King Lear: Wisdom in Madness

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  • Topic: King Lear, Fool, Royal Shakespeare Company
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  • Published : July 25, 2012
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King Lear: Wisdom in Madness

The apparent madness of King Lear, Edgar and the Fool provide great wisdom and insight into the nature of a world that has declined into chaos and disorder. When Lear is left on his own against the elements of a torrential storm, he would appear as a crazy and senile old man yelling at the wind. The storm represents chaos and destruction both politically and in Lear’s mind. This scene is important as it marks the downward movement of a once powerful king to a man who now is no more than a “ poor, bare, forked animal” (III iv 110). Lear, in his madness, is now forced to feel what his less fortunate subjects are feeling and realizes that he has not been a good king to them. “Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are/ That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm./How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, /Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you/From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en/ Too little care of this (III iv 28-33). It is at this moment that he becomes more humane and less a representative of God. He then goes on to exclaim “Take physic, pomp;/ Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,/That thou mayst shake the superflux to them/ And show the heavens more just” (III iv, 33-36) He issues a desire to even out the riches of the world which is an outrageous concept in Shakespearean time. Despite Lear’s madness, he has not yet completely lost all rational thought. He understands that his daughters, not the storm, are the source of his torment; their evil is so great, and Lear is still so naïve, that he believes that “Nothing could have subdued nature/To such a lowness but his unkind daughters.” (Act III iv 65-66) Lear is still unable to see beyond his own ego until he meets Edgar disguised as Poor Tom. The contrast of Lear, who is truly losing his sanity, and Edgar who is only feigning madness is important. Lear identifies with Edgar who is trying his hardest to convince the King and the audience that he is...
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