How does Shakespeare explore madness in King Lear in Act 3 Scene 2?

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Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents madness in this passage. In your answer you must consider how the playwright uses literary, linguistic and rhetorical devices and conventions to create specific dramatic effects. (48 marks) 

This extract occurs in Act 3 Scene 2 soon after Lear’s two older daughters throw him out of the palace into the storm, depriving the king of warmth and shelter. This results in Lear’s descent into madness as he furiously wanders the countryside in the storm.

 Shakespeare depicts Lear’s madness by having him ask Edgar “didst thou give all to thy daughters?” which demonstrates to the audience that Lear sees Tom’s madness in himself, who is also clearly depicted as mad in order to conceal his identity. The lack of logic employed by Lear in assuming that this is the most likely cause of Tom’s madness illustrates that he is also distanced from reality, further highlighting his madness. However, Lear’s madness could also be staged and he may simply be communicating his problems to Kent and the Fool in a rather hopeless and hysterical way, giving the impression that madness is not in control of him. For example, Lear uses the pronouns “thou” and “thy,” which shows that Lear still perceives himself as King, superior to Tom and thus will not refer to himself at Tom’s level. On the other hand, these status markers could be reflective of Lear’s arrogant personality that he is clinging onto his power, despite all his loses.

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This notion of Lear clinging onto his power in a state of, what the audience perceives as madness, is also depicted when Lear says “death, traitor” to Kent. This phrase typifies a King’s command through the sharp, swift, simple sentence structure and lexis associated with power. The word “traitor” creates the impression that Lear is still behaving like a King, despite his clear loss of power by his two daughters. This shows that he is detached from reality and still doesn’t fully realise his situation, perhaps due to shock, therefore he is perceived as mad.

Shakespeare also illustrates ...

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