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King Lear Gender Quotes

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

Quote #7

Now all the plagues that in the pendulous air
Hang fated o'er men's faults light on thy daughters!
He hath no daughters, sir.
Death, traitor! Nothing could have subdued nature
To such a lowness but his unkind daughters. (3.4.73-77)

When Lear encounters Poor Tom (Edgar disguised as a poor, naked, beggar), he concludes that Poor Tom's terrible state must have been caused by Tom's "daughters." When the Fool points out that "Poor Tom" has no children, Lear insists that there's nothing in the world that could have reduced a man to such a lowly state… except "his unkind daughters." For Lear, it seems that all the problems of the world are caused by women.

Quote #8

Let not the creaking of shoes nor the rustling
of silks betray thy poor heart to woman. Keep thy
foot out of brothels, thy hand out of plackets, (3.4.101-103)

Disguised as Poor Tom, Edgar warns Lear not to be seduced or "betray[ed" by women, to stay out of the brothels, and to keep his hands out of "plackets" (slits in the skirts of petticoats). "Foot," by the way, is Edgar's way of punning on the French word "foutre" (f*@k). 

Edgar's never been betrayed by any women in the play, so what's the deal with this nasty little diatribe against women? Does Edgar hate women as much as King Lear? Or, are we meant to read this passage as the insane ramblings of a (supposed) madman? In other words, is Shakespeare implying that this kind of attitude toward women is crazy?

Quote #9

Down from the waist they are centaurs,
Though women all above. But to the girdle do the
gods inherit; beneath is all the fiends'. There's hell,
there's darkness, there's the sulphurous pit; burning,
scalding, stench, consumption! Fie, fie, fie, pah,
pah! (4.6.140-145)

Women, Lear claims, seem pretty normal from the "waist" up but, down below there's "hell" and "darkness" like a "sulphurous pit." Lear's sexist description of female anatomy calls to mind the symptoms of a very unpleasant venereal disease—"burning, scalding, stench," and so on. It seems that King Lear associates all women with a very unpleasant STD, especially his daughter, Goneril, whose name, as you may have guessed, sounds a whole lot like "gonorrhea."

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