King Lear Imagery Seminar
Symbolism/Imagery/Allegory in King Lear * The Storm (Imagery)Pathetic Fallacy: By acting irresponsibility, Lear as a King and then as a father causes a universal upheaval in the order of the universe. This upheaval is reflected and reinforced by the use of imagery (Pathetic Fallacy). The storm is a part of the universal disorder and is presented in a very artistic manner.
The storm is significant as it stands for external as well as internal human naturepresents the inner nature of human beings * In Act 3, Lear rushes from a fight with his daughters into a raging thunderstorm.
The combination of thunder and lightning is pretty much what is going on inside Lear’s mind, from his fury at his daughters to his impending madness. At one point, Lear admits there’s a “tempest in [his] mind” that’s not unlike the storm that rages on the heath (3. 4. 4. ). In other words, the literal storm on the heath is a pretty accurate reflection of Lear’s psychological state. * One can argue that the storm parallels Britain’s fall into political chaos. Remember, Lear has divided his kingdom, civil war is brewing, and the King (Lear) is being treated pretty shabbily by his daughters and some of his other subjects.
Alternatively, the powerful storm in which Lear gets caught up is a dramatic demonstration of the fact that all humans, even kings, are completely vulnerable to overpowering forces like nature. * The beasts (Imagery): The bestial images and the images of darkness also convey the impression of disorder in the universe. The bestial/animal imagery is partly designed to show man’s place in the chain of being, and bring out the sub-human nature of evil character. It is also used to show man’s weakness compared with animals’ and partly to compare man’s life to the life of the jungle.
Because of the bad behaviour of Goneril and Regan, Lear hates them and calls them worse than monsters “More hideous when thou show’st theeln a child than sea monster. ” Then turning to Goneril, he calls her “gilded serpent” when he comes to know her reality. She is often called “tiger” and “sharp-toothed” (vulture), while Regan is called “most serpents like”. To reveal the evil nature of both sisters, bestial imagery is employed very often as they are called “adderas” by Edmund. * Moreover in King Lear, the animal imagery is organized around compatible or somewhat foolish i. . deer, cat, dog, rat, cow, serpent, geese, snakes, dragon, foxes, and sparrows. They help to draw the moral drift of the play. They are set up to reinforce or to oppose each other. * Images of darkness and disease: The images of darkness and diseases are used to show chaos and disturbance in nature. In the play, one is conscious all through of the atmosphere of buffeting, strain, and strife, and, at moments, of bodily tension to the point of agony. So naturally does this flow from the circumstances of the drama and the mental suffering of Lear.
This sensation is increased by the generally floating images. To show the human body in torture, the words like “tugged”, wrenched beaten”, “scalded”, “tortured” and “finally broken on the rake”, are used. Lear, in his agonized remorse, pictures himself as a man wrenched and tortured by an “engine”. He realizes his follies and he beats his head that lets his folly in. Goneril has the power to shake him with her tongue, the hot tears break from his heart. Lear cries that his heart “will break into a hundred thousand flaws”.
Albany wonders how far Goneril’s eyes may pierce. Gloucester’s flawed heart is cracked, and finally it “burst smilingly. Kent longs to “tread” Oswald into mortar. Lear cried painfully “It is more than murder”. The Fool declares man torn into pieces by gods. Gloucester also cries, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to gods; they kill us for their sport”. The sense of bodily torture continues to the end. Lear tells Cordelia that he is bound “Upon a wheel of fire that my own tears do scald like molten lead”. The use of verbs and images of bodily torture are almost continuous and they are used to draw the direct picture as in the treatment of Gloucester; who is equally “blind” like Lear when it comes to telling the difference between his “good” son (Edgar) and his bad offspring (Edmund) – Gloucester can’t tell that Edmund has manipulated him into believing Edgar wants him dead. Later, Gloucester doesn’t even recognize his son Edgar, who has disguised himself as “Poor Tom” the beggar.
Eventually, Gloucester’s eyeballs are plucked out, making his literal blindness symbolic of his inability to “see” the truth about his children. Finally, “he is bound to a chair, plucked by the beard, his hair is ravished from his chin, and with his eyes blinded and bleeding, he is thrust out of the gates to smell his way to Dover”. * In King Lear, there’s a whole lot of talk about literal vision and metaphorical blindness, especially when it comes to fathers “seeing” their children for who they really are. When Lear mistakenly believes that Cordelia is disloyal and orders her “out of [his] sight,” his pal, Kent, gives him the following advice: “See better, Lear” (1. 1. 14). In other words, Kent implies that Lear is “blind” to the fact Cordelia is the “good” daughter while Goneril and Regan are a couple of evil spawn. We can take this a step further by saying that the root of all Lear’s problems is his lack of good judgment – he foolishly divides his kingdom, stages a silly love test to determine which daughter cares for him the most, etc. After Lear is booted out by Regan in her palace, he exclaims: “We’ll no more meet, no more see one another: but yet thou art my flesh, my blood, my daughter; or rather a disease that’s in my flesh, which I must needs call mine: thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle, in my corrupted blood. (2. 4. 29). When Lear goes off on Goneril, he insists she’s more like a “disease that’s in [his] flesh” than a daughter (his “flesh and blood”). Goneril, he says, is “a boil, a plague-sore,” a nasty little “carbuncle” and so on. In other words, Goneril, is kind of like a venereal disease. ) Lear is really good at insults this is a pretty elaborate way for Lear to tell Goneril that she makes him sick. On the one hand, this passage is in keeping with just about everything else Lear says about women (especially Goneril and Regan) – Lear frequently associates women with sexual promiscuity and pretty much blames all the problems in the world on the ladies. * Something similar is at work in King Lear. When Lear imagines that his body is diseased, we can’t help but notice that his kingdom is also not doing so well.
After all, it’s just been hacked up into pieces by Lear and, with Goneril and Regan (and their spouses) now in charge, it’s quickly becoming a corrupt place. What’s more, civil war (not to mention a war with France) is on the horizon. In King Lear’s mind, the corruption of his kingdom is caused by Goneril and Regan so, it’s not so surprising that he refers to Goneril (in the passage above) as a “plague-sore. ” * Nakedness vs. Clothing (Imagery): When Edgar disguises himself as “Poor Tom”, he chooses to disguise himself as a naked beggar.
Then, in the big storm scene, Lear strips off his kingly robes. Lear has seen Poor Tom (naked) and asks, “Is this man no more than this? ” Then, presumably to find out if man is indeed “no more than this”, he strips down to his birthday suit. Shakespeare seems to be implying that all men are vulnerable. In fact, man is nothing more than “a poor bare, forked animal” (3. 4. 10). Donning rich and opulent clothing (like Goneril and Regan do), then, is merely a futile attempt to disguise man’s true, defenceless nature. Nothingness (Symbol): Shakespeare plays on the word “nothing” and the idea of nothingness or emptiness throughout King Lear. Here are a few significant moments from the play: In Act 1, when Lear stages his love test and asks Cordelia “What can you say to draw a third [of the kingdom] more opulent than your sisters? “, Cordelia replies, “Nothing. ” Lear can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Nothing will come of nothing,” he tells her. “Speak again. ” (In other words, you’ll get absolutely nothing from me unless you speak up about how much you love me. By the way, the phrase “Nothing can come of nothing” is a variation on the famous phrase “ex nihilo nihil fit” – that’s Latin for “from nothing, nothing comes,” which is an ancient Greek philosophical and scientific expression. The word “nothing” shows up again in the play when the Fool tells Lear he is nothing without his crown and power: “now thou art an O without a figure. I am better than thou art now; I’m a fool, thou art nothing” (1. 4. 17). According to the Fool, King Lear is a zero and is no better than a “shealed peascod” (an empty peapod).
The Fool also calls the retired king “Lear’s shadow,” which suggests that Lear, without his crown, is merely a shadow of his former self. The idea is that Lear, (whose status has changed since retirement) is nothing without his former power and title. To sum up, imagery plays an important part in King Lear. The play is a complex work and makes use of imagery effectively to convey the themes, and to give poignancy to the action. The disruption caused by Lear’s initial inability and refusal to “see better” is reflected in the images of darkness, animalism, and disease.