The Need for External Acknowledgement in Shakespearean King Lear “The impermanence of power and place. That man had it all, but only for a time. “l –James Baker In William Shakespearean King Lear, the dialog in the hovel between Lear and Edgar, disguised as the mad beggar Poor Tom, represents the pivotal moment in Learner’s path to redemption through self-discovery. Learner’s path to self-discovery begins when he experiences a psychological struggle over the loss of his royal sovereign power and the loss of his role as a father.
Shakespeare hints at Learner’s brewing identity crisis when Reagan clarifies that Learner’s problem is not only his age, but also his self-identity. Reagan states: “Its the infirmity of his age, yet he hath ever but slenderer known himself” (1. 1. 294-5). Later Lear questions Kent in disguise as the servant Caucus. Lear states: “Dost thou know me, fellow’ (1. 4. 26)? 2 Another hint of Learner’s impending identity crisis comes when Goner” states: These dispositions, which of late transport you From what you rightly are. (1. 4. 213-4) The identity crisis becomes clear when later in Act 1, Lear states: Does any here know me?
Why, this is not Lear. Who is it that can tell me who I am? (1. 4. 217-21) Friedman, Thomas. “Power is Fleeting, Baker Reflects,” The New York Times, February 2, 1990. Secretary of State James Baker describes his reaction to seeing a former White House Chief of Staff from a prior administration, walking alone on the street without any of the trappings of power. !2 Shakespeare, William. King Lear. In The Arden Shakespeare King Lear, New York: Bloomberg, 2014. All future references to the text of the play will refer to this edition by listing the (Act/scene/line numbers).
As he divides his kingdom and abdicates his throne, Lear tries to maintain a sense of elf-identity despite being surrounded by a changing political and social environment. Eventually Lear slips into madness as he struggles with a crisis of identity. Lear cannot resolve his identity crisis until he relinquishes his old self and accepts a new concept of selfless. Examining Learner’s dialog with Poor Tom, illuminates Shakespearean method of communicating to the audience how and why Lear resolves his identity crisis.
More illuminating than considering Learner’s identity crisis through standard literary critical analysis, one can better understand Learner’s struggle through a philosophical lens. The philosophical ideas George Wilhelm Frederica Hedge’s regarding the formation of selfless, helps explain how Shakespeare presents his theme of self- discovery in King Lear. Hegel contends that inwardness of selfless can only develop in an environment which includes external social interaction. 3 As Lear encounters the storm, he finds himself at the peak of his psychological struggle. The storm prepares Lear to face his identity crisis.
When Lear seeks shelter from the storm in the hovel, he still holds on to a vestige of his former identity. Through his conversation with Poor Tom, Lear eventually emerges from the hovel enlightened and transformed with a new self-identity. Thus, through a Hegelian lens, King Lear is a play about social interaction and human nature. Consistent with Hedge’s philosophy regarding the formation of selfless, Poor Tom serves as the necessary external interaction which Lear requires to unify his internal and external selfless. This paper argues that Shakespeare uses Poor Tom’s feint at madness as a means for Hegel, George Wilhelm Frederica. Phenomenology of Spirit,” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. 2nd deed. Deed. Vincent B. Letch, New York: Norton, 2010. P. 541 . Lear to come into knowledge which enables Lear to resolve his identity crisis.
A brief description of Hedge’s ideas on selfless explain the connection to Learner’s self-discovery. Hegel asserts that, achieving solicitousness requires the acknowledgement of the internal selfless by an external other. Hegel states: “self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged. “4 In defining selfless as a two-step process, Hegel asserts that the self has an internal component consisting of a conception of selfless and an external component consisting of a recognition of that selfless by another person.
Thus, Hegel asserts achieving and maintaining self- identity requires uniting the internal and external views of selfless into a singular self-identity. Hegel states: “the notion of this its unity in its duplication. 5 The duplication of selfless stems from a struggle for “oneness” which forces an adaptation in self-identity. 6 Thus, Hegel contends the resolution of an identity crisis cannot take place solely in the mind of one individual. Resolving an identity crisis requires external feedback. 14 Hegel, “Phenomenology of Spirit,” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. . 541 . 15 16 Taking a Hegelian approach to Learner’s identity crisis, Lear must interact with and receive acknowledgement from another person, whom Lear perceives as not having a connection to the Kings former selfless. As a disposed king, Learner’s identity crisis mains linked to the void created when he loses the trappings of power associated with his roles as sovereign and father. Learner’s loss of political and family identity, creates a crisis that pushes him psychologically into unknown territory.
Although not considering Shakespeare through a Hegelian lens, William Flesh indirectly supports this view in arguing that Shakespeare had an interest in phenomenology. Flesh asserts: “In Shakespearean plays self-origination manifests itself most fully under the pressure of loss. “7 In order to resolve his identity crisis, Lear must break free from what he knows and embrace the unknown. The external feedback Lear receives prior to his interaction with Poor Tom, only reminds the disposed king of who he once was, not who he can now become.
Lear needs a completely new external source of acknowledgment not linked to his former roles as king and father. Such an external source of acknowledgement offers Lear a means by which he can readjust his selfless. A readjustment that can only come about without a connection to his already internalized former self-identity. Lear needs an interaction which can provide a new frame of knowledge in order to develop an entirely new understanding of his self. A close examination of the play, reveals that Lear experiences such an interaction through his dialog with Poor Tom. The Storm: Preparing Lear to Encounter Poor Tom 17 Flesh, William.
Generosity and the Limits of Authority: Shakespeare, Herbert, Milton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992. P. 87. By the time Lear meets Poor Tom, Shakespeare has already prepped Lear for his direct interaction with a representation of the common man from the lowest level within British society. In addition, Shakespeare provides the audience with a glimpse of Lear accepting an initial change in his selfless. The storm sets the stage for Learner’s pivotal encounter with Poor Tom. The storm causes Lear to accept a deterioration or softening of his hardened selfless which he forged during his time wielding the power of an absolute monarch.
Through the softening of his hardened selfless, Lear prepares to establish a new self-identity. During the storm, Lear comes to understand that as King of Britain, he ignored the daily struggles faced by the masses in Britain. In acknowledging the struggling masses, Lear takes a major step forward in acknowledging his own humanity and toward discovering his limits as a man. Only through his inward exploration, does Lear begin to find the self he was enable to experience as a king. As one can surmise, as king, Lear remained too focused on the hard calculated decisions of maintaining political power and wealth.
But through the extremes of the storm, Learner’s hardened selfless starts to soften. Initially Lear only feels sorry for himself and seeks revenge by challenging nature to destroy the entire world, but as the storm continues, Lear is able to develop empathy for others. In gaining the ability to express empathy, Lear opens himself to the community necessary to achieve self-discovery. Lear in stubbornness refuses to return to Gloucester home and enter back into investigation with his daughters. Kent tries in vain to let Lear, allow him to go back to his daughters and ask if Lear may reenter the home and get out of the cold wet storm.
Kent makes requests to Lear: Gracious my lord, hard by here is a hovel Some Friendship will it lend you ‘against the tempest Repose you there, while I to this hard house More harder than the stones whereof its raised Which even but now, demanding after you, Denied me to come in – return and force Their scanted courtesy. (3. 2. 61-7) Lear stands in the rain right near Gloucester home, but he refuses to return and work through his issues with his daughters. Even the Fool requests for Lear to be reasonable and go back to his daughters to get out of the cold rain of the storm.
The Fool states: O, uncle, court holy water in a dry house is better than this rain-water out door. Good uncle, in and ask thy daughters blessing. Here’s a night pities neither wise men nor fools (3. 2. 10-3) At this point in the play, Lear does not have the ability to be flexible to discuss the issue with his daughters. As king, Lear did not need to negotiate and compromise. By holding on to a selflessness associated with power, Lear cannot act like a common man living in a community with others. By staying out in the storm, Lear isolates himself both physically and mentally.
Shakespeare uses the storm to highlight Learner’s inability to confront human nature resulting in Learner’s inability to live amongst others. When Lear can no longer demand his wishes and force others to bend to his will, Lear storms off into an actual storm. Considering King Lear through a Hegelian lens, Learner’s inability to thrive as a member of a community, stands clear as the reason why Lear struggles with an identity crisis. Without the social skills required to connect with an external other and gain acknowledgement for his new selfless, Lear is initially unable to readjust his self-identity.
Initially facing the storm, Lear remains defiant. He refuses to acknowledge that his present place in the world, no longer reflects his personal perception of his place in the world. As an absolute monarch, Lear lived in a world that was not the reality of most men. Now as a deposed king, Lear must face the reality of the world as do ordinary men. Such an absolute change in his life gives a shock to Learner’s mental stability. The storm represents a physical manifestation of the violent change taking place in his life. The storm represents the psychological storm raging in Learner’s subconscious.
As he protests against his loss of power and status, so does Lear protest its physical manifestation represented by the storm. In seeking revenge, Lear assumes a king like posture in ordering nature to do his bidding. Lear states: Blow winds and crack and crack your checks! Rage, blow! You cataracts and hurricanes, spout Till you have drench our steeples, drown the socks! Vault-courses of oak-cleaving thunderbolts, Singe my white head! And thou all shaking thunder, Strike flat the thick rotundity the world Crack nature’s moulds, germens spill at once That make ungrateful man! (3. 2. -9) Learner’s voice remains constant in the manner by which he commands nature to act. Lear demonstrates that his actions are still driven by his self-identity as a powerful man capable of and in the habit of issuing commands and being obeyed. At this point in the play, Learner’s voice provides insight into his social interaction. Lear lacks the ability to interact well with others as he still considers himself as retaining the power of an absolute monarch. As if he were still king, Lear expects his communication with others to be relatively one sided and in his favor. In this key passage (3. . -9), Lear reveals the frustration of his identity crisis. He asks the gods for a natural disaster to make society pay for the injustice he suffers under the mistreatment of his daughters. Near the end of the passage, Lear strikes more directly at woman in venting his anger with Reagan and Generic. In using the term “thick rotundity,” Lear describes the world as a pregnant woman. 8 In using “nature’s moulds,” Lear describes a woman’s womb. Here Lear displays his misogynistic attitude which does not highlight his rage toward mankind, but actually highlights his anger toward his daughters.
Learner’s rage toward his starters reinforces that his selfless remains trapped in the same position he was at the beginning of the play. Trapped in a selfless linked to his identity as a powerful king and father, Lear seeks revenge for the threat to this self-identity. Lear seeks revenge against Reagan and Generic for his decline in power and their rejection of him as their aged father. Lear states: I am a man More sinned against than sinning. (3. 2. 58-9) Learner’s rage reveals that he is not yet a broken man. His over-the-top language clearly communicates his delusion as to the grand position which he still believes that he olds.
Lear clearly states that he wants Reagan and Generic to feel his wrath. Lear states: “l will punish home” (3. 4. 16). At this point in the play, what does not happen to Lear is a shift in his self-identity. A shift which his new political and family situations actually necessitate. Without an adjustment in self-identity, Lear feels himself falling into madness. Lear states: “My wits begin to turn” (3. 2. 68). What happens to Lear is a slide into madness as he fixates on his mistreatment at the hands of Reagan and Generic.
Without a shift in self-identity Lear broods over the perceived injustice of hat Reagan and Generic have done to him, and he loses touch with reality. Lear states: O, Reagan, Generic, Your old, kind father, whose frank heart gave you all! 8 263. Editor’s note: Fakes, R. A. , deed. , The Arden Shakespeare: King Lear, New York: Bloomberg, 2014, p. O, that way madness lies (3. 4. 19-21) As the storm continues, Learner’s hardened selfless softens. In trying to stave off madness, Lear shifts his focus away from his desire for retribution against Reagan and Goner”.
No longer fixated on his desire for vengeance against his daughters, Lear finally speaks of the common people in England. Lear shifts his focus from his psychological offering to his physical suffering. His physical suffering breaks down his hardened resolve to maintain his selfless unchanged by recent events. Lear states: Poor naked wretches, wherefore’s you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your housefuls heads and unfed sides Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these? (3. 4. 28-32) Cold and wet, Lear experiences the suffering and pains of the commoners first hand.
His physical suffering forces Lear to think beyond himself and feel sympathy for others. Instead of seeking retribution against his daughters, now Lear thinks of his rime in ignoring the harsh plight of his subjects. In a true moment of introspection Lear faults his tenure as king. Removed from the people he ruled, Lear focused more on courtly endeavors than humanity. Lear states: O’ I have eaten Too little care of this. (3. 4. 32-3) When focused on revenge, Learner’s thinks from a perspective of self-centered desire. When Lear concludes he did not govern well as king, he thinks from a perspective of compassion and a sense of community.
Shakespeare has Lear come to understand the “poor naked wretches,” to prepare Lear for his encounter with Poor Tom. In exposing Lear to the suffering of humans when tripped away of all protection of civilization, Lear can know understand Poor Tom and develop a kinship with Poor Tom. Lear states: Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou Mays shake the superglue to them And show the heavens more Just. (3. 4. 34-6) Without Learner’s enlightenment regarding the “poor naked wretches,” Lear would not be able to develop a community with Poor Tom.
The first step in preparing for an adjustment in selectivity requires a willingness to seek community. Lear cannot receive external acknowledgement for a new self-identity without first developing an openness to community. In feeling the pain of the cold storm, Lear engages his senses that all humans have in common. In connecting with his basic human senses, Lear becomes more open to enter into a community with an external other. From a Hegelian approach the storm clearly prepares Lear to adjust his self-identity. Before the storm, Learner’s hardened self-identity remained focused on his self-interest.
As a powerful king all Lear focused on was maintaining and wielding power. Before the storm the former king remains rigid in holding onto his self-identity associated with power. At the start of the storm a zeal for revenge represents the only emotion which Lear can summon. In discovering he was remiss in not caring for his common subjects, Lear softens and opens himself to an adjustment in his self-identity. By the end of the storm, Lear can now display the emotions of empathy and guilt. Lear is now a less rigid character and assumes a range of flexibility with his emotions.
Shakespeare uses the storm not as a moment of rebirth for Learner’s personality, but as a moment of psychological breakdown. Only through breaking down his strong self- identity could Shakespeare prepare the character to finally resolve his identity crisis. Following Learner’s feting in the storm, Lear engages Poor Tom from a more malleable psychological state than the Lear who argued with Reagan and Goner”. Inside the Hovel: Establishing a Community Inside the hovel, Lear interacts with a person he considers his equal. Lear finds himself on par with Poor Tom.
Unlike the Fool, whom Lear considers one of the trappings of his former power, Lear perceives Poor Tom as a psychologically troubled person Just like himself. In identifying with Poor Tom, Lear can finally gain the knowledge to free himself from constriction of his former conception of selfless. Lear redefines himself by his own humanity rather than by his former wealth, status, and privilege. Poor Tom replaces the Fool as the foil to Learner’s outward conversations with himself. Shakespeare uses these conversations as a means for allowing the audience access to the psychological struggle taking place inside the mind of Lear.
In other words, the drama within a drama which plays out in Learner’s self-conscious. The dialog between Lear and Poor Tom in the hovel does little to move the plot forward other than resolving Learner’s identity crisis. While he does not link King Lear to Hedge’s hilltop’s on selfless, literary critic James Carney does support this point when he asserts: “Shakespeare gives us a scene-? completely unmotivated in terms of its significance to the plot-?in which Lear responds viscerally to his exposure to the laterality of the other person. 9 Only through Poor Tom’s madness, does Lear find what he perceives as an external equal to provide acknowledgment for Learner’s newly formed internal definition of selfless. 19 Kerrey, James. “Phenomenology and Ethics “This is above all strangeness”: King Lear, Ethics, and the Phenomenology of Recognition” in Criticism, Summer 2012, Volvo. 54, No. 3, p. 457. But, can Lear, in his own state of madness, recognize Poor Tom as a madman and consider Poor Tom his equal from who he can gain knowledge? Professor R. A. Folks, of UCLA, contends that Edger’s disguise as a mad beggar does not influence Learner’s interaction with Poor Tom.
In his introduction to The Arden Shakespeare King Lear, Folks argues: “Edger’s masquerade as the possessed Poor Tom is pretty much confined to one scene, and has little or no effect on the mad Lear, who sees him as a ‘learned Thebes”10 (102). I reject Folklore’s argument based on Learner’s initial perception of Poor Tom as being driven to madness by the neglect of his daughters. While Lear does not consider Poor Tom as possessed by the devil, he does perceive Poor Tom as psychologically troubled. Lear states: “Didst thou give all to thy two daughters? And art thou come to this” (3. 4. 48-9).
In first seeing Poor Tom as a suffering creature shivering in the hovel without clothes, Lear projects his own problems and madness onto Poor Tom. In my view, Folks overlooks the value placed on Learner’s first assessment of Tom as a madman Just like himself. In his unity of effort, Shakespeare intentionally has Lear first bond with Poor Tom as one madman to another madman. Only through bonding on some level of equality an Lear become open to gaining knowledge from Poor Tom. One critic even argues that in his suffering as an outcast, the disguised Edgar may also suffer an identity crisis propelling him into madness.
Emollient Bell argues that Edger’s “assumed madness becomes indistinguishable from the frantic despair to which he has been driven. “al As the former king, Lear must find a manner in which to Fakes, R. A. , deed. , “Introduction” in The Arden Shakespeare: King Lear, New York: Bloomberg, 2014, Bell, Emollient. “Naked Lear,” in Raritan, Spring 2004, Volvo 23, No 4, up. 55-70. P. 102. Connect with Poor Tom as a wise man. Before Lear can philosophize with Poor Tom, Lear first must consider Poor Tom as an equal. In finding an equal, Lear can end his self-imposed solitude and enter into a community.
Through a community Lear can finally end his identity crisis by gaining external acceptance for his selfless. In encountering a near naked man, Lear finds himself connected to Poor Tom’s base humanity. Poor Tom represents the true nature of humanity stripped down to the essential. Poor Tom represents the image of Lear stripped away of all the trappings of wealth and power which he had known while he was king. After his experience in he storm, Lear can identify with Poor Tom as a “poor naked wretch. ” During his time in the hovel, Lear refers to Poor Tom as the “thing itself” (3. . 104). Lear refers to Poor Tom as representative of human poverty. In his perception of Poor Tom as humankind without the varnish of society, Lear finds the common ground which allows him to establish a community with Poor Tom. A key aspect to Poor Tom representing humanity in a base form is the connection of Poor Tom to nature. Shakespeare hints at Poor Tom’s strong connection to nature early in the play. When Edmund discusses how “planetary influence” explains his evil tendencies, he ascribes himself using the attributes of a mad beggar (1. 2. 125).
Edmund states: “My cue is villainous melancholy, with a sigh like Tom bedlam” (1. 2. 135-6). By linking the mad beggar with astrology, Shakespeare indirectly hints at a link between Poor Tom and nature. When Edgar describes how he will disguise himself, the description invokes images of an animal. Edgar states: To take the barest and most poorest shape That ever penury in contempt of man Brought near beast. My face I’ll grime in filth, Blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots… (2. 2. 178-80) When Poor Tom describes the eating of small prey, he describes himself as an animal.
He states: “Poor Tom eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, the wall- newt” (3. 4. 125-6). Linking Poor Tom to nature reinforces the character as a representation of humankind at a base level without the comforts of society. After experiencing the storm, Lear finds the unvarnished truth of the human condition in Poor Tom’s unvarnished appearance and vulnerable existence. Poor Tom serves as a mirror by which Lear can see his own interpretation of the world. In further defining his initial perception of Poor Tom, Lear states: Have his daughters brought him to this pass?