Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Storm

As Lear wanders about a desolate heath in Act 3, a terrible storm, strongly but ambiguously symbolic, rages overhead. In part, the storm echoes Lear’s inner turmoil and mounting madness: it is a physical, turbulent natural reflection of Lear’s internal confusion. At the same time, the storm embodies the awesome power of nature, which forces the powerless king to recognize his own mortality and human frailty and to cultivate a sense of humility for the first time. The storm may also symbolize some kind of divine justice, as if nature itself is angry about the events in the play. Finally, the meteorological chaos also symbolizes the political disarray that has engulfed Lear’s Britain.

Read more about the symbolism of weather in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.


Gloucester’s physical blindness symbolizes the metaphorical blindness that grips both Gloucester and the play’s other father figure, Lear. The parallels between the two men are clear: both have loyal children and disloyal children, both are blind to the truth, and both end up banishing the loyal children and making the wicked one(s) their heir(s). Only when Gloucester has lost the use of his eyes and Lear has gone mad does each realize his tremendous error. It is appropriate that the play brings them together near Dover in Act 4 to commiserate about how their blindness to the truth about their children has cost them dearly.

Lear’s Crown

While crowns in general act as a visual representation of a monarch’s power, Lear’s crown also symbolizes his mental state and faculties. In Act 1.4, The Fool comments on the foolishness of Lear dividing his kingdom by describing it as a split egg with the divided shell as two crowns. In this metaphor, the split eggshell, or two crowns, are inherently weaker than the single “crown” that held the egg before. Not only has Lear abdicated power, but his decision to listen to Goneril and Regan’s flattery over Cordelia and Kent’s sincerity shows a weakened mind. In Act 4.4, Cordelia observes Lear wear another crown, a crown of weeds that he’s picked from the ground. Weeds are common, unwanted plants, symbolizing Lear’s complete loss of status and also his abandonment. In addition, some of these plants, notably hemlock, are poisonous plants, while cuckoo-flowers imply madness with the word “cuckoo.” These plants highlight that Lear is profoundly unwell at this moment of the play.