I wanted to expand on my previous blog post about this quotation, and go into more in-depth analysis. In Act IV scene i, Gloucester says, "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods. They kill us for their sport."
I think that this is one of the most powerful quotes in this play the more I think about it, and this quote proves to me once again that Shakespeare was truly a gifted playwright. First of all, Gloucester is at the complete valley of his life. He just got his eyes stamped out, he is kicked out of his castle to wander in the heath by the very people who just blinded him, and he thinks that his beloved son Edgar is out to kill him (but really Edmund is the major villain).
So, on this level, this quote is very telling, and most can relate to this feeling. I know that I have felt picked on in the most terrible way, and felt like there was no way that things could get any worse. Gloucester's quote resonates with most because it is the whole theme of "life isn't fair," as well as being affected by things that you have no control over.
Use of Comparison
Another level that I think makes this quote powerful is Shakespeare's use of comparison. He compares the gods killing him for sport to "flies to wanton boys." Perhaps some people would cry, "generalization!" but to me, this comparison is great. I cannot count how many times I was saddened when my bigger boy cousins would come into our yard after a huge snow storm and "mess it up" by playing in it. Or when they would trap a ton of gypsy moth caterpillars in a mason jar and then light it on fire.
It reminds me of Ender's Game when Peter, Ender's older and sadistic brother, catches squirrels and then pretty much flays them alive. Ender and his sister Valentine are not very pleased with Peter's disregard for life, and he counters that it is just squirrels. Using just a few examples off the top of my head, I think using "wanton boys" as a comparison for the gods is an extremely effective use of comparison, since many can have personal examples to relate to.
And, I think that this quote is effective because of its word choice. Using "wanton" to describe the boys, and thus describe the gods is pretty severe, since wanton means "without regard for what is right, just humane." This word actually comes from a Middle English word between 1250-1300, wantowen, which literally means "undisciplined, ill-reared." Maybe the audience in his day knew the word of origin, but either way, with these ideas in mind, the picture that Shakespeare is painting of the boys and the gods is bleak.
Also, "they kill us for their sport" is pretty condemning. Shakespeare uses "sport" to really underline the lack of regard for life in general by the gods. This sentence makes me think of the games at the Roman Colosseum where everything had to do with death. Animals killing animals, animals killing people, people killing people. Apparently animals were even driven to extinction by these "games." With Shakespeare using this term, I am prompted to realize the sheer horror of a people killing others for enjoyment, especially from history, and therefore realize the absolute depth of despair that Gloucester is expressing.
To conclude, this is the ultimate "Why me?" quotation. Gloucester realizes how subject he is to the "wheel of fortune" and therefore absolves to commit suicide. A fatalistic and fantastic quotation by Shakespeare that we can understand on many levels, even though I'm not sure he watched boys trap caterpillars in mason jars and light them on fire.