“Reason is God’s gift: but so are the passions reason is as guilty as passion.” In the words of J.H. Newman, High Cardinal and Catholic theologian, reason can indeed be the cause and source of madness.
As Shakespeare’s complex and profoundly human characters navigate his tragedies, it is evident that reason and not reason drives them to the brink of insanity, yet not quite over the edge. They are always drawn back from the maw of lunacy by a simplistic acceptance of the situation. The issue with madness in Shakespeare is that it has never been concretely defined.
Some believe it was the author’s archaic take on severe mental illness. Others believe it was a ? the reality is far less exhilarating. Madness in Shakespeare’s works is a gilded exploration of the human condition. When a character uses their biased interpretation of themselves and the world around them to dictate their actions and beliefs, it creates a discord between the way they perceive the world to be and the way it actually is.
The characters inability to reconcile perceived reality to truth creates a mental dysphoria, then referred to as madness. — THESIS Hamlet is a man bereaved who must exact revenge on his father’s killer. In his grief he seeks a violent justice, and yet his sensitive and contemplative nature results in hesitation to commit heinous murder. There is a dysphoria between his duty to his father and his gentle personality. Hamlet is a man whose nature and perceived purpose conflict, thus the source of his madness. Act three, scene three is when the struggle between character and duty is plainly seen. Hamlet is presented with the prime opportunity for vengeance, yet predictably he hesitates. “Now might I do it pat.
Now he is a-praying.And now I’ll do ‘t. And so he goes to heaven.And so am I revenged.—That would be scanned.A villain kills my father, and, for that,I, his sole son, do this same villain sendTo heaven.”Hamlet words imply that he refuses to allow the king to die at peace with God, since this would be a blessing rather than revenge. This may be part of the reason, but it seems a fragile excuse when held against the entire backdrop of the play.
Hamlet’s hesitation is because of an internal conflict. He is not a murderer, or at the very least does not want to be. Five scholarly theroires have been developed to interpret Hamlet’s hesitation. The fourth theory is shrouded in historical controversy and is known as the theory of insanity.
This theory asserts that Hamlet is at times, actually mad; though he also is capable of lucid intervals. The main reason this theory has held despite being less popular is because it is impossible even in the standerds of modern medicine to draw a firm line between sanity and insanity. One can be mad and not confined to a madhouse just as one can be a criminal and not held behind bars. The question then becomes what makes a person mad? If a man steals a trifle is he a criminal? Can insanity only be determined by the incorherant ravings of a lunitc, or can it also be defined as slight yet constant tension of the nerves; or a continuous dysphoria between who a person claims to be and how he acts.
Though Hamlet distinctly asserts in the first act that he is going “to put an antic disposition on.” It does not mean that there is no possibility that over time and strain the line between internal character and outward expression may become blurred. Author and Shakesperian analysit George Henry Miles, in 1870, declared with finality: “There is never a storm in Hamlet over which the ‘noble and most sovereign reason’ of the young prince is not as visibly dominant as the rainbow, the crowning grace and glory of the scene. … The most salient phase of Hamlet’s character is his superb intellectual superiority to all comers.” Though there can be no question as to Hamlet’s intellect this doe not rule out insanity.
Hamlet is certainly a man of strategy and purpose, yet this has never before been a barrier, at times is perhaps even a conduit, for madness. >When Lear is stripped of his royal pretenses that is when he finally sees the world as it truly is. The key to clarity is reality. Once Lear was stripped of his royal crutch he finally saw the world as it was, not as his insulation had allwed him to perceive it. While one of the themes in hamlet was madness it appears in king Lear as a motif.
Though not as central to the plot Shakespearian madness reveasl just as much about the human condition in King Lear as it does in the playwrights other tradedies. King Lear’s desencgt into “madness” begins when his perception of reality is faced with honesty. He is divinding his kingdom among his daughters based on their proclmed love for him. His youngest Cordelia, when asked how much she loves him, claims she loves his as a daughter should love a father and no more.
CORDELIAGood my lord,You have begot me, bred me, loved me. IReturn those duties back as are right fit—Obey you, love you, and most honor you.Why have my sisters husbands if they sayThey love you all? Haply when I shall wedThat lord whose hand must take my plight shall carryHalf my love with him, half my care and duty.Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters,To love my father all.LEAR But goes thy heart with this?CORDELIA Ay, good my lord.LEAR So young and so untender?CORDELIA So young, my lord, and true.
Cordelia for her pains is immediately banished from the kingdom. Cordelias expression of affection did not align with the kings false perception of his character. Lear could not stand Cordelisa statement because it was honest. The enemy of fantasy is reality; the enemy of the way Lear wanted things to be was the way things truly were. This inconsistency can not exist if Lears perception was to survive, therefore the banishment of Cordelia and the neutralization of the attack on his desired reality. >mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.
We see the madman as he who exists in a fantasy world of his own creation, rejecting reality in favor of his own world. The subconsioc error that people commit when they read this definition is that they assume that this kind of fantsy is ludicris and unrelatble. But no such caveat exists in the actual definintion. Madness is far more sublte and insideos.
King Lears fantasy is in someway relatable his intense need for validation, his unhelty family structure, his inability to disern those who truly love him from those who do not. His fantasy thinking leads to selfishness, narcism, and the inability to admit his own flaws. This is not foaming at the mouth, strachting on walls yet it is still mad. His view of himself and his place in the minds and hearts of others is a fabrication, yet it dictates all his actions.
This denial of reality in order to live in fantasy is also visble in Lear’s treatment of his advisor and dear friend and advisor Kent. After the banishment of Cordelia Kent begs the king to use reason and “see better” the reality of the situation and the harm he has caused. Lear responds wrathfully to kent and, when Kent refessus to desist his pleas, banishes him as well. The king values his fantasy and himself so much that he must reject those that love him most if their arguments come into conflict of his world, of which he is the center. This egotism is at the heart of the shakesperian madness. Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch affirms this concept in his well known essay collection Plutarch’s Lives; according to Plutarch self-love subjects a man to flattery, for the self-lover likes to have his good opinion of himself sustained. It is difficult for this man to tell the flatterer from the friend, but the basis of judgment is to be found in the fact that the flatterer applies himself to appeal to the passions of the one concerned, while the friend makes his appeal not to passion but to reason.
The idea of reason as being the antithesis self -love is in keeping with the psyche of a “madman”. >Both Lear and the earl of Gloucester sufer from this egostism. As an illustration of their impared view of reality both Lear and Gloucester suffer from physical blindness throughout the play. Like the lunatic Lear and the earl do not realise that they are blind to reality. It is not until Lear and Gloucester become blind that they recive moral vision. Unable to see the outside world they are forced to look at themselves. This self reflection reveasl to each the truth of their vulgar character. At the end of the play when the earl finally realizes his error he declares:”I have no way, and therefore want no eyes.
I stumbled when I saw. Full oft ’tis seen, Our means secure us and our mere defects Prove our commodities. O dear son Edgar, The food of thy abus d father’s wrath, Might I but live to see thee in my touch, I’d say I had eyes again!”