King Lear Foreshadowing Quotes

Our son of Cornwall,
And you, our no less loving son of Albany,
We have this hour a constant will to publish
Our daughters’ several dowers, that future strife
May be prevented now.
The two great princes, France and Burgundy,
Great rivals in our youngest daughter’s love,
Long in our court have made their amorous sojourn,
And here are to be answered. Tell me, my daughters –
Since now we will divest us both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state –
Which of you shall we say doth love us most,
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge. Goneril,
Our eldest born, speak first.

– William Shakespeare

King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1. The proud and egotistical old King Lear devises a "love test" to decide how to divide his kingdom between his daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. He demands that they flatter him with a declaration of total love, and their share of the kingdom will be based on whoever professes to love him most. Lear’s plan is to prevent "future strife" that might result from him dying without an heir – he has no sons and three daughters, with Regan married to the Duke of Cornwall, Goneril to the Duke of Albany, and the King of France and Duke of Burgundy love rivals for youngest daughter Cordelia’s hand. There is a terrible irony in this because Lear’s foolish action results in tragic consequences and the very strife he wishes to avoid. Lear’s fatal flaw is his pride and that and its fellow traveler folly bring about his downfall, which is foreshadowed in this passage.

When priests are more in word than matter,
When brewers mar their malt with water,
When nobles are their tailors’ tutors,
No heretics burned but wenches’ suitors,
When every case in law is right,
No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues,
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs,
When usurers tell their gold i’ th’ field,
And bawds and whores do churches build,
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion;
Then comes the time, who lives to see ‘t,
That going shall be used with feet.
This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live before his time.

– William Shakespeare

King Lear, Act 3, Scene 3. Lear’s Fool makes a witty and garbled prophecy that the kingdom of England will come to an end when priests don’t follow their preaching, brewers water down ale, pimps and whores build churches, the law is always right, and there is no debt, slander or theft. The Fool’s speech is cryptic and its meaning is the subject of debate. He is contrasting two worlds. One is full of injustice where religion is marked by hypocrisy, business is crooked, nobles are full of vanity and venereal disease is widespread. The other is the ideal world of justice where good overcomes evil. The nonsense prophecy also echoes some of the play’s characters and their actions. Priests who say one thing and do another and greedy brewers who water ale bring to mind Goneril and Regan’s pretence of love for Lear with the sold purpose of getting their hands on inheritance. The line about the priests suggests too Lear’s hypocricy in preaching about love then deying it to the one who truly loves him. "No slanders" and the next line about "cutpurses" (pickpockers) could be seen to refer to Edmund’s deceit. "Usurers" counting their gold in fields and "bawds and whores" who build churches are also foreshadowing of Edmund being made Earl of Gloucester by Cornwall for selling out his father and the unholy alliance Edmund makes with Goneril and Regan.
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