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King Lear Family Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.

Quote #1

KENT
I thought the king had more affected the Duke
of Albany than Cornwall. (1.1.1-2)

The opening lines of Shakespeare's plays often provide clues about the play's most important pressing issues or themes. In King Lear, the play opens as Kent and Gloucester discuss which son-in-law King Lear likes best. Shakespeare might as well hold up a sign that says "This play is going to be all about the dynamics of parent-child relationships!"

Quote #2

KENT
Is not this your son, my lord?
GLOUCESTER
His breeding, sir, hath been at my
charge. I have so often blushed to acknowledge
him, that now I am brazed to 't.
KENT
I cannot conceive you.
GLOUCESTER
Sir, this young fellow's mother could,
whereupon she grew round-wombed and had indeed,
sir, a son for her cradle ere she had a husband
for her bed. Do you smell a fault? (1.1.8-16)

Hmm. Seems like Shakespeare's trying to tell us there's going to be a whole lot of family drama up in this play. According to Gloucester, his illegitimate son, Edmund, is a bit of an embarrassment—Gloucester claims he has "often blushed to acknowledge" Edmund (because the young man was conceived out of wedlock). When Kent says he doesn't understand Gloucester's meaning, Gloucester puns on the word "conceive" (to understand or to biologically conceive a child) in order to crack a dirty joke about the mother of his illegitimate son. (Edmund, by the way, is standing next to his father the entire time!) It's not so surprising, then, that Edmund turns out to have a grudge against his father.

Quote #3

But I have a son, sir by order of law,
some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in
my account. Though this knave came something
saucily into the world before he was sent for, yet was
his mother fair, there was good sport at his making,
and the whoreson must be acknowledged.—Do you
know this noble gentleman, Edmund? (1.1.19-25)

Here, Gloucester reveals that, in addition to his illegitimate son, Edmund, he also has another son "by order of law." ("By order of law" just means Gloucester's other son is legally recognized as a legitimate heir. In other words, this other son isn't a "bastard" like Edmund. Or Jon Snow.)

What's interesting about this passage is that Gloucester says he doesn't favor his legitimate son over Edmund. Gloucester's legitimate son, he says, "is no dearer in [his] account." We can't help but notice that the play is full of speculation about which children are most beloved by their fathers. Recall from a previous passage (1.1.1-6), Kent and Gloucester wondered which son-in-law King Lear liked best. And we know that Lear favors Cordelia over Goneril and Regan.

We should also point out that the more general question of "who loves who the most" turn up again when King Lear stages a love test, demanding to know which daughter can say she loves her father more than everyone else. Seems like Shakespeare is raising the following question: Is love (especially family love) quantifiable?

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