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Essay/Term paper: Madness in king lear: act 4

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Shakespeare

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Madness in King Lear: Act 4 In Shakespeare's play King

Lear, Shakespeare introduces many themes. The most

important theme shown in King Lear is the theme of

madness. During the course of this play madness is shown in

the tragic hero, King Lear. King Lear develops madness

right in the beginning of the play but he actually shows it in

Act 4. In this act, King Lear is not only at the peak of

madness but it is also shown him coming out of his madness

as well. This act is likely to be the most important act

because it shows the phases King Lear goes through, from

complete madness to him coming out of his madness and

realizing his mistake, the point of tragic vision. The theme of

madness in King Lear is first shown in the act through

Cordelia's statement to the guards about the condition her

father is in. Cordelia says "Alack, 'tis he! Why, he was met

even now as mad as the vexed sea, singing aloud, crowned

with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds, with hardocks,

hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, darnel, and all the idle

weeds that grow in our sustaining corn." [Act iv, iv, 1-6].

This gives a great description of King Lear's state of mind.

Cordelia gives a description of King Lear dressed in

flowers, and weeds, and she explains to the guards that he is

singing aloud. All of these characteristics are unfit for a king,

thus, leaving one reasonable explanation of him being mad,

which Cordelia states in her speech to the guards. King

Lear's madness is further illustrated in act 4, scene 6.

Although King Lear had shown signs of madness in other

act's such as 3, he had really shown the extreme of his

madness in this scene. King Lear is shown completely

insane, through his garments and his speeches to Gloucester

and Edgar. In one of his speeches, King Lear makes

comments about a mouse and a bird that are not present.

"..Look look, a mouse! Peace, peace; this piece of toasted

cheese will do it…O, well flown, bird!" [iv, vi, 88-91]. This

statement was the first sign of him being mad. At the

beginning of Act 4, it was just mentioned that King Lear was

gone mad, this was the first sign of proof that he was indeed

mad. Although King Lear shows signs of being mad, he also

shows signs of being sane. This is shown through him

knowing the cause of him being mad. If King Lear was

completely mad he would not be able to justify the reason

for his madness. In [iv, vi, 96-105] he states that his

daughters" have done him wrong and shows signs of insanity

when he calls Gloucester Goneril. "Ha! Goneril with a white

beard? They flattered me like a dog, and told me I had white

hairs in my beard ere the black ones were there. To say

"Ay" and "no" too was no good divinity…Go to, they are

not men o" their words! They told me I was everything. "Tis

a lie- I am not ague-proof." This quote shows Lear"s sanity.

Lear may have qualities in him to make him seem mad but he

possess sanity, enough to know the cause of his madness.

This possession of sanity soon brings King Lear to his

moment of tragic vision. King Lear"s moment of tragic vision

comes when he is rescued by Cordelia and wakes up in her

presence. At first King Lear shows signs of sanity through

his speech to Cordelia and Kent about his recognition of him

being mad. " I feel I am not in my perfect mind." [iv, vii, 63]

King Lear than recovers enough to know that he is in the

presence of his daughter Cordelia, which he did not know

before. "Do not laugh at me; for (as I am a man) I think this

lady to be my child Cordelia." [iv, vii, 67-69]. The phase of

the end of King Lear"s madness is when he finally admits he

was wrong and asks for forgiveness. "Pray you now, forget

and forgive. I am old and foolish." [iv, vii, 84]. This is the

moment of tragic vision or demonic epiphany because King

Lear confesses to his mistake but it is too late because he

has already lost everything. But in order for King Lear to

finally admit to his mistakes, he has to be sane. A person has

to be in a clear state of mind in order to come up with the

notion that they have done something wrong, and being a

King with such hubris, to admit that they have done a

mistake. To conclude, Act 4 was an important act in King

Lear. This is because it showed all three phases of madness

that the King had gone through. The phase of him being

mad, which was shown through his garments and

hallucinations, the phase of him coming out of his madness,

by knowing the means of his madness and lastly the phase of

him overcoming his madness, shown through his tragic


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