Madness in King Lear

In: Novels

Madness in King Lear

Though separated by hundreds of years, William Shakespeare’s King Lear and Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres share many common themes. One of the most prominent themes shared by both literary works is that of madness. In King Lear, the theme of madness is developed throughout the story and not only involves King Lear’s descent into insanity, but also is seen when Edgar feigns madness as Poor Tom and when Goneril and Regan are gripped by madness over their lust for Edmund. In A Thousand Acres, the theme of madness is most apparent in Larry, but it can also been seen in other characters as well such as Ginny. In both King Lear and A Thousand Acres, Shakespeare and Smiley alter how they use the theme of madness from story to story exposing the reader to varying degrees and types of madness throughout their works. Although the literary works are similar in that they both involve the theme of madness, they also differ in the ways they use and present madness and those differences give the reader varying perspectives on the other themes and plots.
In King Lear, the theme of madness is most clearly visible in the main character of King Lear. Although King Lear displays potential signs of insanity from the commencement of the play, it can be said that it is his anger and lust for revenge that eventually drives him to madness. We first see King Lear beginning to manifest signs of madness in the opening scene, which starts with King Lear forcing his daughters to profess their love for him in order for his daughters to receive their share of his kingdom. It seems absurd that a king would divide his kingdom according to professions of love by his daughters, but it is worth considering that a long reigning king is accustomed to exercising his power irresponsibly. The most troubling aspect of the situation is that Lear had already previously decided to divide his kingdom even before receiving his daughters’ professions of love. Gloucester tells Kent “…but, now, in the division of...

View Full Essay