggest pain and violence. Examples of this emotive language are bloody , lash , strip , whippest , and more. This is indicative of the pain Lear feels and it also shows his anger. By using such harsh words to speak of hypocrites in authority, Lear shows the spite he is feeling towards them. He instructs a rascal beadle not to punish a whore when he is guilty of using her services. He says whore, not prostitute because it is more demeaning and reflects the attitude he has for women who would do anything for money, especially his evil daughters. He could be comparing himself to the beadle since he is also in a position of authority and Lear is guilty of being a hypocrite and using his daughters for his own pride and then punishing them. The bloody hand, just as it was in Macbeth, is a symbol of guilt. Lear expresses a great hatred for people in higher standing, calling the beadle rascal and the politician scurvy . These words make these figures seem vile and corrupted, almost like beasts. Most of the words in this speech are monosyllabic, so the ones that are polysyllabic are emphasized. Line 181 contains only monosyllabic words, but the line after it has justice hurtless breaks , putting emphasis on the justice.
This speech plays an important part in the whole play. Lear finally realizes what a fool he was when dealing with his daughters and by looking at the world through the eyes of a poor person, he gains a new perspective on life. The madness in his character evokes pity for Lear. He has lost power over everything, even his own sanity. The tragic part of this scene is that even though Lear has gained this new insight, it is too late as he has already banished those who loved him and his evil daughters are now in power. The value of this speech is that its themes are always relevant, no matter what time period it is. People in power still have a right to evade the law and those with no money have no means of defending themselves.