"King Lear," Vocabulary from Act 4

This Shakespearean tragedy deals with a man who believes he has lost everything who finds out you can always lose a little more (etext found here).

Learn this word list that focuses on Lear's personality, actions, and state. Here are links to all of our lists for “King Lear”: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 4, and Act 5.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. wanton
    behave extremely cruelly and brutally
    As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
    They kill us for their sport.
    The definition is for "wanton" as a verb, but it is used as an adjective in the example sentence. "Wanton" usually has a sexually loose connotation, and although Shakespeare often includes sexual puns, that would not fit here, since Gloucester is focused on his miserably helpless state by comparing young boys' killing of flies to the gods' playing with human lives.
  2. ordinance
    an authoritative rule
    Heavens, deal so still:
    Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man,
    That slaves your ordinance, that will not see
    Because he does not feel, feel your power quickly.
    Here, Gloucester is recognizing that the gods have ordinances and order, and he is urging them to punish the humans who try to take too much for themselves. But he says this after almost everything has been taken away from him and right before he tries to take his own life--a life which had known excess lust (he'd fathered a bastard) and superfluous luxury (he was an earl).
  3. hasten
    speed up the progress of; facilitate
    Hasten his musters and conduct his powers:
  4. muster
    a gathering of military personnel for duty
    Hasten his musters and conduct his powers:
  5. usurp
    seize and take control without authority
    My fool usurps my body.
    Goneril is deliberately misusing "usurp" here--as her husband, Albany ("my fool") has rights to her body, so he is not a usurper. Edmund is the one usurping Albany's rights (even though Goneril has freely given herself to him). By presenting herself as the usurped, Goneril is justifying her affair with Edmund, and any actions taken to secure the affair would be seen as righting a wrong.
  6. wither
    lose freshness, vigor, or vitality
    She that herself will sliver and disbranch
    From her material sap, perforce must wither
    And come to deadly use.
    In his use of the word "wither" Albany is both recognizing and insulting Goneril's power. As a withered branch (because she tore herself away from the tree of Lear), Goneril can be a deadly weapon. But as a withered woman, she would not be attractive to men.
  7. barbarous
    able or disposed to inflict pain or suffering
    A father, and a gracious aged man,
    Whose reverence even the head-lugged bear would lick,
    Most barbarous, most degenerate! have you madded.
  8. apt
    mentally quick and resourceful
    Were it my fitness
    To let these hands obey my blood,
    They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
    Thy flesh and bones. However thou art a fiend,
    A woman's shape doth shield thee.
    The definition focuses on mental ability but Albany is talking about his physical ability. Because Goneril is a woman, ripping her apart would not be apt (appropriate), but if she weren't, Albany claims that he is apt (able) enough to do it. But Goneril's response doubts that Albany has any violence or strength in him.
  9. import
    indicate or signify
    Something he left imperfect in the
    state, which since his coming forth is thought
    of; which imports to the kingdom so much
    fear and danger, that his personal return was
    most required and necessary.
    The King of France is supposedly returning home because something within his state requires his attention. But another reason he might have left is so that he wouldn't be seen as starting a war with England. Thus the definition of "import" as "bring in from abroad" could also fit here since Cordelia was an import whose decision to bring an army to save Lear can import great danger to France.
  10. marshal
    a military officer of highest rank
    The Marshal of France, Monsieur La Far.
  11. casualty
    someone injured or killed in a military engagement
    A sovereign shame so elbows him--his own unkindness,
    That stripped her from his benediction, turned her
    To foreign casualties, gave her dear rights
    To his dog-hearted daughters--these things sting
    His mind so venomously that burning shame
    Detains him from Cordelia.
    The definition of “casualty” does not fit the example sentence—although it hints at what will happen to Cordelia, “casualties” is referring to people or things that are casual (“not close or intimate” or “marked by blithe unconcern”), since Lear had given Cordelia away to a foreign king and sent her to live in a foreign land where she did not know anyone.
  12. repose
    freedom from activity
    Our foster-nurse of nature is repose,
    The which he lacks.
  13. remediate
    set straight or right
    All blest secrets,
    All you unpublished virtues of the earth,
    Spring with my tears. Be aidant and remediate
    In the good man's distress. Seek, seek for him,
    Lest his ungoverned rage dissolve the life
    That wants the means to lead it.
    Cordelia wants to bring Lear peace of mind so that he doesn't end up killing himself. To remediate Lear's distress, Cordelia calls upon a doctor, the earth, and a French army. Compare this to what Edgar does to save Gloucester from suicidal despair.
  14. incite
    urge on; cause to act
    No blown ambition doth our arms incite,
    But love, dear love, and our aged father's right.
  15. ado
    a rapid active commotion
    Madam, with much ado.
    Your sister is the better soldier.
    Oswald insults Albany, both in the second line and in the use of the word "ado" to describe the preparations for war. If Albany were a better soldier and commander, he would simply do without any ado.
  16. dispatch
    kill intentionally and with premeditation
    Edmund, I think, is gone,
    In pity of his misery, to dispatch
    His nighted life.
  17. descry
    catch sight of
    moreover, to descry
    The strength of the enemy.
  18. beguile
    influence by slyness
    'Twas yet some comfort
    When misery could beguile the tyrant's rage,
    And frustrate his proud will.
  19. pell-mell
    with undue hurry and confusion
    Let copulation thrive; for Gloucester's bastard son
    was kinder to his father than my daughters
    got 'tween the lawful sheets.
    To 't, luxury, pell-mell! for I lack soldiers.
  20. scald
    the act of burning with steam or hot water
    Burning, scalding, stench, consumption; fie,
    fie, fie! pah, pah!
  21. lance
    a long pointed rod used as a weapon
    Plate sin with gold,
    And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks:
    Arm it in rags, a pygmy's straw does pierce it.
    As Edgar notices, Lear spits out reasonable truths along with mad rantings. Here, Lear is using images of armored warfare (plate, lance, pierce) to describe how the rich and poor receive different forms of justice: a rich person can sin and walk away unharmed, but if a poor person sins, he will be punished, often by a death sentence.
  22. stratagem
    an elaborate or deceitful scheme to deceive or evade
    It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
    A troop of horse with felt. I'll put it in proof,
    And when I have stolen upon these sons-in-law,
    Then kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!
  23. bliss
    a state of extreme happiness
    You do me wrong to take me out of the grave.
    Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound
    Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears
    Do scald like molten lead.
  24. arbitrament
    the act of deciding as an arbiter
    The arbitrament is like to be bloody.
    The definition is too civil and does not fit the example sentence. The gentleman speaking is using the word to mean the settling of the dispute through war.
  25. wrought
    shaped to fit by altering the contours of a pliable mass
    My point and period will be throughly wrought,
    Or well, or ill, as this day's battle's fought.

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.