Madness In King Lear

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To lack good judgement is one of the major themes Shakespeare explores in his masterpiece King Lear, a tragedy concerning the aftermath of the abdication of King Lear. The plot carries a character development; a descend into madness as a result of an act of folly. This paper further examines the origin of Lear’s madness, how the madness is externalised and finally puts the play and theme into historical context.
The cause of Lear’s madness can be pinpointed to several places, depending on your reading. However, most Shakespearean scholars seem to agree that the very first scene of the play contains the action causing the fall of King Lear, namely when he decides renounce his title as king. He di-vides the country and assigns two of his daughters,
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When visiting his daughters, Lear realises how his renunciation of the crown has its consequences, mainly that he will no longer be treated as a king. This contradiction between his expectations and the reality seems to be too much to Lear, and as he struggles to acknowledge his mistake and fate, the first mention of his ascending insanity occurs. As he is rejected by Goneril, he starts questioning his identity: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (I.iv.221) with the response “Lear’s shadow” (I.iv.222) from the Fool. While in some versions line 222 is also said by Lear, an idea of Lear being a shadow of his regular self is proposed, appearing as a king, but without the power. Even though the question of who he is might just be an exaggeration of the unfairness of his treatment, the question starts a discussion of identity. This discussion is per-sistent through Lear’s madness, as a result of him losing the title he was used to identify with. This is also to be seen in the addressing of him, which has a clear development. When Goneril’s steward Oswald addresses him as “My lady’s father” (I.iv.77), instead of “your grace” or another fitting title, Lear curses and hits him, in response to the disdain shown by Oswald. In contrast, the clearly mad Lear in the end kneels to Cordelia, an action not only showing reconciliation, but also …show more content…
In this scene Lear acts as king and puts Goneril and Regan to trial. Now, Lear has fully under-stood the betrayal and wallows in self pity. His trial condemns them to Hell, and even a dissection of Regan’s body, to examine what made her heart hard as stone. This madness, which has escalated greatly and quickly, is often viewed as a direct consequence of Lear’s daughters’ malevolence to-wards him, but some scholars, including Bennett in “The Storm Within: the Madness of Lear”, argues that the actions themselves do not cause the insanity, but Lear’s reaction to them. To Bennet “the core of the play is not what happens to Lear but what happens within Lear.” This allows us to further analyse the psychological aspects of the madness of Lear. Lear’s madness stems from a dis-content of not being treated the way he used to be. This is described by Bennet as “the universal problem of age - the wish to lighten one's burden without relinquishing the honor which bearing it has won.” This delusion of expecting no change in the micro cosmos, i.e. the way he is treated, creates a fragment in Lear’s personality. While he is expected to accept the results of abdication, Lear cannot do this, as his whole personality is built around authority. This can be seen in act I, scene i, where he orders his daughters and the Dukes around: e.g. “Give me the map there” (I.i.36) and “Our eldest born,

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