Notes on Act III, scene ii

crack your cheeks: the image of personified clouds blowing, with their cheeks puffed out.

cataracts: floods

cocks: weathervanes shaped like roosters on top of buildings

thought-executing fires: lightning swift as thought

vaunt-couriers: heralds who go before the army (as lightning goes before thunder)

oak-cleaving: tree splitting

rotundity: roundness, also may allude to pregnancy; Lear curses the world to be barren.

moulds: as if men were formed in molds into which the seeds (germains) of life are poured; that is, destroy the means to make more men.

court holy-water: slang for flattery; it would be better to flatter your daughters than to stay outside in this storm.

tax: accuse

subscription: submission, or allegiance, support

servile ministers: agents who serve my daughters, taking their side against me

pernicious: deadly, poisonous

high-engendered: heavenly

headpiece: brain

codpiece ... many: the codpiece was clothing that covered the crotch. The fool says that the man who thinks more about "housing his codpiece" (having sex) than where he will live, will soon be poor and full of lice.

many: many lice (see above explanation)

makes his toe: someone who overturns the normal order of things, elevating his toe above the status of his heart. Lear has brought this trouble on himself by turning his power over to his daughters.

glass: mirror, commenting on Lear's vanity

Marry: By the virgin Mary

Gallow: frighten

pudder: turmoil

enemies: sinners; Lear warns murderers, liars, those committing incest, who have gotten away with their crimes thus far, to hide or beg the heavens for mercy.

simular: counterfeit

caitiff: villain

seeming: hypocrisy

practiced: plotted against

close: hidden

Rive: split open, thus revealing the contents

continents: containers

summoners: the gods who summon them to judgement

sinning: although many men deserve heaven's wrath because of their sins, Lear believes that his punishment is greater than his crime, resulting from others' sins against him.

hard by: close by

hovel: shack

harder: play on words; hard as in nearby, but also hard as in harsh, lacking compassion

demanding: asking about the king

scanted: withheld

art: alchemy which sought to turn base metals into gold. A common thing like warm, dry straw can become precious, even to a king, at times like this.

fortunes fit: he that has little wits must be content with little fortune. This song is also found in Twelfth Night, Act V.

brave: fine

cool a courtesan: such a night would cool off the hot passion of a whore

word than matter: don't practice the holiness they preach

mar: dilute the beer

tutors: when noblemen know more about fashion than the tailors, being concerned more with looking good than with ruling well

burned: heretics escape punishment, but lovers "burn" with venereal disease. These first four "prophesies" have already come to pass, describing the world as it is now (hypocritical priests, cheating brewers, ineffective rulers, heretics on the loose). The following prophecies, however, are all too good to be true, and will never happen. 

tell their gold in the field: count money in the open 

bawds: pimps

Albion: England

confusion: if these last six Utopian prophecies ever come to pass, England won't be recognizable, nothing will be as it is now.

going shall be used with feet: men will walk upright, as they ought (suggesting that they don't do that now).

Merlin: the wizard of King Arthur legend, supposedly lived after Lear's time.


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