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Powerful Animal Imagery in King Lear

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In King Lear. Shakespeare uses imagery of great imaginative depth and resonance to convey his major themes and to heighten the readers experience of the play. There are some predominant image patterns.

In my opinion, it is the imagery of animals and savage monsters that leave the most lasting impression. The imagination is filled with pictures of wild and menacing creatures, ravenous in their appetites, cruel in their instincts. The underlying emphasis in such imagery is on the vileness of which humanity is capable. It is often used in connection with Goneril and Regan. Throughout the play, the sisters are compared unfavourably to animals and monsters. Lear often uses animal and monster metaphors when describing his daughters' cruelness and heartlessness. He calls Goneril a "marble-hearted fiend" and says that her ingratitude is more hideous than that of a sea-monster. Lear says that the pain of ingratitude is "sharper than a serpent's tooth". he returns to this image later, telling Regan that her sister "struck me with her tongue,/Most serpent-like". Before Lear exits into the storm, he says that he would rather "be a comrade with the wolf and owl" than return to Goneril. The reader is now beginning to see the true hatred towards his evil daughters.

Poor Tom uses animals as emblems of the Seven Deadly Sins, "hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness". The very nature of man himself is defined by Lear in terms of animal imagery as he looks at the naked Tom disguised as a Bedlam beggar: "Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou ow'st the worm no silk; the beast, no hide; the sheep, no wool; the cat, no perfume; Ha? Here's three on's are sophisticated. Thou art the thing itself; un-accommodated man is no more...

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...d as they and as ill-clad to face the elements. The emphasis on the nakedness of both Lear and Edgar allows the reader to fully understand the king's vulnerability. We also learn that the king has realised that he is no more than a normal human being like the rest of society. He is no longer above anyone and can therefore make his great speech of compassion without condescension: "Poor naked wretches where so'er you are/ That bide the pelting of the pitiless storm,/ How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides/ Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you/ From seasons such as these".

In conclusion, I found the powerful imagery surrounding animals, violence and clothing to add to the affect of the play on the reader. The many images allowed the reader to visualise the horrible, detailed scenes and gave the reader a better understanding of the play King Lear.
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