" /> King Lear Self-Knowledge Quotes - 25 Important Quotes with Analysis

King Lear Self-Knowledge Quotes

Thou hast seen a farmer’s dog bark at a beggar?…
And the creature run from the cur? There thou mightst behold the great image of authority: a dog’s obeyed in office.

– William Shakespeare

King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6. This passage is part of Lear’s tirade against authority and the abuse of power. Like most of what he says to Gloucester in this scene, the words are the ramblings and pontifications of a crazy man dressed in weeds and flowers. But they make a lot of sense and contain much wisdom and truth. For Lear has gained self-knowledge through his own suffering and madness. He has learned about the nature of power, something he possessed in abundance and lost. He has a better understanding of the nature of justice and society and power, which eluded him when he ruled as King. In this passage he concludes that authority is just a sham. Even a dog can take up an office of power and is obeyed by people because they fear being bitten. He is now revolted by the very thing that he has been, King of Britain, and sees himself as no different to a farmer’s dog barking at a beggar. Lear is going through a radical metamorphosis from the ignorant, arrogant Lear the King to a more self-aware Lear the man, who has empathy for the poor and dispossessed – the "little" people. In saying how even a dog can come to rule with brute force, he may be commenting on his daughters Goneril and Regan. Lear has already used some uncomplimentary animal images and insults to describe them ("like a vulture," "unnatural hags") and so has Kent ("dog-hearted") and Albany ("monsters of the deep").