Read a wonderful lecture by Ian Johnston on King Lear here.

A few animal metaphors in King Lear:

“that she may feel/How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is /To have a thankless
child.” (Lear, I, iv, 294-96)

“When she shall hear this of thee, with her nails /She’ll flay thy wolvish visage.” (Lear, I, iv, 314-315)

“Such smiling rogues as these, /Like rats, oft bite the holy cords atwain /Which are too intrince t’unloose; smooth every passion /That in the natures of their lords rebel, /Being oil to fire, snow to the colder moods; /Renege, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks /With every gale and vary of their masters, /Knowing naught, like dogs, but following.” (Kent, II, ii, 75-82)

“O Regan, she hath tied /Sharp-toothed unkindness, like a vulture, here.” (Lear, II, iv, 133-34)

“She hath abated me of half my train, /Looked black upon me, struck me with her tongue, /Most serpentlike, upon the very heart.” (Lear, II.iv.158-160)

“Because I would not see thy cruel nails /Pluck out his poor old eyes; nor thy fierce sister /In his anointed flesh rash boarish fangs.” (Gloucester, III.vii.57-59)

“I’ th’ last night’s storm I such a fellow saw, /Which made me think a man a worm.” (Gloucester, IV, i, 32-33)

“Tigers, not daughters, what have you performed?” (Albany, IV.ii.40)

“They flattered me like a dog, and told me I had white hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there.” (Lear, IV, vi, 97-99)

“Edmund, I arrest thee /On capital treason; and in thy attaint /This gilded serpent.” (Albany, V, iii, 83-85)

Lear's Fool: "I'll teach thee a speech."


Shakespeare tended to borrow ideas and stories from many places as inspiration for his plays.

The story of King Lear exists in several forms and we know that Shakespeare was very influenced by a play called Leire Kinge of England and his Three Daughters. The character of a King called Ler, Leir or Lyr is also present in British and Irish mythology.

It appears that the story of Lear and his daughters has its roots in the folk tale Love like Salt, which is told around the world in different forms.

Here is one version of the tale, from India:
The King and His Daughters
There was once a King who had several daughters. To the first he said, "How do you love me?"
"I love you as sugar," said she.
To the next he said, "And how do you love me?"
"I love you as honey," said she.
To the third he said, "And how do you love me?"
"I love you as sherbet," said she.
To the last and youngest he said, "And how do you love me?"
"I love you as salt," said she.
On hearing the answer of his youngest daughter the King frowned, and, as she persisted in repeating it, he drove her out into the forest.

There, when wandering sadly along, she heard the tramping of a horse, and she hid herself in a hollow tree. But the fluttering of her dress betrayed her to the rider, who was a prince, who instantly fell in love with her and married her.

Some time after, the King, her father, who did not know what had become of her, paid her husband a visit. When he sat down to eat, the princess took care that all the dishes presented to him should be made-up sweets, which he either passed by altogether or merely tasted. He was very hungry, and was longing sorely for something which he could eat, when the princess sent him a dish of common spinach, seasoned with salt, such as farmers eat, and the King signified his pleasure by eating it with relish.

Then the princess threw off her veil, and, revealing herself to her father, said, "Oh my father, I love you as salt. My love may be homely, but it is true, genuine and lasting, and I entreat your forgiveness." Then the King perceived how great a mistake he had made, and there followed a full reconciliation.

WEB:Why does the youngest daughter say she loves her father like salt?
Use the internet to investigate the qualities of salt and sugar. How are salt and sugar bad for you? How are they good for you? Perhaps the youngest princess is wiser than you might think!

You can read more versions of the Love like Salt story HERE .