Imagery in Shakespeare's King Lear

By Trent Lorcher

King Lear uses very descriptive language and vivid images to get it's point across. Some themes include comparison of people to animals, and violent descriptions of nature.

Examples of Imagery

Quote: "Come not between the dragon and his wrath." (I, i, 124).King Lear 

Senses: Sight

Analysis: The image of Lear as a dragon highlights his hot temper. Shakespeare uses animal imagery to represent beastly characteristics of his characters. It also serves as a warning to Kent and foreshadows Kent's expulsion from the kingdom. The use of the dragon image provides evidence of Lear's madness and his inability to control his emotions.

Quote: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child!" (I, iv, 312-13).

Senses: Touch. Sight

Analysis: Shakespeare uses metaphor and hyperbole to compare the sting of his daughter's betrayal to getting bit by a serpent, an image closely associated with evil. Comparing his daughter to a serpent is another example of animal imagery,.

More Imaginative Imagery

Quote: "Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er 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?" (III, iv, 28-31).

Senses: Sight, Touch

Analysis: Lear's description suggests remorse at not taking better care of his subjects when he had the chance. The scene is also symbolic of the damage done to Britain's citizens on account of the turmoil caused by Lear handing his kingdom to unworthy heirs.

Quote: "He was met even now / As mad as the vexed sea; singing aloud; / Crowned with rank fumitor and furrow weeds, / With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, / Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn." (IV, iv, 1-6).

Senses: Sound, Sight

Analysis: This description of the king emphasizes the depth of his insanity. I can see him now, dancing behind the bush, covered in weeds and singing like a loon.

Quote: "Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones: / Had I your tongue and eyes, I'd use them so / That heaven's vaults should crack. She's gone for ever!" (V, iii, 258-61).

Senses: Sound, Sight

Analysis: Lear expresses the depth of his sorrow over Cordelia's death. Note once again the animal imagery connected with howling. Note also the reference to heaven cracking, yet another example of natural disorder reflecting the chaos caused by Lear's abdication.

If you found this analysis of King Lear imagery helpful, check out other Shakespeare study guides at Bright Hub Education.