King Lear Justice Quotes

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.
    • 1
    • 2