The Storms of King Lear

The weather in King Lear is important in act three. After his decision to stay with his knights instead of his daughters, he directs his anger towards the storm: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!…” (3.2.1ff) His language, however, is not directed only to the weather. The storm that is raging outside of Gloucester’s castle represents both the disposition of Lear as well as the turmoil between him and his daughters.


In the beginning of scene two, Lear is angry and hurt, cursing the weather and taunting the storm to drown him, to singe his head with lightning (3.2.4ff). The following line, however, centers on the “seeds” of the world: “Crack Nature’s molds, all germens spill at once, / That make ingrateful man!” (3.2.8-9).Like Hamlet, Lear is using nature to describe the family. He is demanding that the storm would strike down the molds of Nature; it can be seen that he is referring to humans. The ‘germens’ can be seen as Lear’s daughters (they are, after all, his “seeds”), and they cause their father to be ingrateful. I assume Lear uses the term ‘ingrateful’ referring to the girls’ hospitality towards him and his knights and Kent.


The storm continues throughout the third scene not only with King Lear’s fury but also within the castle. Gloucester had received news of an army coming forth to take over Lear’s kingdom: this can be easily depicted as both an outside source of war as well as the war that is slowly building within the royal family.


Further on, in scene four, Lear’s rage seems to have died out, leaving him vulnerable and hurt, acting more so as a father than a king:

“The tempest in my mind / Doth from my senses take all feeling else / Save what beats there. Filial ingratitude! Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand / For lifting food to ‘t? But I will punish home. / No, I will weep no more. / In such a night / To shut me out! Pour on: I will endure.” (3.4.13-19)

This discussion that Lear has with Kent is crucial (in my opinion) in understanding Lear’s confliction between his hurt as a father and his anger as a king. He appears to be fighting with his hurt feelings by transferring his sadness and betrayal into fierce and often erratic anger.


I wonder if Lear is simply being stubborn: at first I thought that perhaps he feels incredibly vulnerable and therefore defends himself with the pleasantries of royal life –the knights, the fool, his servant Kent –but now I’m not so sure. It is obvious that Lear is indeed vulnerable, but if he cared for his servants, then why is he staying outside of Gloucester’s castle? Why did he not send home his men? He has one hundred knights. Though we discussed this in class –Lear feels he needs those knights –I can’t help but feel skeptical about how he really feels. Perhaps it is desperation to keep as many people as he can close. Maybe he is already subconsciously aware of the upcoming war?

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One thought on “The Storms of King Lear

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    Your attention to the stage directions and weather here is really useful, Elaine! There is a kind of primordial connection between the dethroned king and his land in this scene–his rage matching the rage of the winds. It's really powerful to see this performed, and imagining it in Shakespeare's time, it really is Lear himself who must provide the spectacular sounds and emotions of the storm.

    Reply

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