Notes on Act IV, scene vi
voice: Edgar has forgotten to maintain his disguised accent
place: the edge of the cliff (or so he wants him to think)
choughs: jackdaws, another kind of bird, pronounced "chuffs"
samphire: an herb growing on the cliffs
cock: cockboat; the large ship looks like a small rowboat
all beneath the moon: for the whole world, I wouldn't jump from here
Fairies: fairies were supposed to multiply treasure
trifle: Edgar plays this trick on his father in order to cure him of his suicidal despair. Note, however, that the original audience in the Globe, watching this scene on a bare stage and relying solely on the actor's words, would have had no idea that Gloucester was not indeed standing at the edge of the cliff. Only Edgar's later words explain that Gloucester has merely fallen to the ground and passed out. Edgar convinces him that a miracle has saved him from the great fall, and Gloucester determines to leave his death to the gods.
opposeless: irresistible will; if I could endure the fate which you have determined for me
snuff: the smoldering remains of a candle, worthless
conceit: imagination; Edgar fears that his father may have died anyway, out of sheer terror at the thought of falling.
past: by this fall, his ability to think would be over (because he would be dead)
gossamer: a fine film of cobwebs often seen floating in the air
precipitating: falling (Edgar now pretends to be another man at the bottom of the cliff, who witnessed Gloucester's miraculous fall)
heavy substance: your body is still in one piece
sound: alive and well
at each: ten ship masts end to end
chalky bourn: the white cliffs of Dover; bourn = boundary
beguile: outwit, cheat (by suicide)
happy: fortunate (to be alive after such a fall)
father: Edgar uses this term out of respect, much as we would say, "sir". He does not reveal himself to be Gloucester's son until much later (told in the final scene).
clearest: purest, holiest
honours: gods bring honor to themselves by performing miracles
die: I won't try to take my own life, until my natural time comes
free: of care
coining: minting coins, which only the king could do (most editors take the reading of Q here)
side-piercing: we might say "heart-breaking"
Nature's above art: a true king is born, not made (the king's face would appear on coins)
press-money: paid to soldiers, whom he imagines attend him. He acts as if he is still at court.
crow-keeper: a farmhand scaring away crows
draw me a clothier's yard: pull the arrow back a full yard (like a tailor would measure a yard of cloth, from his nose to the tip of his arm)
gauntlet: glove thrown down as a challenge (all these commands are random thoughts to imaginary attendants, recalling his better days as king)
brown bills: soldiers armed with battle axes or short hooked blades with spikes
clout: bull's eye; Lear compares the arrow to a bird, the "hewgh" being the sound an arrow makes as it flies to hit the target.
word: pass word (said to Edgar)
marjoram: an herb used to treat insanity
Goneril: Lear sees the horrible image of blind Gloucester, and compares him to his daughter.
They: his daughters and the men of his court
like a dog: as a dog flatters, fawningly
white hairs: a sign of wisdom; they said he was wise before he was old. The court flattery had begun long before the first scene.
no good divinity: not good theology, making oaths that they didn't intend to keep: see Matthew 5:33-37.
chatter: his teeth chatter
peace at my bidding: perhaps an allusion to Jesus, calming the storm
found: uncovered their lies and flatteries
ague-proof: immune to fever and sickness
trick: particular quality
subject: criminal brought into judgement; Lear imagines he sits in a trial
cause: crime, cause for arrest
lecher: procreate (that is, the birds and the bees do it, why shouldn't you?)
Got: begotten; mad Lear doesn't understand the terrible irony of his statement, spoken to blind Gloucester who now knows of Edmund's treachery.
lawful sheets: marriage bed
soldiers: Lear's mad ravings make strange sense, as he needs more soldiers to be born in order to take revenge on his daughters (see lines below)
simpering: smiling in a coy or conceited manner
whose face ... snow: whose cold looks predict (presages) frigidity (snow) between her legs (forks).
minces virtue: pretends to be virtuous
shake the head: in disapproval of sexual talk
fitchew: skunk, also slang for prostitute
soiled: put out to pasture; that is, this woman pretends to be virtuous but actually has sex more than these animals
Centaurs: mythical creatures, half-human, half-horse, known for their lustfulness
to the girdle: down to the waist the gods control, the Renaissance idea that the upper part of the body was spiritual, while the lower part was carnal.
hell: Lear imagines these lustful women burning in hell, actually seeming to smell the sulfurous fumes
pah, pah: perhaps he imagines he is choking on the fumes
Cupid: the love god was supposedly blind, shooting his arrows randomly. Lear refuses to love (have sex) again and beget more children.
challenge: probably an imaginary piece of writing he shows Gloucester
report: I wouldn't believe it unless I saw it myself
case: empty sockets
heavy case: sad plight (pun)
justice: a judge (whom Lear says is no better than the thief)
handy-dandy: guess in which hand
beadle: constable who enforces the law
to use her in that kind: you want to perform with her the very act for which you punish her
usurer hangs the cozener: the powerful money-lender, a great cheater, punishes the little cheater
Through tattered clothes: small crimes by poor people are seen as great, while the wealthy and powerful get away with worse.
hurtless breaks: If the sinner is wealthy, plated with gold, the lance of justice simply breaks and does not harm him, but for the poor sinner, even a pygmy's dart would strike him down.
glass eyes: eye glasses
boots: Lawrence Olivier's Lear is barefoot and has Gloucester remove imaginary boots
matter and impertinency: sense and nonsense
crying: as babies we came into this world crying, so it only makes sense that our lives are full of sorrows
block: critics don't agree on the meaning here, but some suggest he refers to his "hat" of flowers which he takes off, or perhaps to Edgar's felt hat, leading to the comment on felt.
felt: so that the enemy couldn't hear them coming
stolen: snuck up, surprised
natural fool: fortune's plaything
seconds: supporters coming to his aid
salt: salt tears
die bravely, like a smug bridegroom: "die" was sometimes a Renaissance allusion to sexual climax
life in it: there's still hope
general curse: universal condemnation (comparing their sin to Adam's)
vulgar: common knowledge
descry: sighting; they expect to see them within the hour
biding: place to stay (abide)
to boot: also, even more
proclaimed: someone under sentence of death
happy: fortunate (for Oswald as he will be rewarded for killing Gloucester)
remember: think on your life
friendly: Gloucester thinks of Oswald as doing him a favor by killing him
published: publicly proclaimed as
Ch'ill not ... casion: Edgar disguises his voice with a strange accent: "I'll not let go, sir, without further occasion (reason)"
An chud ... vortnight: If I could have been swaggered (bluffed) out of my life (frightened by the likes of you), I would have died a month ago.
che vor ye ... : "keep out, I warn ye, or I'll try whether your head or my club be the harder. I'll be plain with you."
Ch'll pick your teeth: "I'll knock your teeth out, no matter your sword thrusts (foins)"
wax: the seal on the letter, which he breaks open
want: if you will be not lacking
labour: make a place in my bed for your sexual labor
indistinguished ... will: unlimited range of woman's lust
rake up: cover up, bury
post unsanctified: unholy messenger
death-practiced: whose death is plotted
stiff: "How stubborn is my hateful consciousness that I have not been driven mad by these terrible events"
wrong imaginations: delusions
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