King Lear

King Lear


William Shakespeare

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Old Age Theme Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
Themes and Colors
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Old Age Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in King Lear, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Old Age Theme Icon

Originally, Lear wishes to free himself of the burdens of ruling his kingdom because he is aware of his old age and wishes to "crawl unburdened toward death" (1.1.42). As his choice of the verb "crawl" suggests, Lear has a sense that old age forces the individual to remember his or her animal aspect—that is, the fact that human beings, like animals, are subjected to the forces of physical nature and have physical needs.

Age as Goneril and Regan unkindly observe at various points, brings a kind of weakness with it. Regan mocks Lear: "O, sir, you are old […] You should be ruled and led/ By some discretion that discerns your state/ Better than you yourself" [2.4.165-9]. Yet, together with the father-child bond, the play also suggests at various points that age should command respect. The fact that Lear's daughters abuse him for being old makes their cruelty seem all the worse and also indicates that all they care about is power, without any thought for wisdom. Cornwall and Regan's brutality to Gloucester is similarly heightened by our awareness of his age—for instance, when Regan plucks Gloucester's white beard in 3.7.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Old Age Quotes in King Lear

Below you will find the important quotes in King Lear related to the theme of Old Age.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
"Yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself."
Related Characters: Regan (speaker), King Lear
Page Number: 1.1.339-340
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
"Old fools are babes again."
Related Characters: Goneril (speaker), King Lear
Page Number: 1.3.20
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, scene 4 Quotes
"Thou hast pared thy wit o' both sides and left nothing in the middle."
Related Characters: Fool (speaker), King Lear
Page Number: 1.4.191-192
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"My old heart is cracked; it's cracked."
Related Characters: Gloucester (speaker), Edgar
Page Number: 2.1.106
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, scene 4 Quotes
"O sir, you are old.
Nature I you stands on the very verge
Of his confine."
Related Characters: Regan (speaker), King Lear
Page Number: 2.4.164-166
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, scene 6 Quotes
"All the power of his wits have given way to his impatience."
Related Characters: Kent (speaker), King Lear
Page Number: 3.6.4-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, scene 6 Quotes
"Gloucester: Oh let me kiss that hand!
Lear: Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker), Gloucester (speaker)
Page Number: 4.6.147-148
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, scene 3 Quotes
"No, no, no, no. Come, let's away to prison.
We two alone will sing like birds in the cage."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker), Cordelia
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 5.3.9-10
Explanation and Analysis: