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Madness in King Lear

By gregos Nov 14, 2005 1092 Words
Madness distorts reality, but also reveals truth through wisdom. It is evident through Shakespeare's characterization of the Fool, King Lear, and Edgar in the play King Lear. The Fool provides insight through mad blabber. In a state of confusion King Lear is taught wisdom. Edgar's feigning lunacy creates reason from more madness.

The wise Fool disregarded at first, serves as a misunderstood guide to the characters, foreshadowing the oncoming events in King Lear. He warns that a man should not be susceptible in a world of dishonesty, with a disregard to Christian ethics in exchange for a stronger interest in worldly possessions (Lowers 39). Betrayal and greed will become the focus of evil as they will acquire power and land by deceit. The susceptible good side will remain in the dark and blind to the unforeseen injustice that is foreshadowed by King Lear's response that "nothing can be made of nothing" (Kin. 1.4.55) when the fool asks what could be made of nothing. Ignoring the fool's veritable hints as useless blabber, allows for the evil characters to take advantage of good.

Unrealized messages with deliberate irony are said by the Fool. Through riddle or rhythm his message is delivered, but ignored as just nonsensical. Why, after I have cut the egg i' the middle, and eat

up the meat, the two crowns of the egg. When thou
clovest thy crown i' the middle, and gavest away
both parts, thou borest thy ass on thy back o'er
the dirt: thou hadst little wit in thy bald crown,
when thou gavest thy golden one away. If I speak
like myself in this, let him be whipped that first
finds it so. (Kin. 1.4.57)
It is not clear to Lear of his mistake till when "the Fool even parodies Lear's brusque, ironic dismissal of Cordelia to exile: ‘Nothing. I have sworn. I am firm'" (Cahn 94) relating Lear's later realization of his own mistake in judgment claiming that he is his own fool. The repetition of the word nothing underlines Lear's ignorance to the matter, and his later realization of the truth. Irony is shown through the double meaning of the word kindly, referring to its definition "affectionately", and ‘after her kind of nature" (Lowers 41). Shakespeare would use the Fool to express rational thought commenting on the present situation, and bringing insight to others.

Knowledge and the understanding of the truth is exchanged from the Fool to Lear by exchange of insanity. The transition of Lear's mind from a sane confusion to madness clarity is mirrored by "the Fool's function is to tell subversive truths to a court society foolish enough to think its own truths are the truth. Thus he is the ‘outsider-within,' living at the borders of accepted reality, issuing alternative reports on ‘what is.'" (Calderwood 126). Lear eventually tilts and slips into the same madness of the Fool, relishing in the freedom to explore the contradictive thought of a naturally malevolent society, in the understanding of the truth.

Benefiting from his own madness, King Lear learns wisdom. "Let it have been uttered to the blind, the howling of convulsed nature would seem converted into the voice of conscious humanity" (Coleridge 59) displaying Lear's despair and growing madness in the storm of being brilliant. Now consumed by a storm of thought, and deviation from the norm, Lear finds salvation. Deviating from sanity, he has transitioned into a new perspective. Formerly blinded by outward appearance with his physical eye, he penetrates the very bottom of things through madness, and recognizes their true nature allowing imagery as the only adequate form of expression (Clemen 65). The storm shrouds reality and sets precedent for wisdom to emerge in an abstract state of mind.

Humility is brought to King Lear at his lowest point of humanity. "Debasement gives rise to dignity and at the moment when Lear might be expected to be most brutalized he becomes most human" (Dollimore 71), experiencing an epiphany of true understanding. There is a personal growth through the downfall of power to the acceptance of bare humanity. Seeing no reason to remain "sophisticated" shown by "Lear's belief that man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal" (Kin. 3.1.102) he removes his clothes and strips himself what dignity he has left. Now at his lowest point, he is open to true revelation of character. "By heroically enduring a fate he is powerless to alter…man grows in stature even as he is being destroyed" (Dollimore 71), is an indication of Lear's personal change. From a foolish king, he reforms into a wise man full of competence.

The faked madness by Edgar unfolds Lear's turmoil into reason. Edgar disguises himself as a poor beggar feigning madness, which pushes Lear over the edge into real madness (Foresman 25). Lear followed Edgar into madness becoming enlightened to the belief that he lives in a world with no justice, and immorality prevails. "Change places, and hand-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief" (Kin. 4.6.137), is the condition of insanity where there is a complete reversal of rules from the standard norm. Lear's madness is refined from chaos in the form of inexplicable reason. There is "profound revelation, as Edgar exclaims ‘O, matter and impertinency mix'd,/ Reason in madness!'" declaring Lear's madness "a source of wonder" (Cahn 209).

The truth is found within wisdom, beyond the entropy of madness. Insight provided by the Fool. King Lear is taught important wisdom, and the value of humility. Edger fake death drives King Lear into a mad zone. Even as opposites chaos, and reason intertwine.

WORKS CITED
Calderwood, James L. "Creative Uncreation in King Lear." Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's King Lear. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsa House Publishers, 1987. 86-33445. Cahn, Victor L. The Plays of Shakespeare. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001. Clemen, Wolfgang H. The Development of Shakespeare's Imagery. Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Shakespearean Criticism. New York: Everyman's Library, 1960 Dollimore, Jonathan. "King Lear and Essentialist Humanism." Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's King Lear. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsa House Publishers, 1987. 86-33445. Eccles, Mark. King Lear. Arden ed. Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1951 Lowers, James K. Cliff Notes on Shakespeare's King Lear. Lincoln, Nebraska: CliffNotes, Inc., 1968. Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. Alfred Harbage. New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 1970.

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