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Irony of madness and wisdom in King Lear

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Irony of Madness and Wisdom in King Lear In the play, King Lear, there is much irony associated with the themes madness and wisdom. In the society of the Elizabethan era, people of high social status were assumed to be wise, and those who were of lower class rarely contributed much to society. In King Lear, Shakespeare challenged this social norm, and created a play which did not restrict madness and wisdom to specific classes. In theory, characters with a high social status should have had a higher degree of wisdom in the play. In King Lear, the opposite is true. Kim Pathenroth, a religious essayist said this best in the following quote, "The characters who behave foolishly according to the world's standards... turn out to have real, life-giving, divine wisdom; on the other hand, the characters obsessed with being wise by worldly standards... participate in a fatal folly, a blinding self-absorption that makes them not only cruel and rapacious but ultimately miserable and self-destructive." Although the fool in the play is a mere jester and source of entertainment, he is arguably the leading source of wisdom. Interestingly, even though Lear had many noble and loyal followers, he chooses to listen only to the advice of the fool, which reverses the hierarchy between the fool and Lear. The reasons for Lear's acceptance of the fool's advice may vary, but one important thing to note is the tone the fool uses. ...read more.


(IV, vii, 59) The fact that he acknowledged his own foolishness and madness for neglecting his daughter proves the presence of his wisdom. He later recognized that Cordelia had a right to be angry with him when he states, "I know you do not love me; for your sisters / Have (as I do remember) done me wrong. / You have some cause, they have not."(IV, vii) This shows great wisdom, because he has finally identified which of his daughters truly loves him, something he could not do in the earlier acts, which is ironic due to his increasing madness. As I mentioned in my first quote by Kim Pathenroth, characters turned mad after ensuing their own perceived acts of wisdom. Two examples of this are present in the actions of Edmund. In his plan to steal the inheritance of Gloucester, Edmund tries to use his wisdom to his advantage. In reality, these ambitions to attain Gloucester's wealth actually made him mad. He also shows this same personality after he won the affections of Goneril and Regan and said, "To both these sisters have I sworn my love; Each jealous of the other, as the stung Are of the adder. Which of them shall I take Both? One? Or neither? Neither can be enjoyed, If both remain alive..." (V, i) Again, Edmunds ambitions to acquiring wealth have put him in a predicament which resulted in his madness. ...read more.


After that being said, I would like to ask the same question again. Who thinks Cordelia should have lied to Lear? Who thinks she made the right decision? Again, this proves the subjectivity of Cordelia's wisdom. Kent's honesty also results in his banishment from the kingdom of King Lear. As previously stated, Kent did not possess the same level of wisdom with his words then the fool did. Although both characters are blunt and honest, Kent often delivered his criticism untimely and harshly. Examples of his harsh words were, "When majesty falls to folly", and he refers to Lear's actions as "hideous rashness." Lear's wisdom can be seen through this following quote where he criticizes Lear: "This hideous rashness. Answer my life my judgment, Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least, Nor are those empty-headed whose love sounds Reverb no hollowness." Although Kent's words to Lear are wise, the manor and timing in which he presented the criticism is not. Kent said this line to Lear when he was already angry, and this did not help change Lear's perception on the issue. Kent's failure to appease Lear can also be considered as mad. Kent knew Lear was very stubborn and angry, yet he still decided to follow through with his blunt criticism. Kent shows signs of madness, because he does not acknowledge the nature of Lear's personality before speaking. His bluntness and honesty ultimately cost him his spot in the kingdom, because Lear saw Kent's actions as disrespectful, and he did not accept his views. ...read more.

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