Question: What is your opinion of the condition of Lear's mind in the opening scene? What effect does his increasing passion seem to have upon his faculties? Discuss the character of the king.
Answer: When we first see Lear, he is not a lunatic, although in his lack of judgment, in the excitability of his nerves, and in his unmanly yielding to passion, we discover a decided predisposition to insanity. As Dr. Bucknill says, if we regard this trial of his daughters as a fabrication of a sane mind, we must admit that the play is founded on a gross improbability, and the action of Lear in the subsequent scenes is inexplicable.
It is true that improbabilities of circumstance are not of infrequent occurrence in Shakespeare. We have a ghost in Hamlet, fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and witches in Macbeth, than which no fabrications of the brain can be more improbable. But we never have the systematic development of strength from weakness. As in the after-part of the play we stand before the vast ruin of Lear's mind, immethodized from the ordinary pursuits of life, but sublime in the heights and depths which it reaches, it is wonderful, impossible that such power and vigor, such energy and unrest, should be traced to a weak love of flattery in a mind whose normal state was little more than idiocy.
No; Lear is already far on the way to that unsound state of mind to which "not alone the imperfections of long engraffed condition, but therewithal the unruly waywardness that infirm and choleric years bring with them," have been urging him. We perceive that the kingdom has been already divided. The trial, then, was but a trick to entrap his daughters into a profession of attachment to him.
Cordelia's opposition was wholly unexpected. Tottering reason is overwhelmed in the tide of passion, and woe betide the man who tries to stem the current. "Our nature nor our place can bear" opposition even to a whim, and "This hideous rashness" is only the beginning of...