Notes on Act IV, scene ii

mild: timid, weak-willed (in contrast to Edmund)

sot: fool

cowish: cowardly

answer: retaliation (he ignores insults which would oblige him to retaliate)

wishes: desires that Edmund be her husband

prove effects: come true

brother: brother-in-law; she is unaware that Cornwall is dead

musters: collecting of troops

conduct his powers: lead his armies

change names: from that of wife to husband

distaff: stick used in spinning yarn, "woman's work"

stretch: raise your spirits (with a sexual innuendo as well)

Conceive: understand my intentions toward you

death: either "I'll be with you until death" or perhaps a reference to sex. "Die" was a common English euphemism for orgasm, probably from the French la petite mort, "the little death."

fool: her husband (if "foot" as in Q, she means that instead of the husband being the head of the wife, Albany is actually her foot)

whistle: "It is a poor dog that is not worth the whistling."

contemns its origin: despises its parent

bordered: contained (he fears her infidelity)

disbranch: cut herself off from the family tree

text: on which your sermon is based; "Stop preaching to me"

head-lugged: dragged with a chain around its neck, hence enraged

madded: driven mad

suffer: permit

Milk-livered: cowardly (the blood in the liver was supposed to give courage; he has "milk")

discerning ... suffering: unable to distinguish between injuries which affect your honor and thus should be avenged, and the patient endurance of ordinary troubles.

mischief: fool pity villains (such as Lear and Gloucester) who are punished before they can commit wrong; in other words, they had it coming.

drum: preparing for war, calling men to battle

noiseless: no drum, thus unprepared

proper deformity: it is proper for a demon to be deformed (physically), much worse for a woman to be so (morally)

changed and self-covered: transformed as by witchcraft, disguising her true demonic form

Be-monster: don't become in your looks the evil fiend you are inside 

Marry: by Mary (an anachronism since Shakespeare sets his play in pre-Christian times)

mew: she laughs at his manhood

bred: raised

thrilled: deeply moved

plucked him after: to death, following his servant

justicers: just gods who avenge crimes (Albany's optimism toward heaven will be strongly challenged at the end of the play)

nether: committed here below

this: the news of Cornwall's death, for it probably means Edmund's advancement to fill a powerful role

pluck: since my sister is now a widow, she may try to take Edmund from me, which would pull down all my dream-castles ("the building in my fancy"), leaving me here in this hateful marriage.

tart: sour (that is, things won't be so bad, if Cornwall's death means Edmund's advancement, and she can get her husband out of the way)


Back to Act IV, scene ii

Next scene

Table of contents