"King Lear," Vocabulary from Act 3 25 words

While you are reading Shakespeare's tragedy "King Lear" (etext found here), learn this word list that focuses on Mother Nature and human nature. Here are links to all of our lists for “King Lear”: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4, and Act 5.
  1. impetuous
    marked by violent force
    "Impetuous" can also mean "characterized by undue haste and lack of thought" (a synonym for "rash"). This would make the battle between Lear and Mother Nature seem almost like justice because a rash man is being thrashed by a rash wind. But in the example sentence, the words "blasts", "rage" and "fury" connect to violence and to the idea of an impetus, which is a force that moves something (e.g. Lear's white hairs) along.
    Bids the wind blow the earth into the sea
    Or swell the curled waters above the main,
    That things might change or cease; tears his white hair
    Which the impetuous blasts, with eyeless rage,
    Catch in their fury and make nothing of;
  2. strive
    to exert much effort or energy
    Strives in his little world of man to out-scorn
    The to-and-fro conflicting wind and rain.
  3. cataract
    a large waterfall; violent rush of water over a precipice
    A cataract can also be "a disease that involves the clouding of the lens of the eye"--this definition does not fit the example sentence, but the idea of dysfunctional eyes can be seen in this act with Lear losing sight of reality and Gloucester actually losing his eyes.
    You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
    Till you have drenched our steeples
  4. cleave
    separate or cut with a tool, such as a sharp instrument
    "Cleave" can be a tricky word because it has two meanings that are opposite of each other. The other meaning is "come or be in close contact with", which does not fit the example sentence because Lear is calling for lightning, which can separate oak trees, to burn his head. Once the cleaver of kingdoms and relationships, Lear now wants to be cloven.
    You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
    Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
    Singe my white head.
  5. rotundity
    the roundness of a 3-dimensional object
    Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
  6. servile
    relating to or involving slaves or appropriate for slaves or servants
    Another definition of "servile" is "submissive or fawning in attitude or behavior"--this also fits the example sentence, especially when you think about the insults that Kent threw at Goneril's servant, but the chosen definition fits better because in a previous line, Lear calls himself a slave.
    But yet I call you servile ministers,
    That have with two pernicious daughters join'd
    Your high-engendered battles 'gainst a head
    So old and white as this.
  7. pernicious
    working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way
    But yet I call you servile ministers,
    That have with two pernicious daughters join'd
    Your high-engendered battles 'gainst a head
    So old and white as this.
  8. affliction
    a state of great suffering and distress due to adversity
    Man's nature cannot carry
    The affliction nor the fear.
  9. tempest
    (literary) a violent wind
    Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel;
    Some friendship will it lend you 'gainst the tempest:
  10. vile
    causing or able to cause nausea
    "Vile" can also mean "morally reprehensible" but that definition does not fit the example sentence because Lear is referring to the hovel which, when he was a king and used to living in a luxurious palace, would've been nauseated at the thought of stepping foot in. But now that he's run away from his daughters and is out in the storm, a hovel seems like a precious shelter.
    The art of our necessities is strange
    And can make vile things precious.
  11. tyranny
    dominance through threat of punishment and violence
    Kent is personifying nature here by calling its roughness tyrannical, and he is expressing concern for Lear's physical safety. But the word "nature" in the example sentence refers to Lear's nature, which used to be tyrannical (because he was an absolute dictator) and cannot endure the tyranny of other forces.
    The tyranny of the open night's too rough
    For nature to endure.
  12. contentious
    inclined or showing an inclination to dispute or disagree, even to engage in law suits
    Thou think'st 'tis much that this contentious storm
    Invades us to the skin.
  13. malady
    any unwholesome or desperate condition
    But where the greater malady is fix'd,
    The lesser is scarce felt.
  14. shun
    avoid and stay away from deliberately; stay clear of
    Thou'ldst shun a bear,
    But if thy flight lay toward the roaring sea,
    Thou'ldst meet the bear in the mouth.
  15. pelt
    attack and bombard with or as if with missiles
    The definition is for "pelt" as a verb but it is used as a noun in the example sentence. Although another definition of "pelt" is "rain heavily", which is what is actually happening in the scene, because Lear is feeling like a victim, the image of the rain as missiles (e.g. arrows) attacking him and other poor houseless wretches is more powerfully fitting.
    Poor naked wretches, wheresoever you are,
    That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
    How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
    Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you
    From seasons such as these?
  16. quagmire
    a soft wet area of low-lying land that sinks underfoot
    Who gives any thing to poor Tom? whom the foul
    fiend hath led through fire and through flame, and
    through ford and whirlpool o'er bog and quagmire;
  17. pendulous
    having branches or flower heads that bend downward
    The definition is too naturally wholesome to fit the example sentence, since Lear is using the adjective "pendulous" to describe an air that carries plagues. Here, "pendulous" is closer to the meaning of being suspended, like a pendulum.
    Now, all the plagues that in the pendulous air
    Hang fated o'er men's faults light on thy daughters!
  18. subdue
    put down by force or intimidation
    In the example sentence, "subdued" is the past tense of the verb "subdue"--Lear is projecting his own status onto Poor Tom/Edgar. But "subdued" is also an adjective meaning "restrained in style or quality" or "in a softened tone"--neither of which Lear is being here.
    Death, traitor! nothing could have subdued nature
    To such a lowness but his unkind daughters.
  19. extremity
    an extreme condition or state (especially of adversity or disease)
    Why, thou wert better in thy grave than to answer
    with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies.
  20. censure
    rebuke formally
    Edmund is pretending to be afraid of censure in order to get Cornwall's trust and protection. But the consequences of Edmund's betrayals will be a lot harsher than a formal rebuke.
    In the example sentence, "nature" does not refer to either Mother Nature or Edmund's nature; it refers to the natural bond between a father and a child which, as Gloucester's bastard second son, Edmund never felt and has no trouble betraying in order to get what he thinks he deserves.
    How, my lord, I may be censured, that nature thus
    gives way to loyalty, something fears me to think
    of.
  21. disposition
    a natural or acquired habit or characteristic tendency in a person or thing
    I now perceive, it was not altogether your
    brother's evil disposition made him seek his death;
    but a provoking merit, set a-work by a reprovable
    badness in himself.
  22. persevere
    be persistent, refuse to stop
    -- I will persevere in
    my course of loyalty, though the conflict be sore
    between that and my blood.
  23. oppressed
    burdened psychologically or mentally
    Oppressed nature sleeps:
  24. balm
    semisolid preparation (usually containing a medicine) applied externally as a remedy or for soothing an irritation
    This rest might yet have balm'd thy broken sinews,
    Which, if convenience will not allow,
    Stand in hard cure.
  25. quench
    put out, as of fires, flames, or lights
    The sea, with such a storm as his bare head
    In hell-black night endured, would have buoyed up
    And quench'd the stelled fires: