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King Lear Essay Lear'S Descent Into Madness And His Subsequent Recognition Of His Faults

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In the play King Lear, Madness occupies a central place and is associated with both disorder and insanity. Madness intertwines itself within the thoughts of suicide of many characters that undergo hardships. It is deep within all the characters and is shown in many ways. In Lear's mind, madness reflects the chaos that has descended upon his kingdom. He is affected by the wheel of fortune as he is stripped of his royalty, to become nothing more than a mad commoner. Lear then learns humility as he is joined by Edgar. Edgar's artificial insanity contains wisdom for the king to discover along the way.

Madness is first introduced in Act 2, when Goneril begins her first stage in demolishing her father's royal status. She makes him go through what Shakespeare calls the "Wheel of Fortune" by demanding Lear to cut down his knight count by half from 100 to 50. Lear then attempts to seek refuge from this problem and goes to live with his other daughter, Regan. The conniving sisters take sides with each other in attempts to ruin Lear. Regan conforms with Goneril and orders Lear to deplete his knight count to zero. This gives Lear the opportunity to foreshadow himself going mad in the future. "O fool, I shall go mad!" (II.iv.287)

The theme of madness is explored in depth in Act 3, as many forms of madness in different characters are found. King Lear in particular is driven to a mad state and is followed by others who have gone mad. Edgar, who is disguised as Poor Tom, puts on a mental disguise of madness to contrast Lear's true mad state. Edgar acts as a fraud and is able to trick the other characters into believing that he is truly mad. The horrific action of all but two children in the play, Cordelia and Edgar, is summed up by Gloucester.

Lear's daughters stripped him of all dignity, and turned many of his people against him. With cruelty, they weakened him mentally and took over the kingdom while throwing him into the wilderness to face a raging storm. They showed their true colours when they exceeded Lear's madness and plotted his death. Lear obviously did not deserve this; he has given them nothing but love and his own kingdom, for them to do this heinous act is unprecedented. The horrific action of all but two children in the play, Cordelia and Edgar, is summed up by Gloucester "Our flesh and blood, my lord, is grown vile that it doth hate what get it." (III.iv.138-139)

This evil leads Lear to his belief that madness on a large scale can only result from betrayal of daughters. He begins to lack trust and lets his madness fully take over. This is clearly symbolized and depicted by the raging storm that has come upon is former kingdom. Lear wails, "Rumble thy bellyful. Spit, fire. Spout, rain, nor, rain, wind thunder, fire are my daughters."

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