Essay about Madness in William Shakespeare's King Lear

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Madness in William Shakespeare's King Lear

In his play, King Lear, Shakespeare introduces many themes. The most important theme is that of madness, which is portrayed, during the course of this play, by the tragic hero, King Lear. Though Lear shows great egotism at the beginning of the play, he actually begins to show signs of madness in Acts 3 and 4. In these acts, King Lear is shown spiraling into madness and then eventually regaining his sanity. Shakespeare develops his madness theme through several phases. In the first phase, Lear's madness is shown through his strange conversations and the tearing off of his garments; in the second phase, Lear is shown emerging from his madness through verbalizing
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Come, unbutton here? (III.iv.113). Lear?s strange conversations continue. In Act IV, the audience sees that Cordelia has become aware of her father?s condition, as evidenced by her words, ?Alack. ?tis he! Why, he was met even now as mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud, crowned with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds, with hardocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow in our sustaining corn? (IV.iv.1-6). This conduct is unbefitting a king: therefore there is reason to consider him mad, which Cordelia states in her speech to the guards. King Lear's madness is further illustrated in Act 4, scene 6 where he is portrayed as being completely insane, through his speeches to Gloucester and Edgar. In one of his speeches, King Lear comments about a mouse and a bird that are figments of his imagination. "Look, look, a mouse! Peace, peace; this piece of toasted cheese will do it?O, well flown, bird" (IV.vi.104-106)!

Although King Lear, in Act 4, shows signs of being mad, he also shows signs of being sane. This is shown through his knowing the cause of his madness. If King Lear were completely mad, he would not be able to recognize and discuss the reason for his madness. However, he suffers intense humiliation at the hands of his daughters (Bradley 24), states that his daughters have wronged him and yet, shows signs of insanity when he calls

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