King Lear Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least,
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound
Reverb no hollowness.
Kent, on thy life, no more.
My life I never held but as a pawn
To wage against thy enemies; nor fear to lose
Thy safety being the motive.
Out of my sight! (1.1.171-179)
Kent is the only one who stands up to Lear after the king disowns Cordelia for refusing to flatter Lear. When Kent points out that Cordelia (not Goneril and Regan) loves Lear the most, he's told to shut his mouth, or else. But Kent won't be silenced—he's worried about Lear's safety so he speaks what's on his mind. His reward for being so blunt? Lear banishes him, of course.
[…] if this letter speed
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th' legitimate. I grow, I prosper. (1.2.20-22)
Notice any parallels between Edmund and Lear's wicked daughters, Goneril and Regan? Each character uses deceptive words to fool their fathers. When Edmund forges a letter in order to frame his brother and fool his father, it becomes pretty clear that language simply can't be trusted. FYI—Shakespeare uses a forged letter in his play, Twelfth Night, to make a similar point.
Who is it that can tell me who I am?
Lear's shadow. (1.4.236-237)
When Lear asks "who is it can tell me who I am?" it is his Fool who responds in an interesting and provocative way. The Fool's answer ("Lear's shadow") can be read in a couple of ways. On the one hand, it could mean the person who can tell Lear who he "is" is Lear's Fool (who is thought of as Lear's "shadow" because he follows or shadows Lear around the countryside).
Alternatively, we can read the line thus: Lear is nothing but a shadow, which suggests that Lear is merely a shadow of his former self now that he's given away all his land. In other words, the Fool is saying that Lear, (whose status has changed since retirement) is nothing without his former power and title. This is pretty ballsy, don't you think?
However we decide to read this passage, one thing is certain—Lear's Fool is one of the few people who ever tell it like it is.