How is madness seen in King Lear?

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How is madness seen in King Lear?

In Shakespeare's time physical and mental illness were said to be inseparable and mentally ill people were ridiculed. People would actually visits lunatic asylums, like Bedlam, for entertainment enjoying the spectacle of the inmates' mad antics and ravings. This is partly the reason why madness is such a big part of this play, but also because Shakespeare realized that madness is fascinating and what makes madness so fascinating is that It makes us feel uneasy, we might find it horrifying, but like with other horrifying things we can't help but look.
The play 'King Lear' has many types of madness, from King Lear's madness to Edgar/Tom O'Bedlam's feigned madness to the Fool's eccentricity; these are the characters I shall be writing about to answer my question 'How is madness seen in King Lear?
King Lear is a very impulsive man with a very short temper; I would also say that he is obsessive about how things should be.
The storm, which marks the height of his rage, symbolizes the conflict in the play between madness and reason, order and disorder.

The revealing to Lear of who he really is, is a painful learning process which requires him to shed those things which on the surface seem often to express the inner self- rich clothing, fine speech, obedient-seeming behaviour of children, the courtly deference of a servant, Lear has to shed his sanity and descend to nakedness in the storm to reach some understanding of the nature of humankind.
In Act 1 scene 1 the lines " Hear me, recreant! On thine allegiance, hear me!" shows us that Lear is very much a King, but it is hard to believe that the man who lays such stress are "allegiance " and the impossibility of changing his mind will be able to accept his own decision to give up power. Although this decision he has made is foolish he is in control of the situation, if not of himself.
Also in Act 1 scene 1 the lines " this is most strange, that she, whom even but now was your best object . . ." shows that no-one can understand why Lear should reject his favorite daughter, and this is what also convinces Goneril and Regan that their fathers judgment has left him. This thought of theirs is backed up by " tis the infirmity of his age; yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself." (Act 1 scene 1) Regans remark that sums up the play's central pivot-that Lear does not know what he really wants, or who he really is. Being King has meant that Lear has played a particular rôle in life, but when he gives this up he is forced to try to discover whom he really is.
In Act 1 scene 4 Lear says, "Dost thou know me, fellow?" He is asking Kent if he recognises him. Ironically, it is Lear who does not know Kent: the implication is that Lear does not know himself either.
Lear's comment "O! Let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven; keep me in temper; I would not be mad."(Act 1 Scene5) is the first sign of what is to come. He says he will forget his 'nature', meaning his kindness as a father. In Act 1 Lear fears madness as a consequence; by Act 2 Scene 4 it is imminent ("do not make me mad" and "I shall go mad"); In Act 3 Scene 2 he realizes "my wits begin to turn."
The lines "O! Reason not the need; our barest beggars, are in the poorest thing superfluous" in Act 2 Scene4 shows that now that Lear realizes what it will mean to be without the power of his knights he begins to understand that a person's real needs encompass more than just what is necessary for mere survival. The increased awareness marks a change from his behaviour when he criticised Cordelia for refusing to mouth platitudes of love like her sisters. This speech echoes Lear's descent into madness.
When Lear discovers that both Goneril and Regan are determined to remove his knights and, as he sees it, reducing him to a 'poor old man' he says "you think I'll weep; No, I'll not weep" (Act 2 Scene 4) although he has good cause. He rages at the way he has been treated and feels betrayed by his ungrateful 'pelican' daughters. Throughout the first 2 acts we see that Lear seems to deal with the world only through anger. Here he makes it clear that his fury will drive him either to tears or madness.
At the beginning of Act 3 Scene 1 the line "Contending with the fretful elements; bids the wind blow the earth into the sea." A gentleman tells Kent of Lear's raging. Lear's self-centredness and childish petulance is self-destructive, but because he cannot get his own way he has turned his fury upon the world, which he wants to destroy because it will not do as he wishes. Lear's fury is also directed at the way he has been betrayed.
The line "Blow winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!" (Act 3 Scene 2) is a part of one of Lear's three great speeches on the heath challenging the storm, all three are immensely powerful, with crazed majesty. The first invites destruction and the might of nature: "all-shaking thunder", "Cataracts and hurricanes", "oak-cleaving thunderbolts", etc. The last words hint that 'ungrateful man' deserves this. In the other two speeches ("Rumble thy bellyful! ..." and "Let the great gods...") the sins of mankind are more developed.
In Lear madness and insight develop together. As he realizes "my wits begin to turn" and challenges the storm in magnificent absurdity, he also begins to understand the hidden guilt and the suffering of mankind.
In Act 3 Scene 2 the line "My wits begin to turn. Come on, my boy. How dost, my boy? Art cold?" show that after Lear's raging he begins to show some sensitivity towards others, as here when he tells the fool and Kent to seek shelter ahead of him from the storm and driving rain - unusual behaviour marks the beginning of Lear's self-awareness, as opposed to his self-pity.
In Act 3 Scene 4 during Lear's wanderings - literally a journey into self-discovery - he comes to appreciate that he has been wilfully ignorant of the world around him. He pities the homeless, the hungry and the ragged and says he will expose himself to what they experience. He wishes to do something about his ignorance of the reality of life as experienced by his subjects. This can be seen in the lines "Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm."
The lines "Death, traitor! Nothing could have subdu'd nature to such a lowness but his unkind daughters." In Act 3 Scene 4 shows that Lear blames his daughters for all that has befallen him, rather than his own lack of judgement for bringing his problems upon himself. He sees all men's punishments as a result of having daughters, as a reflection of himself, are a part of him and he is being destroyed by weapons of his own creation.
The line "Is man no more than this? Consider him well." In Act 3 Scene 4 that Lear sees Tom O'Bedlam as representing the real nature of humankind: a 'Poor, bare, forked animal.' Whom he will join by tearing off his own clothing and standing naked under the storms fury.
In Act 3 Scene 6 the lines "It shall be done; I will arraign them straight. Come, sit thou here most learned justicer." Are part of the mock trial of Goneril and Regan; it indicates that a desire of order and justice is starting to replace the chaos and thoughts of savage revenge in Lear's mind; so, it marks the start of his journey away from insanity.
In Act 4 Scene 6, the last scene before the restoration of Lear by Cordelia, the contrasts are brought out in many ways, for instance, the use of perfect blank verse for the sane and patient lines beginning "If thou wilt weep my fortunes, take my eyes" in contrast to such manic lines as "Then kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill".
In Act 4 Scene 7 the line " deal plainly, I fear I am not in my perfect mind." Ironically it is Lear's increased self-knowledge here that makes the point at which he is recovering his sanity and the change from his earlier arrogant ignorance - Lear has come to see himself for what he is and how others see him.
After Lear's madness passes, Lear begins to see the world more as it is and less the way he had imagined; he sees Goneril and Regan for what they are; believes that Cordelia loves him; accepts Kent's service and is more understanding towards others, even feeling pity for the Fool and the 'Poor naked wretches' of his kingdom.
In Act 5 Scene3 Lear is grieving over Cordelia's body when he speaks the line "And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life!" Given that 'fool' was a common term of affection in Shakespeare's day.

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The Fool is, although his eccentricity a very intelligent person saying everything behind riddles, nonsense rhymes and jingles.
The Fool is almost a shadow of the King himself. He appears after Lear has divided his kingdom and vanishes from the action when Lear travels to Dover. Through his songs, riddles and jokes he tries to get Lear to see the truth of the world around him. The Fool is important not so much as a character, as for the dramatic function that he fulfils. He acts in some ways as a chorus in commenting upon the action of the play, but ...

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