Madness of Lear & Edgar
Madness is considered to be the root of all endings. In addition, the overall mental and physical state of madness is seen as shameful to many people, as well as disrespectful to oneself and others. With that being said, the motif of madness one thing that no man wants to experience.
But in Shakespeare’s King Lear, madness appears in various forms and functions as the central theme, and leads many of the characters, including Lear himself, to their demise. In the beginning of the play, Lear is characterized as a very prideful individual, who is obsessed with power and self-love.
But as the plot of the play progresses, numerous situations arise and Lear endures a rollercoaster of emotions, which ultimately shape him into a different person. Lear’s overall changes throughout the play all have something in common: a decrease in power and an increase in grief and sympathy. Each obstacle that Lear goes through pushes his pride more and more towards self-pity and sadness, which are emotions that a King of his stature is not used to having to deal with.
Through his perspective at this point, he fears that he is going mad, and Lear is so obsessed with control that the thought of losing it all makes him believe that he is losing his sanity as well. However, after he constantly gets pushed to experience self-evaluation with each situation. Lear undergoes a rebirth, even though it is too late for the King at this stage of the play. Another character in King Lear, Edgar, also endures the play’s central theme of madness, but in a different way.
Edgar feigns his insanity to stay alive, by disguising himself as the beggar “Poor Tom”, in order for his father, Gloucester, to accept him after Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, tricks their father into thinking that Edgar is a madman and wants to murder his father. Edgar fames madness throughout the play and disguises himself as the madman that Edmund has betrayed him to be, since at the time the insane were virtually invisible to society. Ironically, Edgar’s time as a supposedly insane beggar prepares him to defeat Edmund at the close of the play.
Shakespeare uses both of these characters to mirror and contrast one another’s states to madness and to illustrate the play’s deeper meanings. While Edgar pretends to be mad, Lear is actually mad. Edgar stimulates insanity and foreshadows Lear’s madness, as it grows stronger throughout the play. The two end up joining, and it ultimately provides Lear with important wisdom by reducing him to his bare humanity, stripped of all royal pretentions. However, the real madness of
Lear and the assumed madness of Edgar both play against one another to make out of the chaos a harmony in the kingdom through self-revelation, wisdom, and humility. Eventually, the madness comes to an end. Edgar unveils his disguise of madness and overthrows Edmund, while Lear’s madness leads to his demise. Overall, Shakespeare delves into the issues of age, power, lust, betrayal, and most of all, pure madness. The play shines a light on various faults in humanity, including self-indulgence and the desires to only think about oneself. In the end, greed and egotism can really only result in madness.