King Lear

by

William Shakespeare

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King Lear: Motifs 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Motif
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... read full definition
Act 1, scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Crowns, Crowns, Crowns:

As Lear loses his hold on his kingdom and takes up on the heath as a madman, various characters make comments about his head and crown—playing on the double meaning of the word as both a part of a head and a symbol of royal authority—as a way to emphasize his dramatic fall from grace. Such comments about Lear's crowns and bare head often emphasize his dramatic fall from grace. In Act 1, Scene 4, for instance, the Fool makes clear that Lear has erred by "splitting his crown in two":

[...] When thou clovest thy crown i' th' middle, and gavest away both parts, thou borest thy ass o' th' back o'er the dirt.

To the Fool, the splitting of the kingdom means the destruction of Lear’s crown and a perversion of the natural hierarchy of the land—the king “borest thy ass,” or “carried his donkey,” instead of the other way around.

In Act 3, Scene 2, as Lear wanders on the heath in the midst of the raging storm, Kent laments the old king’s appearance:

Alack,
bareheaded?
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel.
Some friendship will it lend you ’gainst the tempest.

On the surface, Kent expresses dismay at Lear’s exposure to the elements without any hat or hood. But bareheaded also means without crown, and therefore Kent’s comment also calls attention to Lear’s dramatic fall from grace and power. Other characters notice this too; the Gentleman observes that “unbonneted [Lear] runs,” and Gloucester raves that Lear's “bear head” in “hell-black night” manages to survive the disastrous storm.

Eventually, however, Lear finds a new crown. In Act 4, Scene 4, Cordelia remarks on its unconventional construction, cementing for the audience that Lear has totally lost it:

Alack, 'tis he! Why, he was met even now
As mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud,
Crowned with rank fumier and furrow-weeds,
With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers,
Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
In our sustaining corn.—A century send forth.
Search every acre in the high-grown field,
And bring him to our eye.

In a play about the loss of a kingdom and the defeat of an aging king, it should come as no surprise that crowns—and the lack thereof—emerge as a major motif that emphasizes the symbolic power of Lear's clothing and adornment.

Act 3, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Crowns, Crowns, Crowns:

As Lear loses his hold on his kingdom and takes up on the heath as a madman, various characters make comments about his head and crown—playing on the double meaning of the word as both a part of a head and a symbol of royal authority—as a way to emphasize his dramatic fall from grace. Such comments about Lear's crowns and bare head often emphasize his dramatic fall from grace. In Act 1, Scene 4, for instance, the Fool makes clear that Lear has erred by "splitting his crown in two":

[...] When thou clovest thy crown i' th' middle, and gavest away both parts, thou borest thy ass o' th' back o'er the dirt.

To the Fool, the splitting of the kingdom means the destruction of Lear’s crown and a perversion of the natural hierarchy of the land—the king “borest thy ass,” or “carried his donkey,” instead of the other way around.

In Act 3, Scene 2, as Lear wanders on the heath in the midst of the raging storm, Kent laments the old king’s appearance:

Alack,
bareheaded?
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel.
Some friendship will it lend you ’gainst the tempest.

On the surface, Kent expresses dismay at Lear’s exposure to the elements without any hat or hood. But bareheaded also means without crown, and therefore Kent’s comment also calls attention to Lear’s dramatic fall from grace and power. Other characters notice this too; the Gentleman observes that “unbonneted [Lear] runs,” and Gloucester raves that Lear's “bear head” in “hell-black night” manages to survive the disastrous storm.

Eventually, however, Lear finds a new crown. In Act 4, Scene 4, Cordelia remarks on its unconventional construction, cementing for the audience that Lear has totally lost it:

Alack, 'tis he! Why, he was met even now
As mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud,
Crowned with rank fumier and furrow-weeds,
With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers,
Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
In our sustaining corn.—A century send forth.
Search every acre in the high-grown field,
And bring him to our eye.

In a play about the loss of a kingdom and the defeat of an aging king, it should come as no surprise that crowns—and the lack thereof—emerge as a major motif that emphasizes the symbolic power of Lear's clothing and adornment.

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Act 4, scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Crowns, Crowns, Crowns:

As Lear loses his hold on his kingdom and takes up on the heath as a madman, various characters make comments about his head and crown—playing on the double meaning of the word as both a part of a head and a symbol of royal authority—as a way to emphasize his dramatic fall from grace. Such comments about Lear's crowns and bare head often emphasize his dramatic fall from grace. In Act 1, Scene 4, for instance, the Fool makes clear that Lear has erred by "splitting his crown in two":

[...] When thou clovest thy crown i' th' middle, and gavest away both parts, thou borest thy ass o' th' back o'er the dirt.

To the Fool, the splitting of the kingdom means the destruction of Lear’s crown and a perversion of the natural hierarchy of the land—the king “borest thy ass,” or “carried his donkey,” instead of the other way around.

In Act 3, Scene 2, as Lear wanders on the heath in the midst of the raging storm, Kent laments the old king’s appearance:

Alack,
bareheaded?
Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel.
Some friendship will it lend you ’gainst the tempest.

On the surface, Kent expresses dismay at Lear’s exposure to the elements without any hat or hood. But bareheaded also means without crown, and therefore Kent’s comment also calls attention to Lear’s dramatic fall from grace and power. Other characters notice this too; the Gentleman observes that “unbonneted [Lear] runs,” and Gloucester raves that Lear's “bear head” in “hell-black night” manages to survive the disastrous storm.

Eventually, however, Lear finds a new crown. In Act 4, Scene 4, Cordelia remarks on its unconventional construction, cementing for the audience that Lear has totally lost it:

Alack, 'tis he! Why, he was met even now
As mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud,
Crowned with rank fumier and furrow-weeds,
With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers,
Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
In our sustaining corn.—A century send forth.
Search every acre in the high-grown field,
And bring him to our eye.

In a play about the loss of a kingdom and the defeat of an aging king, it should come as no surprise that crowns—and the lack thereof—emerge as a major motif that emphasizes the symbolic power of Lear's clothing and adornment.

Unlock with LitCharts A+