Such are the horrid outcomes of the characters in King Lear.
King Lear E-Text contains the full text of King Lear
It has been said, and we think justly, that the third act of Othello and the three first acts of LEAR, are Shakespear's great master-pieces in the logic of passion: that they contain the highest examples not only of the force of individual passion, but of its dramatic vicissitudes and striking effects arising from the different circumstances and char-acters of the persons speaking. We see the ebb and flow of the feeling, its pauses and feverish starts, its impatience of opposition, its accumulating force when it has time to recollect ifself, the manner in which it avails itself of every passing word or gesture, its haste to repel insinuation, the alternate contraction and dilatation of the soul, and all "the dazzling fence of controversy" in this mortal combat with poisoned weapons, aimed at the heart, where each wound is fatal. We have seen in Othello, how the unsuspecting frankness and impetuous passions of the Moor are played upon and exasperated by the artful dexterity of Iago. In the present play, that which aggravates the sense of sympathy in the reader, and of uncontroulable anguish in the swoln heart of Lear, is the petrifying indifference, the cold, calculating, obdurate selfishness of his daughters. His keen passions seem whetted on their stony hearts. The contrast would be too painful, the shock too great, but for the intervention of the Fool, whose well-timed levity comes in to break the continuity of feeling when it can no longer be borne, and to bring into play again the fibres of the heart just as they are growing rigid from over-strained excitement. The imagination is glad to take refuge in the half-comic, half-serious comments of the Fool, just as the mind under the extreme anguish of a surgical operation vents itself in sallies of wit. The character was also a grotesque ornament of the barbarous times, in which alone the tragic ground-work of the story could be laid. In another point of view it is indis-pensable, inasmuch as while it is a diversion to the too great intensity of our disgust, it carries the pathos to the highest pitch of which it is capable, by showing the pitiable weakness of the old king's conduct and its irretrievable consequences in the most familiar point of view. Lear may well "beat at the gate which let his folly in," after, as the Fool says, "he has made his daughters his mothers." The character is dropped in the third act to make room for the entrance of Edgar as Mad Tom, which well accords with the increasing bustle and wildness of the incidents; and nothing can be more complete than the distinction between Lear's real and Edgar's assumed madness, while the resemblance in the cause of their distresses, from the severing of the nearest ties of natural affection, keeps up a unity of interest. Shakespear's mastery over his subject, if it was not art, was owing to a knowledge of the connecting links of the passions, and their effect upon the mind, still more wonderful than any systematic adherence to rules, and that anticipated and outdid all the efforts of the most refined art, not inspired and rendered instinctive by genius. One of the most perfect displays of dramatic power is the first interview between Lear and his daughter, after the designed affronts upon him, which, till one of his knights reminds him of them, his sanguine temperament had led him to overlook. He returns with his train from hunting, and his usual impatience breaks out in his first words, "Let me not stay a jot for dinner; go, get it ready." He then encounters the faithful Kent in disguise, and retains him in his service; and the first trial of his honest duty is to trip up the heels of the officious Steward who makes so prominent and despicable a figure through the piece. On the entrance of Gonerill the following dialogue takes place:
In King Lear there are quite a few themes....
The theme of madness is explored deeply in Act III as we encounter at least three different forms of madness in at least three different characters. King Lear most notably goes, or is driven, to a madness he had predicted in this Act, but he is accompanied by two others whom are meant to be playing fools or madmen but to whom he grants the greatest sincerity. These two men, the two Lear places on the bench of his fictitious jury, are Edgar as poor Tom and Lear's Fool. Edgar feigns a madness as poor Tom that provides a great contrast to Lear's actual madness by bringing into question what madness is and how it was looked upon in Shakespeare's day. History shows that in Shakespeare's time lunatics were viewed as comic entertainment. Elizabethans would go to certain places simply in order to watch lunatics act crazy. Furthermore, Edgar's character was believable on the level of a mad trickster, a common character in the day who was known to trick others into believing him out of his wits. In a time such as this, one had to be careful to illuminate a lunacy which would be taken seriously if that was Shakespeare's intent, which concerning King Lear we must assume it was. The reasons which justify his serious plunge into insanity are many as the audience is privy to the actions of his daughters and the indignity he has been shown since giving up his title which could easily drop an old proud former king into madness. The horrific action of all but two children in the play, Cordelia and Edgar, is summed up in a neat sentence by Gloucester as he enters the hovel to speak to Lear. He cries, "Our flesh and blood, my lord, is grown so vile/ That it doth hate what gets it" (III.4.136-137). The vileness, the evil, of Lear's two daughters and of Edmund (though ironically, at this point Gloucester is still speaking of Edgar) is such a betrayal that it has made the skin crawl and wish to reject the beings it helped to create. They have forsworn any human tie to their parents in such a vile way that hatred is the only word which can describe the relation. We also learn from Gloucester that Lear's daughters are now trying to kill him. Not only have they stripped him of all dignity, condescendingly and hypothetically turned many of his own knights against him, and thrown him unsheltered out into a raging dangerous storm, but they have finally cut the corner of pretense in which they said they would accept their father if he came without train and resolved to kill their own father who gave them all of his kingdom. Lear's fault in facing them was a quick temper and a love quantified into value and material weight. This love, as we have discussed, could not have always existed in this form as we know from Lear's reaction in Act I that Cordelia had been his favorite daughter and that she had never rejected him or his wish previously. Thus, the self-centered plea for love seems to be a fault of old age as well as ego. As Gloucester mentions flesh and blood, Lear's daughters have turned out for blood and power, in a way again similar to the ambition of Lady Macbeth, to which they have no need to battle for but of which they can seemingly not get enough. The rumors continue along the vein of a rift between Albany and Cornwall and we will soon encounter a major rivalry between Regan and Goneril. Their undoing, their evil, is thus based on an arrogant ambition and a horrific filial ingratitude.