• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Irony of madness and wisdom in King Lear

Extracts from this document...


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.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our International Baccalaureate World Literature section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related International Baccalaureate World Literature essays

  1. Peer reviewed

    King Lear Passage Analysis Act IV, Scene 7 (lines 26 - 69)

    5 star(s)

    relation with her father, treating him with reverence and respect even though Lear has so deeply wronged her. Her forgiving nature is apparent through this, furthering the impression the audience have of Cordelia as the paragon of virtue. Cordelia address of Lear as "royal lord" and "your majesty" contrasts with Goneril and Regan's disrespectful "old man".

  2. The Role of Irony in Shakespeares Othello

    Iago's comment is filled with irony. Not only does the audience know that Iago's ruse is the cause of Cassio's problems but also, it has already become entirely clear that Iago is not an honest man. What is most ironic about this phrase is that Iago is trying to convince Cassio that reputation isn't important.

  1. Wonderful Fool (Susaku Endo) Quote Analysis in Terms of Aspects of Tokyo and Japan

    Then, having used up all her money, she found a customer there and returned home the following morning." (Pg. 115. Ch. 6) a) The narrator reveals the life going on in Sanya - an extremely poor and dangerous place in Tokyo.

  2. King Lear

    In my true heart I find she names my very deed of love...". Accepting Goneril and Regan's superficial flattery simply because they have played along is an error of judgment.

  1. In The Visit, Friedrich Durrenmatt uses irony and theatrical devices to convey the corruption ...

    describes the new bell tolls as ?rich and powerful? and says it is ?affirming life?(Durrenmatt 58). By using stock characters, the audiences become less emotionally attached to them, and are able to focus more on how their general actions advance the theme.

  2. Symbolism/Imagery/Allegory in King Lear

    She is often called ?tiger? and ?sharp-toothed? (vulture), while Regan is called ?most serpents like?. To reveal the evil nature of both sisters, bestial imagery is employed very often as they are called ?adderas? by Edmund. 5. Moreover in King Lear, the animal imagery is organized around compatible or somewhat foolish i.e.

  1. Discuss the Character Development of Goneril and Regan.

    However, she does kill the servant that tries to defend Gloucester herself. Near the end of the novel, Regan is poisoned out of jealousy by Goneril in order to win Edmund for herself. Here, the readers find out truly who the more evil sister is as Goneril kills herself instead

  2. Narrative Devices: The Necessary Failures of King Saul in the Old Testament.

    small city state, and was a position that was held by many before him. The position came with sanctioned glory and admiration, as the history of Israel normally had a Judge save them from an impending threat and was followed by a time of prosperity.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work