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The Tempest In Lear Essay, Research Paper
In Act 3, scene 4, Shakespeare utilizes the ominous storm pounding down upon the
suffering Lear in order to elucidate the storm which actually affects Lear the greatest–the
internal storm caused by the ingratitude shown by his daughters Regan and Goneril. Prior
to Lear’s speech, Kent urges the King to enter a nearby hovel for the purpose of
protecting himself from the seemingly unbearable storm. The tempest in Lear’s mind,
however, is revealed as a greater concern than the storm on the outside. Lear is so fixated
on his daughters’ ingratitude that he scarcely feels the effects of the harsh environmental
elements crashing down upon him. He then gives a metaphorical speech to Kent, and he
declines to enter the hovel while urging both Kent and the fool inside. The speech given
by Lear before he implores Kent to enter the hovel is a major component in the
development of the scene, as a whole, as it cleverly exhibits, through various poetic
devices, both the mental situation of Lear and the progression of the play’s plot.
A particular rhetorical device Shakespeare uses to manipulate Lear’s speech is
syntax and rhythmic deviation. Lear commences his speech using an almost natural
rhythm in which he speaks in long, smooth sentences:
“Thou think’st ‘tis much that this contentious storm
Invades us to the skin….” ( lines 6-7)
However, it becomes quite evident to the reader when Lear begins focusing more and
more on the tempest inside his mind–the storm that he feels the greatest effects of. His
speech thus becomes marked by heavy separations. His sentences become increasingly
choppy, as they are marked by intense punctuation: “Save what beats here. Filial
ingratitude!” (line 14). This syntax and deviation of rhythm is indicative of Lear’s attitude
that his internal tempest is of much greater concern than the harsh storm on the outside.
While he scarcely feels the latter, he cannot avoid feeling the full affects of the former.
The definite shift in syntax underscores the truism that the harshness of the environment
correlates to the ingratitude Lear’s daughters have shown towards him. The short,
choppy nature of Lear’s language also indicates his inability to think complete, coherent
thoughts while his mind is essentially battered by an internal tempest. The harsh “s” sound
filtered throughout Lear’s speech further verifies his inner turmoil over the fact that his
daughters show a diminutive amount of gratitude towards him despite his providing
endlessly for them. The “s” sound in this case serves as a cacophony. It is especially
effective as the reader can almost hear the crashing of waves and the howling of wind
within Lear’s mind.
Thou think’st much that this contentious storm
Invades us to the skin. So ‘tis to thee…(lines 6-7)
Lear’s speech in Act 3, scene 4 also has a distinctive metaphorical air to it and is
accompanied by definite examples of Shakespeare’s lucid imagery.
“Thou’dst shun a bear,
But if thy flight lay toward the roaring sea
Thou’dst meet the bear in the mouth” (lines 8-10).
The preceding citation is clearly characteristic of the principal theme encompassed in
Lear’s speech–that the environmental storm is less daunting than the disturbance within
Lear’s own mind. If one is being tracked down by a bear, they will naturally run. But, if
they are running towards a roaring sea, they have little choice but to face the bear since
they will have no chance to survive the sea. The bear here is being compared to the harsh
storm that Lear rarely feels and the roaring sea is being compared to his internal tempest.
Not only does this set of lines capture a vivid image in the reader’s mind, but it also serves
as a metaphorical comparison between Lear’s mind (the subject of more concern) and the
storm (the lesser of the “two evils”). Another powerful metaphor illustrated in Lear’s
speech is lines six and seven:
“Thou think’st ‘tis much that this contentious storm
Invades us to the skin….”
The key element in this metaphor is the word “invade”, which conjures up the idea of
something, such as an army, taking another entity completely over. This is comparable to
the actuality that Lear’s thoughts about what his daughters have done is the single thing
which are inherently conquering his mind. The reader is now completely able to see the
effect Lear’s daughters are having upon his mental state. Following the metaphor which
concerns the bear and roaring sea, Lear declares, “When the mind’s free, The body’s
delicate” (lines 10-12). This illustrates the certitude that Lear would become more
susceptible to the elements if he no longer focused upon what was eating him, mentally.
However, since Lear’s mind is focusing only on his daughters’ ingratitude and the grief it
has caused him, he is made impervious to the storm occurring all around him.
Near the ending of his speech, Lear uses two more poetic devices: rhetorical
questions and repetition. He opens his series of rhetorical questions with, perhaps, the
most important one: “Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand for lifting food to it?”
(lines 15-16). This quote seems to correlate to the clich?, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds
you.” Lear has given his daughters all of his land, and yet, they show no gratitude
towards him. He has raised them and cared for them, but they repay him with ingratitude,
greed, and hate. Lear continues with more rhetorical questions, which are linked by hints
of repetition: In such a night to shut me out? Pour on; I will endure. In such a night as
this?” (lines 18-19). Again, it is evident that Lear is able to withstand the harsh elements,
as he is focusing on the tempest within his mind. The repetition further emphasizes that he
has been ultimately disowned by his daughters and left without shelter. In addition, he
was cast out into horrible conditions, and Lear fears he will soon go mad based upon his
daughter’s ungrateful nature. Lear concludes with: “O Regan, Goneril, Your old kind
father, whose frank heart gave all–O, that way madness lies; let me shun that! No more of
that” (lines 19-22). The reader is able to see now the complete effect that Lear’s
daughters have had upon his mind and sanity. He has given them everything, and they
have not given anything in return. Therefore, Lear is allowed to suffer and to essentially
Many of the elements which lay the foundations for Lear’s speech in Act 3, scene 4
are contrasted through previous speeches in Acts 1 and 2. For instance, Lear’s speech in
Act 1, scene 1, lines 108-119, is almost opposite in content and style of his later speech.
His Act 1 speech concerns the fact that his daughter, Cordelia cannot profess her love for
Lear through words. This speech is driven by anger, as more exclamation points are used,
and Lear actually curses his daughter: “The barbarous Scythian, Or he that makes his
generation messes to gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom Be as well neighbored, pitied,
and relieved As thou my sometime daughter” (lines 116-119). However, in his later
speech, Lear is more in disbelief that his daughters whom he gave all his land to could be
so ungrateful. He is more obsessed with his inner being and feels he will go mad, and he
doesn’t express such volatile anger as he did in Act 1. The rhetorical questions in Act 3
developed Lear’s highly unstable and insecure character. In Act 1, however, Lear is more
egotistical and self-assured, thus posing less of these questions. Furthermore, Lear’s
speech is definitely less choppy and short in Act 1. “The mysteries of Hecate and the
night, By all the operation of the orbs From whom we do exist and cease to be…(lines
110-112). Here, Lear is thinking in more coherent and complete thoughts, making his
sentences longer and linking them into a more collective whole. Furthermore, in Act 1,
Lear’s imagery is more graphic in nature. For instance, when he speaks of the Scythian
barbarian, he discusses them as having offspring for the purpose of eating them and
gorging their appetites. The effect of this generally graphic imagery in Act 1 is the
establishment of a more angry and almost violent tone expressed through the character of
Lear. The imagery in Act 3, on the other hand, serves more for the development of a
contrast between the environmental storm and the tempest mounted within Lear’s mind.
It thus becomes quite evident that the language used by Lear in Act 1 is in great contrast
with that which he uses in Act 3 due to the circumstances and Lear’s mental state.
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