In Lear’s speeches trace how he mixes ‘Reason in Madness’ In the beginning of ‘King Lear’ a man is shown of whom is subjected to ‘unruly waywardness’ and ‘unconstant stars’. Lear casts off the two people who are the most faithful to him; Cordelia his caring daughter and Kent his most trusted subject. The cloud of madness then proceeds to overcome him as soon as he relinquishes his power over to his other two daughters, Regan and Goneril, on the basis of their exaggerated love for him; “beyond all manner of so much I love you. ” This cloud of madness begins to lift eventually but not until he is once again reunited with Cordelia.
His experience of madness teaches him wisdom and he corrects all his previous faults as a result. Several things attribute to Lear’s eventual madness. The Fool, initially, plays a large part in pointing out to the King his foolish mistakes. Even before the onset of Lear’s madness, the Fool is anticipating it; “thou hast pared thy wit o’both sides, and left nothing i’the middle. ” Lear’s gradual realization of the disloyalty of his two elder daughters also leads him to anticipate his oncoming madness. Reproaching himself for his blindness, he speaks of himself, “Either his notion weakens, his discenrings/ are lethargied,” and later, “… et thy folly in,/ And thy dear judgement out! ” It is Lear’s reaction to Goneril’s refusal to house him together with his whole retinue that marks the first real premonition of his madness, and the Fool suggests that it is his lack of wisdom, which accompanies his old age, that will be the cause of it. Corresponding with Lear’s madness, which is real, the play presents apparent, or feigned, madness in other characters. Kent challenges Oswald, in disguise, for reasons Cornwall cannot understand, for he is not aware of the former disguise. He puts Kent’s provocation down to madness, as it is the only reasonable explanation.
Edgar, also disguised in order to escape, takes on the aspect of madness. Edgar has been falsely rejected by his father, just as Cordelia has been rejected by hers. But Edgar’s resulting madness, unlike Lear’s, is only assumed. And it is this assumed madness which instils the real one in Lear. His meeting with Edgar as Old Tom is the final escalade the King’s fall into madness, which Kent perceives. He urges that Lear be led away, for “His wits begin t’unsettle. ” Gloucester is present at the meeting between Lear and Edgar, and compares his situation with that of Lear. He, too, has unjustly rejected a loyal son, nd, noting the King’s state, which has been caused by the disloyalty of his daughters, he remarks, “I am almost mad myself. I had a son/Now outlawed from my blood; he sought my life,/… The grief hath crazed my wits. ” But, his madness begins in such a rage and sorrow at the way he has been used, and he equates his condition with that of the storms and tempests that are taking place, as a parallel in nature, to the condition of his mind. The Fool continues to allude to madness following Lear’s departure into that state, calling it madness to have trust in those whose words and deeds obviously cannot be relied on.
The Fool offers no relief to Lear’s condition. The King’s trial of his two sisters in which he, fallen into madness; the Fool; and Edgar, who is feigning madness, sit in judgement, illustrates the wisdom that his madness is instilling. He comes to a full realization of the lack of insight that characterized his previous behaviour. His display of madness makes it difficult for Edgar to maintain his role as a madman, for the latter feels pity for Lear’s condition, comparing it to his own pretence, which he can cast off at any time.
Like Gloucester, Edgar compares his condition to that of Lear. But like Gloucester, also, madness is not a reality for Edgar. Though he can compare experiences with the King, Lear’s grief has reached greater depths. In his madness, Lear makes rational judgements concerning the ills of society, showing a greater awareness that he previously possessed. His identification with Edgar, disguised as Old Tom, makes him aware that the greatness attributed to the role of king still leaves man underneath, who is no different from all other men.
He comes to see, too, the ineffectiveness of justice in the face of sin and evil, and the falsity of the trickster who profits from pretence. His newfound wisdom leads Edgar to remark; “O! Matter and impertinency mix’d; Reason in madness. ” Gloucester envies Lear’s madness because he believes it brings forgetfulness of the evils that caused it. He, aware of his sorrows and their cause, cannot separate his thoughts from them. Lear is restored from his madness when he is reunited with Cordelia, and admits his former foolishness. Love and sanity return together, just as lack of love form the two daughters who e had favoured, marked his lapse into insanity. Madness has taught Lear humility and given him and new concept of justice. He recognises that flattery is worthless and accepts the simplicity of love and affection represented by Cordelia. His progress throughout the play strips him of the inner, as well as the outer, trappings of the role of monarch, and thus, through madness, rings him to a better understanding of the human nature. The fact that the realisation comes too late does not lessen the relevance of Lear’s entry into a more human state.