King Lear's Madness (Shakespeare)

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Hannah Rosing
Word count: 1435 words

Madness is the root of all endings

During Shakespeare's era1, as Adrian Ingham points out, it was commonly understood that there was a clear line to be drawn between madness and divine inspiration. In contrast to this, in the eighteenth century, madness was seen as lacking self-respect and respect for others, and it was also considered shameful. Therefore, the play King Lear was rewritten in the eighteenth century, but now it contained a happy ending; Lear returns to health, wins the battle, and reigns again.2 This is totally contrasting with the original version, in which King Lear ends tragically in the arms of his beloved daughter, particularly due to his madness. There are several forms and functions of madness in the play, which are present with King Lear himself, his jester (or Fool), and Edgar, though the ways in which the madness appears, are different from each other. The motif of madness, which appears in several forms and has several functions in the play, is the thing that eventually leads everyone and the kingdom - including King Lear himself - to their ending. The development of King Lear's madness, which could be divided into three stages according to Derek Traversi, is the most obvious example of madness in the play and is also the cause for his tragic ending.3 The first stage of this development consists of approximately the first two acts. In this stage, Lear starts to have rather odd conversation, and he also tears pieces of his clothing off. By dividing his realm into three parts,4 Lear makes an end to his unifying thoughts and frees the path to ruin and anarchy. In act I, his madness takes the form of anger in particular, as he immediately disinherits Cordelia after he comes under the impression that she does not love him, which turns out to be far from the truth. Kent reacts on this by warning him. He says: "When Lear is mad. ? When majesty stoops to folly." (1.1.147-150) By stating this,...
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