"King Lear" by William Shakespeare, Act III

February 9, 2013
In this tragedy, King Lear's plan to divide his kingdom between his three daughters leads to his downfall when he misjudges their true feelings.

Here are links to all our for the play: Act I, Act II, Act III, Act IV, Act V

Here are links to our lists for other plays by William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream
"Impetuous" can also mean "characterized by undue haste and lack of thought" (a synonym for "rash"). This would make the battle between Lear and Mother Nature seem almost like justice because a rash man is being thrashed by a rash wind. But in the example sentence, the words "blasts", "rage" and "fury" connect to violence and to the idea of an impetus, which is a force that moves something (e.g. Lear's white hairs) along.
Bids the wind blow the earth into the sea
Or swell the curled waters above the main,
That things might change or cease; tears his white hair
Which the impetuous blasts, with eyeless rage,
Catch in their fury and make nothing of;
Strives in his little world of man to out-scorn
The to-and-fro conflicting wind and rain.
A cataract can also be "a disease that involves the clouding of the lens of the eye"--this definition does not fit the example sentence, but the idea of dysfunctional eyes can be seen in this act with Lear losing sight of reality and Gloucester actually losing his eyes.
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples
"Cleave" can be a tricky word because it has two meanings that are opposite of each other. The other meaning is "come or be in close contact with", which does not fit the example sentence because Lear is calling for lightning, which can separate oak trees, to burn his head. Once the cleaver of kingdoms and relationships, Lear now wants to be cloven.
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head.
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Another definition of "servile" is "submissive or fawning in attitude or behavior"--this also fits the example sentence, especially when you think about the insults that Kent threw at Goneril's servant, but the chosen definition fits better because in a previous line, Lear calls himself a slave.
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters join'd
Your high-engendered battles 'gainst a head
So old and white as this.
But yet I call you servile ministers,
That have with two pernicious daughters join'd
Your high-engendered battles 'gainst a head
So old and white as this.
Man's nature cannot carry
The affliction nor the fear.
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel;
Some friendship will it lend you 'gainst the tempest:
"Vile" can also mean "morally reprehensible" but that definition does not fit the example sentence because Lear is referring to the hovel which, when he was a king and used to living in a luxurious palace, would've been nauseated at the thought of stepping foot in. But now that he's run away from his daughters and is out in the storm, a hovel seems like a precious shelter.
The art of our necessities is strange
And can make vile things precious.
Kent is personifying nature here by calling its roughness tyrannical, and he is expressing concern for Lear's physical safety. But the word "nature" in the example sentence refers to Lear's nature, which used to be tyrannical (because he was an absolute dictator) and cannot endure the tyranny of other forces.
The tyranny of the open night's too rough
For nature to endure.
Thou think'st 'tis much that this contentious storm
Invades us to the skin.
But where the greater malady is fix'd,
The lesser is scarce felt.
Thou'ldst shun a bear,
But if thy flight lay toward the roaring sea,
Thou'ldst meet the bear in the mouth.
The definition is for "pelt" as a verb but it is used as a noun in the example sentence. Although another definition of "pelt" is "rain heavily", which is what is actually happening in the scene, because Lear is feeling like a victim, the image of the rain as missiles (e.g. arrows) attacking him and other poor houseless wretches is more powerfully fitting.
Poor naked wretches, wheresoever 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?
Who gives any thing to poor Tom? whom the foul
fiend hath led through fire and through flame, and
through ford and whirlpool o'er bog and quagmire;
The definition is too naturally wholesome to fit the example sentence, since Lear is using the adjective "pendulous" to describe an air that carries plagues. Here, "pendulous" is closer to the meaning of being suspended, like a pendulum.
Now, all the plagues that in the pendulous air
Hang fated o'er men's faults light on thy daughters!
In the example sentence, "subdued" is the past tense of the verb "subdue"--Lear is projecting his own status onto Poor Tom/Edgar. But "subdued" is also an adjective meaning "restrained in style or quality" or "in a softened tone"--neither of which Lear is being here.
Death, traitor! nothing could have subdued nature
To such a lowness but his unkind daughters.
Why, thou wert better in thy grave than to answer
with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies.
Edmund is pretending to be afraid of censure in order to get Cornwall's trust and protection. But the consequences of Edmund's betrayals will be a lot harsher than a formal rebuke.
In the example sentence, "nature" does not refer to either Mother Nature or Edmund's nature; it refers to the natural bond between a father and a child which, as Gloucester's bastard second son, Edmund never felt and has no trouble betraying in order to get what he thinks he deserves.
How, my lord, I may be censured, that nature thus
gives way to loyalty, something fears me to think
I now perceive, it was not altogether your
brother's evil disposition made him seek his death;
but a provoking merit, set a-work by a reprovable
badness in himself.
-- I will persevere in
my course of loyalty, though the conflict be sore
between that and my blood.
Oppressed nature sleeps:
This rest might yet have balm'd thy broken sinews,
Which, if convenience will not allow,
Stand in hard cure.
The sea, with such a storm as his bare head
In hell-black night endured, would have buoyed up
And quench'd the stelled fires:

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