From start to finish, King Lear is full of references to animals, usually incorporated into insults and curses or used to describe states of maximum human degradation. (The Fool
also frequently tells jokes or sings songs involving non-human creatures.) Lear himself observes, in his rage at Goneril
: "Allow not nature more than nature needs,/ Man's life is cheap as beast's" (2.4.307-8). Throughout the play, animals present a vision of brutal nature to which men can descend, and yet the animals are also held up as less corrupt than men. After all the beasts are just beasts, and are naturally brutal, while the finely dressed Goneril and Regan, along with the other disloyal members of Lear's court, can spout beautiful language about love and honor, and then stab their father in the back.