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Imagery In Shakespeare’s King Lear Essay, Research Paper

William Shakespeare, when writing King Lear, incorporates many effective images into this play. He refers to clothing, animals, wheels, sexual images, and blindness all to make his point. Shakespeare uses blindness in 2 paralleling plotlines, those of Lear and Gloucester. He uses animal imagery throughout the play, to show one character s feelings for another. And finally, he uses clothing imagery to exemplify the situation of certain characters. The images used by Shakespeare in this play are effective and paint a wonderful picture.

Near the beginning of the play, in one of the early scenes, Lear is dividing his kingdom up between his three daughters. Imagery of an animal is developed here, and foreshadows Lear s eventual madness and demise,

And tis our fast intent

To shake all cares and business from our age,

Conferring them on younger strengths while we

Unburdened crawl toward death. (Act I, scene 1, 39-42)

The word crawl suggests a wounded, tired, or perhaps hunted animal dragging itself nearer to death. Lear attempts to use this ironically; he still believes that all will be well.

Later in the play, animal imagery is used again to show how Lear feels about Goneril, after she s kicked him out and sent him to Regan s:

Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,

More hideous when thou show st thee in a child,

Than the sea monster!

In the same scene, Lear s daughters, Regan and Goneril, are again compared to animals (or monsters) by Lear: ..How sharper than a serpent s tooth it is to have a thankless child!..

In the fifth act, Lear and Cordelia have been captured by Edmund and sentenced to die. Now that he and Cordelia are together again, he uses animal imagery to paint a picture of his future with Cordelia as soon as they are released, …We two alone will sing like birds i the cage.

In King Lear, animal imagery is used extensively. At the beginning, it s almost a joke to Lear, he feels that he would never have to crawl towards death, he s the King! Later, monsters are used in comparison to Lear s daughters, Regan and Goneril, to show, effectively, how he s feeling. And at the end of the play, when Lear and Cordelia are together again, all is well and the imagery changes content animals, birds.

Clothing imagery also plays an important part in King Lear. Generally, it illustrates the mental capacity of Lear, or it exemplifies how Edgar went from riches to rags as Poor Tom. Edgar states, while he is masquerading as Poor Tom, In nothing I am changed, But in my garments. (Act IV, scene 6, 12-13). When Lear meets Gloucester for the first time after Gloucester s eyes have been gouged out, he says,

Through tattered clothes small vices do appear;

Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,

And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;

Arm it in rags, a pygmy s straw does pierce it. (Act IV, scene 6, 180-183)

When Lear was King, no one could touch him. But since he gave away his power, he seems to have lost everything else as well.

Imagery of eyes and blindness probably plays the biggest role in King Lear. Gloucester, when he is still physically able to see, is shown to be blind because he accepts everything at face value, and doesn t ask enough questions. When Edmund forges a letter from Edgar, (Act I, scene 2) Gloucester instantly takes the side of his bastard son, rather than give his real son the benefit of

the doubt. When Gloucester loses his eyes, he finally sees the truth about his sons;

I have no way and therefore want no eyes

I stumbled when I saw. (Act IV, scene 1, 20-21)

Lear is also shown as blind throughout the play. At the beginning, he is blind to the fact that Regan and Goneril are only after his money and power, and don t really love him, despite what they might say. He doesn t realize that it is Cordelia who loves him truly,

…I am sure my love s

More ponderous than my tongue. (Act I, scene 1,82-83)

After Lear goes insane, he finally realizes the truth, and the selective blindness is gone: You have some cause, they have not . (Act IV, scene 7, 85) He is speaking to Cordelia, and wondering why she doesn t hate him.

In Shakespeare s King Lear, there is a lot of very evident imagery. Some of the subjects include clothing, blindness, and animal images. These are all very effective because they all paint very vivid pictures, and seem to add something to what the characters are saying. Overall, William Shakespeare s King Lear is an excellent play.


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