In Act 3, scene 4, Shakespeare utilizes the ominous storm pounding down upon thesuffering Lear in order to elucidate the storm which actually affects Lear the greatest–theinternal storm caused by the ingratitude shown by his daughters Regan and Goneril.
Priorto Lear’s speech, Kent urges the King to enter a nearby hovel for the purpose ofprotecting himself from the seemingly unbearable storm. The tempest in Lear’s mind,however, is revealed as a greater concern than the storm on the outside. Lear is so fixatedon his daughters’ ingratitude that he scarcely feels the effects of the harsh environmentalelements crashing down upon him. He then gives a metaphorical speech to Kent, and hedeclines to enter the hovel while urging both Kent and the fool inside. The speech givenby Lear before he implores Kent to enter the hovel is a major component in thedevelopment of the scene, as a whole, as it cleverly exhibits, through various poeticdevices, both the mental situation of Lear and the progression of the play’s plot.A particular rhetorical device Shakespeare uses to manipulate Lear’s speech is syntax and rhythmic deviation.
Lear commences his speech using an almost naturalrhythm in which he speaks in long, smooth sentences: “Thou think’st ‘tis much that this contentious stormInvades us to the skin….
” ( lines 6-7)However, it becomes quite evident to the reader when Lear begins focusing more andmore on the tempest inside his mind–the storm that he feels the greatest effects of. Hisspeech thus becomes marked by heavy separations. His sentences become increasinglychoppy, as they are marked by intense punctuation: “Save what beats here. Filialingratitude!” (line 14). This syntax and deviation of rhythm is indicative of Lear’s attitudethat his internal tempest is of much greater concern than the harsh storm on the outside. While he scarcely feels the latter, he cannot avoid feeling the full affects of the former.
The definite shift in syntax underscores the truism that the harshness of the environmentcorrelates to the ingratitude Lear’s daughters have shown towards him. The short,choppy nature of Lear’s language also indicates his inability to think complete, coherentthoughts while his mind is essentially battered by an internal tempest. The harsh “s” soundfiltered throughout Lear’s speech further verifies his inner turmoil over the fact that hisdaughters show a diminutive amount of gratitude towards him despite his providingendlessly for them. The “s” sound in this case serves as a cacophony. It is especiallyeffective as the reader can almost hear the crashing of waves and the howling of windThou think’st much that this contentious storm Invades us to the skin.
So ‘tis to thee…(lines 6-7)Lear’s speech in Act 3, scene 4 also has a distinctive metaphorical air to it and isaccompanied by definite examples of Shakespeare’s lucid imagery. But if thy flight lay toward the roaring seaThou’dst meet the bear in the mouth” (lines 8-10).
The preceding citation is clearly characteristic of the principal theme encompassed inLear’s speech–that the environmental storm is less daunting than the disturbance withinLear’s own mind. If one is being tracked down by a bear, they will naturally run. But, ifthey are running towards a roaring sea, they have little choice but to face the bear sincethey will have no chance to survive the sea. The bear here is being compared to the harshstorm that Lear rarely feels and the roaring sea is being compared to his internal tempest. Not only does this set of lines capture a vivid image in the reader’s mind, but it also servesas a metaphorical comparison between Lear’s mind (the subject of more concern) and thestorm (the lesser of the “two evils”).
Another powerful metaphor illustrated in Lear’s“Thou think’st ‘tis much that this contentious stormInvades us to the skin….” The key element in this metaphor is the word “invade”, which conjures up the idea ofsomething, such as an army, taking another entity completely over.
This is comparable tothe actuality that Lear’s thoughts about what his daughters have done is the single thingwhich are inherently conquering his mind. The reader is now completely able to see theeffect Lear’s daughters are having upon his mental state. Following the metaphor whichconcerns the bear and roaring sea, Lear declares, “When the mind’s free, The body’sdelicate” (lines 10-12). This illustrates the certitude that Lear would become moresusceptible to the elements if he no longer focused upon what was eating him, mentally. However, since Lear’s mind is focusing only on his daughters’ ingratitude and the grief ithas caused him, he is made impervious to the storm occurring all around him. Near the ending of his speech, Lear uses two more poetic devices: rhetoricalquestions and repetition.
He opens his series of rhetorical questions with, perhaps, themost important one: “Is it not as this mouth should tear this hand for lifting food to it?” (lines 15-16). This quote seems to correlate to the clich, “Don’t bite the hand that feedsyou.” Lear has given his daughters all of his land, and yet, they show no gratitudetowards him. He has raised them and cared for them, but they repay him with ingratitude,greed, and hate. Lear continues with more rhetorical questions, which are linked by hintsof repetition: In such a night to shut me out? Pour on; I will endure. In such a night asthis?” (lines 18-19). Again, it is evident that Lear is able to withstand the harsh elements,as he is focusing on the tempest within his mind.
The repetition further emphasizes that hehas been ultimately disowned by his daughters and left without shelter. In addition, hewas cast out into horrible conditions, and Lear fears he will soon go mad based upon hisdaughter’s ungrateful nature. Lear concludes with: “O Regan, Goneril, Your old kindfather, whose frank heart gave all–O, that way madness lies; let me shun that! No more ofthat” (lines 19-22). The reader is able to see now the complete effect that Lear’sdaughters have had upon his mind and sanity. He has given them everything, and theyhave not given anything in return. Therefore, Lear is allowed to suffer and to essentiallyMany of the elements which lay the foundations for Lear’s speech in Act 3, scene 4are contrasted through previous speeches in Acts 1 and 2. For instance, Lear’s speech inAct 1, scene 1, lines 108-119, is almost opposite in content and style of his later speech.
His Act 1 speech concerns the fact that his daughter, Cordelia cannot profess her love forLear through words. This speech is driven by anger, as more exclamation points are used,and Lear actually curses his daughter: “The barbarous Scythian, Or he that makes hisgeneration messes to gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom Be as well neighbored, pitied,and relieved As thou my sometime daughter” (lines 116-119). However, in his laterspeech, Lear is more in disbelief that his daughters whom he gave all his land to could beso ungrateful. He is more obsessed with his inner being and feels he will go mad, and hedoesn’t express such volatile anger as he did in Act 1. The rhetorical questions in Act 3developed Lear’s highly unstable and insecure character. In Act 1, however, Lear is moreegotistical and self-assured, thus posing less of these questions. Furthermore, Lear’sspeech is definitely less choppy and short in Act 1.
“The mysteries of Hecate and thenight, By all the operation of the orbs From whom we do exist and cease to be…(lines110-112). Here, Lear is thinking in more coherent and complete thoughts, making hissentences longer and linking them into a more collective whole. Furthermore, in Act 1,Lear’s imagery is more graphic in nature.
For instance, when he speaks of the Scythianbarbarian, he discusses them as having offspring for the purpose of eating them andgorging their appetites. The effect of this generally graphic imagery in Act 1 is theestablishment of a more angry and almost violent tone expressed through the character ofLear. The imagery in Act 3, on the other hand, serves more for the development of acontrast between the environmental storm and the tempest mounted within Lear’s mind. It thus becomes quite evident that the language used by Lear in Act 1 is in great contrastwith that which he uses in Act 3 due to the circumstances and Lear’s mental state.