'King Lear' Quotes

William Shakespeare's Famous Play

King Lear
King Lear. Simon & Schuster

"King Lear" is one of the most famous plays by William Shakespeare. The work is based on a legendary king, who bequeaths his kingdom to two of his three daughters, based on how well they flatter him. The fallout is tragic. The plot has influenced various novels, including "A Thousand Acres" by Jane Smiley, and even a television show, "Empire." The quotes below depict the king's descent into madness as his daughters wage a bloody battle for the kingdom.

True Intentions

Once set in motion, Goneril, Lear's eldest daughter; Regan, his second daughter; and Cordelia, his youngest, begin positioning to gain control of the kingdom. Shakespeare uses expressive language to allude to the anger that seethes within Lear's children.

  • "Meantime we shall express our darker purpose." - Act 1, Scene 1
  • "Come not between the dragon and his wrath." -  Act 1, Scene 1
  • "Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides." - Act 1, Scene 1

Ingratitude

Lear, expressing a parent's universal lament, feels that his daughters -- particularly Cordelia -- are ungrateful for all that he has done for them. His disappointment shows in these quotes.

  • "Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend, / More hideous, when thou show'st thee in a child, / Than the sea-monster." - Act 1, Scene 4
  • "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child!" - Act 1, Scene 4
  • "Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! Spout, rain! / Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters: / I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness; / I never gave you kingdom, called you children, / You owe me no subscription: then, let fall / Your horrible pleasure; here I stand, your slave, / A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man." - Act 3, Scene 2​

Madness

Lear slowly loses his sanity during the course of the play. Sadly, he knows he is losing his mind because of the course of events he has set in motion, but he is powerless to stop the chaos he has caused as well as his descent into madness, as these quotes demonstrate.

  • "O! let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven; / Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!" - Act 1, Scene 5
  • "Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound / Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears / Do scald like molten lead." - Act 4, Scene 7
  • "I fear I am not in my perfect mind." - Act 4, Scene 7

Despair and Regret

Among the many other travesties in the play, Cordelia dies as a result of the battle between the sisters for the kingdom. Lear laments her death, of course, but also lays bare in these quotes his feelings of despair and utter regret at the tragic results.

  • "Pray you now, forget and forgive." - Act 4, Scene 7
  • "We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage: / When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down, / and ask of thee forgiveness." - Act 5, Scene 3
  • "Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones: / Had I your tongue and eyes, I'd use them so / That heaven's vaults should / rack. She's gone for ever!" - Act 5, Scene 3
  • "Is this the promised end?" - Act 5, Scene 3