The Madness of King Lear

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The Madness of King Lear
Madness is a key theme throughout King Lear and has, therefore, been the subject of much debate by scholars and critics throughout the centuries.
Samantha MarkhamSamantha Markham
Samantha Markham is a professional freelance writer with a particular passion for literary and theatrical subjects.
Ludwig Devrient as King Lear (1769)Written between 1603 and 1606, King Learis one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragedies. The story is based on the legend of King Leir of Britain in which a king divides his kingdom. However, Shakespeare’s interpretation of the legend is much darker than the original and is filled with deceit, death and madness.
Much debate surrounding King Lear’s madness concentrates on possible early manifestations of it and its causes. While some assert that King Lear displays early signs of insanity from the commencement of the play, others believe that it is his anger and lust for revenge that drive him to madness.

King Lear’s Madness in the First Scene
The opening scene of King Lear is a fascinating exploration of flattery, self-love and the relationship between father and daughters. It seems absurd that a king would divide his kingdom according to professions of love, but it is worth considering that a long reigning king is accustomed to exercising irresponsible power.

However, the problem with chalking the opening scene up to an old king’s desire to be flattered is that the kingdom has already been divided. Gloucester tells Kent “…but, now, in the division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the Dukes he values most; for equalities are so weigh’d that curiosity in neither can make choice of either’s moiety.”(I.i) In other words, before his daughters are asked to speak, the division of the kingdom has already been established by Lear. Therefore, this places a question mark over the reason for Lear’s “Which of…...

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