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Discuss Shakespeare's treatment of madness in "King Lear".

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Introduction

Discuss Shakespeare's treatment of madness in "King Lear". In "King Lear", Shakespeare uses many different concepts of madness, real, feigned and professional madness. The character of King Lear, himself shows high and low points of genuine insanity. The character Edgar disguises himself as a deranged beggar. The fool displays madness for humour as part of his job as an entertainer. Throughout the play Shakespeare also uses a background of bizarre weather conditions to emphasise the theme of madness. Most of the characters apart from Edmund have a belief in the gods; these beliefs can be seen as absurd to a modern day reader. Gloucester's madness is his inability to understand situations and to see people for what they really are. King Lear's madness starts at the beginning of the play with political insanity when he decides to divide his kingdom between his daughters using a 'love test'. His 'love test' unfolds the wrong results. He ends up giving the kingdom to Goneril and Regan, the daughters that love him least and sending away Cordelia, the daughter that really cares for him. The Earl of Kent realises Lear has not seen the insincerity of Goneril and Regan labelling him as mad for succumbing to their charms. "Be Kent unmannerly, When Lear is mad...when power to flattery bows...And in thy best consideration check this hideous rashness." (Act 1 Scene 1, Kent to Lear) King Lear shows madness in his anger when he banishes Kent for opposing his decisions of dividing his kingdom. King Lear expects obedience from everyone and is used to getting his own way. ...read more.

Middle

Goneril and Regan manage to argue Lear out of all of his knights. Lear won't accept Goneril and Regan's way of looking at the world. Lear leaves. Lear is 'in high rage.' Goneril and Regan want Lear to suffer the consequences of his actions, so they lock him out. Lear's emotional decline into madness is highlighted to the audience by the brief scenes in the third act. During this time on the heath, Lear reaches the height of his madness. Lear's speeches flit from one subject to another full of anger and resent for his daughters. Lear's lack of communication with the other characters shows the internal struggle he is fighting. Lear refuses to face reality and a world full of feelings and emotions. Lear battles with himself to try to keep his sanity. Lear feels wronged and becomes obsessed with justice. "I am a man, more sinn'd against, than sinning." (Act Three Scene Two, Lear) In his madness Lear begins to see the world differently and takes notice of things he was blind to as king. Lear's madness increases his understanding. The storm appears to have no physical effect on Lear because of his inner torment. Lear's mental anguish exceeds his physical pain. Poor Tom's appearance on the heath sends Lear more demented. Lear, at first, believes Tom has suffered from the same plight as him, the ingratitude of his daughters. "Didst thou give all to thy daughters? And art thou come to this?" ...read more.

Conclusion

"Do poor Tom some charity, whom the foul Fiend vexes." (Act 3 Scene 4, Poor Tom/Edgar) Poor Tom's stories reflect his own suffering, of being outcast by his father. His speeches are deranged full of shocking descriptions of mental and physical violence. Through Poor Tom's interactions with Lear, Lear becomes cleansed from all his selfish beliefs and begins to show compassion. Poor Tom is an essential part in the scenes on the heath he emphasises Lear's madness and brings a slight sense of comedy into the scenes. The fool's professional madness in the play is there to provide comic relief as an entertainer. The fool is narrator of sorts; he speaks of the events in the play in songs and riddles. The fool is very sarcastic and blunt especially towards Lear. The Fool can lighten the tone of the most distressing scenes, for example, his remarks on Poor Tom's clothing. "Nay, he reserv'd a blanket, else we had been all sham'd." (Act 3 Scene 4, Fool) The fools continual mocking of Lear is often thought to push him over the edge. The Fool provides a witty summary of current affairs and reminds Lear of his humanity. Gloucester's half-crazed pity can be seen as a type of madness. Gloucester's character is a parallel to the character of Lear. Like Lear, Gloucester becomes increasingly generous as he suffers. He shows great pity for Lear and is truly concerned about the evils the old man and Poor Tom face by helping him. Gloucester goes slightly deranged after he has his eyes plucked out, as any man probably would. The character's belief in the God's stands alone as a theme of "King Lear. ...read more.

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