Madness Portrayal William Shakespeare’s Play King Lear

Literary critics have often commented that William Shakespeare developed the plot of his play King Lear based on Lear, an aged king of ancient Britain. Analyzing Shakespeare’s plays one can witness that much of the Shakespearean characters were suffered from the adversities of madness or severe psychological frustration. One can unearth several instances in Shakespeare’s plays such as the madness of Lear in King Lear, the depression of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth; men of sin are frustrated with unsound mind and Constance’s depression resulted in madness. Lear’s madness constitutes an unusual emotional explosion that leads the readers to the zenith of purification or catharsis. The theme of madness is discovered throughout the play in various ways and the audience can find numerous forms of madness in the third act of the play. The portrayal of madness plays a vital role in William Shakespeare’s play King Lear and it is explained in different ways. It also discloses the secrets of human nature and the influence of time and traditions.

Shakespeare portrays Lear in act III of the play, King Lear, as a man of extreme arrogance and egoism. The initial stage of Lear’s madness is visible through his strange conversations and the destruction of his clothes. With a state of mental depression and unsound mind, Lear cries; “You sulfurous and thought- executing fires, Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts, Singe my white head” (Shakespeare, 2008, p.90). The theme of madness is portrayed through the characters of Edgar, Earl of Kent, the fool, and King Lear in the play William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Critics have different opinions on the madness of Lear and some of them believe that the symptoms of Lear’s madness are revealed at the beginning of the play. At the end of the second act, the reader can see that after leaving Gloucester’s castle Lear drives into real madness; he meanders without direction in the heavy storm. Shakespeare reveals his extraordinary craftsmanship through the presentation of both storm in nature and emotional storm in King Lear’s head. Injustice and ill-treatment from the part of his older daughters affect Lear’s mind thus frustrating his emotional state.

The causes of Lear’s madness are many and varied. Refusal and ill-treat of his elder daughters, tenderness of the younger daughter Cordelia, excessive revenge against his enemies, and the realization of his mistakes that contributed to an unsound mind. In the fourth act, Lear’s madness reaches its zenith and the reader can see that Lear is walking naked. He is not aware of his nakedness. His long hair and bulging eyes reveal extreme fear and pain.

The death of his younger daughter Cordelia also contributed to Lear’s misbalanced emotional state, as he feels guilty of this accident. His sufferings and feeling of remorse are converted into nightmares where Cordelia persecutes his father as if blaming him for her death.

In the play, King Lear, being emotionally unstable is compared with other characters like Kent, Fool, Edgar. The important role of Lear is not only of a mad one. The character also embodies intelligence and nobility. At the same time, Fool, another character disclosing madness, communicates with others with the sense covered by foolishness. His madness carries out several times like a child’s fury in this play of Shakespeare. Lear’s intimacy towards his daughters provokes uncertainty by creating a crisis similar to an ordinary man. Goneril and Regan, two daughters of Lear, are the characters with some psychic problems. At the same time, they together were against their father thus struggling for Edmund. The fool is not a regular personality in this play, he represents foolishness and his words are giving insight into the behavior of the King. The words of the fool reveal his logical state of mind but he acts like a mad man in the play with other mad characters. Kent has a different demeanor with great intimacy towards the central character King Lear. His pieces of advice are rejected by the King and barred from the master so that anyone can continue this situation with regard. It is clear for a reader Kent’s extreme loyalty and intimacy towards Lear leads him to a state of unsound mind.

Shakespeare’s play presents the main character being driven to madness by the lack of gratitude expressed by his daughters. He also represents a solid predisposition to the disease that is dramatically developed under the influence of exciting causes. In the plays, Lear is not depicted as a noble king guided by rational principles of justice; instead, he is represented as a man of hot temper with generous and strong impulses that are discouraged by the greatest endowment. The king is also frustrated by the unexpected behavior of his elder daughters who betray him for the sake of ignoble goals.

King Lear’s madness is also explained by his inability to comprehend the essence of human relations and to espy the actual life. As a result, Lear is frustrated by Cordelia’s response: “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; no more, no less” (Shakespeare, 1860). The kind fails to recognize the real love in Cordelia’s confession and drives her crazy. Her denial to flatter his father, the youngest daughter refuses to make a false declaration to gain her father’s wealth. At the end of the novel, Lear, already driven to madness, concludes that people do not differ from animals that are more concerned with material rather than moral welfare. This is why in the final scene, the king cries out: “O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars Are in the poorest thing superfluous. Allow not nature more than nature needs man’s life as cheap as beast’s” (Shakespeare, 1860). Father is unable to realize his daughters’ horrible betrayal.

To conclude, William Shakespeare’s play King Lear demonstrates the theme of madness differently. The madness of King Lear is the major one and it controls the development of the entire plot. Other characters like Kent, fool, Edgar, and Lear’s older daughters also reveal some signs of madness. Earl of Kent’s extreme loyalty and passion for Lear’s older daughter towards Edmond gives clear examples of madness. Lear’s anger and revenge lead to frustration and severe mental depression. The madness of King Lear explores the realization of his mistakes and the reader can see that madness of King Lear constitutes pity and fear in the mind of the audience. Finally, King’s emotional instability is also the result of his incapability to distinguish between empty flattering and actual love revealed by his daughters.

Reference List

Shakespeare, W, King Lear, edit. W. A. Moore and C. S. Bernard, Edwin Forrest edition of Shakespearian and other plays, New York, 1860.

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Premium Papers. 2023. "Madness Portrayal William Shakespeare’s Play King Lear." July 2, 2023.

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