In King Lear, William Shakespeare introduces the theme of madness. He illustrates that the act of being mad is what drives people foolish through the use of the motifs madness and foolishness. The play starts off with King Lear dividing his kingdom into his three daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia and by testing their love. When Cordelia doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear, Lear gets mad and everyone and everything goes downhill.
In Josephine Waters Bennett’s work, “The Storm Within: the Madness of Lear,” Bennett explains, “An understanding of Lear’s madness is essential to any serious interpretation of the play and to any understanding of its structure” (137). In order to understand the play and the meaning you first have to understand Lear’s madness. The quote is significant because it implies that Lear’s madness is a protagonist of the play because it drives Lear to commit foolish and memorable things like disowning Cordelia or giving up all his authority to Goneril and Regan. In “Enter Lear Mad,” by Sholom J. Kahn, Kahn describes almost the same point of view: “It is obvious that the central acts of King Lear portray the progressive stages of his growing madness, but there has been no close attention paid to the question of the precise moment, if any, at which Lear is truly mad” (311). This quote demonstrates that there is no exact moment to when King Lear has become fully mad; so to understand the interpretation of the play one must follow the structure of the progressive stages as his growing madness occurs. If we follow the progressive stages of his growing madness we get the ability to observe in detail how it affects Lear and the other characters. These so-called “progressive stages,” as Kahn mentions, are described as: “Lear in Acts II and III is not yet fully mad, but rather on the way to that condition; Act III – Scene VI shows him in a state which alternates between pathetic sanity and growing fits of lunacy; and the full...
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