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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

go mad.

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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