Shakespeare is One of the most Famous Authors in English Language
Without any hesitation it could be said that Shakespeare is one of the most famous authors in English language. He has found his place in history as one of the greatest dramatists and most exceptional poets. In fact, we do not know the exact birth date, but according to the parish register, he was baptised on April 26, 1564. He grew up in a fairly well-off family, although only four of his seven siblings survived into adulthood. In the year of Shakespeare’s birth more than 200 people from Stratford, his birth place, died due to bubonic plague. There is insufficient information about William Shakespeare’s life in Stratford because a lack evidences, but because of his plays we can speculate that he had a great experience there. Apparently, it is possible that he attended the King’s New School of Stratford and he may have studied Latin and Greek there, also he would have been taught in rhetoric, logic and history. At the age of eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, who was seven years older and pregnant. We do not know the actual reason of the marriage, he may have a trade to support his family. It cannot be determined if he was happy in his marriage. However, there is an indication that he possibly was not, because in his play Twelfth Night (IV, iii), the Duke warns Viola towards women who marry men younger than themselves.
Between the so-called ‘lost years’ it cannot be confirmed what was occurring to Shakespeare, some experts state that he had been apprenticed as a butcher, a lawyer, a physician or even a schoolmaster. Because of his plays we can intuit that he must have been a soldier or sailor, but the yearning to romanticise his image has headed others to detour his image into an inebriated and a robber. Seemingly, Shakespeare probably developed his interest in theatre when he was living in Stratford. The success of the dramatic genre and the growth of the Elizabethan theatre provided him the base to create his own plays, despite the fact the he began as an actor, he wanted to write plays. Hence, he moved to London to make this possible. He achieved to join to the Globe theatre where Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth where performed, considered by the audience and even by the Queen herself as one of the first English dramatist. He wrote about every genre and he always attempted to write about what the spectators desired to see on stage. Shakespeare’s work is focused to the Londoner aristocrats and bourgeoisie. His success was preceded by the variety of his work, the fantasy and his refined vocabulary – the rhythm of his plays and composition, his lyric emotion. Shakespeare’s work is characterised by a vigorous expression and an incomparable suggestive strength.
Shakespeare provides a considerable importance to madness in his play Twelfth Night too, where he uses the word ‘mad’ and ‘madness’ more than in any other of his plays, consequently, we can venture to say that he was very interested about it although he never describes what is madness itself, so we are left to resolve it. We can speculate that he may refers to a specific state of mind where the characters confound the reality, not only being mentally deranged. Some analysts regard that the English writer make distinctions between the madness and folly. This play, considered as a whole, manifests the innate folly, which Shakespeare considers that it is a mental state portrayed by a noticeable absence of intelligence. Both, madness and folly cannot co-exist in one character – the folly is innate and incurable in a character whereas the madness is acquired, and you can recover from it. For example, Sir Toby is insane when he is drunk, and the consequence is that he confounds the reality with the fantasy – the cognizance of an insane person is a degree alienated from what a sane person is able to perceive. Hence, this concept of madness is always given by Shakespeare’s view. Sir Toby’s confusion is real, but this is not repeated in all the characters of the play who are deranged. Shakespeare is steadily accentuating the differences between illusion, delusion and similarity – hence, he is warning us that we in a constant struggle defining imagination and reality, so the in the state of illusion, the imagination is a beneficial strength that is determined by what the others do to us whereas delusion is an adverse force because is a misrepresentation originated by the own’s mind of an individual. For example, when Viola disguised herself as a man, which deludes everyone like Olivia and Orsino. The aim of Shakespeare happens to be that they are predisposed to mislead themselves, consequently in a sense vaguely mad. However, at the end of the play, both are aware that man is Viola in a costume, so they are not self-deluded anymore.
When Viola is courting Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, Sir Toby is arrested when he attempted to visit her. Hence, when she heard that she stated: ‘Fetch him off, I pray you; he speaks nothing but madman’ (Shakespeare W., 1996). Sir Toby is an alcoholic so Olivia obviously had in mind that probably, he could be drunk in that moment, but at first one would not think that Sir Toby is living in a world fantasy. So, in this play Shakespeare does not delve into madness throughout his play, at least not as much that in his play King Lear.
Hence, we are going to analyse how the madness emerge as part of the exploration of insanity by the English writer in his famous play King Lear. This tragedy addresses an act of betrayal of the daughters of the King Lear – the blind trust of a father that provides his daughters all that he possesses but, despite of that, his own daughters prefer holding all the power. The play begins with the decline of the energy of King Lear, therefore he relieves his kingdom to his daughters, but there was a condition they should accept – they have to tell his father how much they truthfully love him. Goneril and Regan gave him pleasant comments but, Cordelia had no words to describe the love to his father. Here it does appear the first betrayal of one daughter – she acts disrespectfully to him, so King Lear became enraged and disowns Cordelia. In spite of that, the King of France wants to marry Cordelia, even without her land so, she moves to France with him.
Goneril and Cordelia immediately commence to undermine his father’s authority. At this point, Kent, a friend of the King, and the Fool attempt to convince King Lear that his own daughters are trying to destroy the relationship with him. The King is perplexed about the situation that his appreciated daughters are originating. Here we can determinate the next stage of King’s madness – he is incapable to comprehend this situation; how can his own daughters react towards him in that way? What has he done inappropriate? That disconcerting circumstances driven him into a state of anger and madness. In a sudden impulse, the King escapes from Goneril and Regan and he starts running through the wasteland while a thunderstorm was happening. Here we can observe how the madness of the King was increasing – he starts behaving unwittingly. King Lear escape accompanied with his Fool and Kent.
Meanwhile, Edmund, the bastard son of nobleman Gloucester, is cheating him because he wants the lands and fortune of his father because Edgar is the legitimate son of Gloucester, so he is the first heir. Edmund impersonates Edgar writing down in a letter expressing his desire to murder his father, who discovers that and decides to kill his son Edgar. Edmund feels regretful for what he has done so, he warns Edgar about the situation and he escapes from his father. Edgar disguise himself as a mad indigent and, as de King Lear, he run into the woods. In other respects, Gloucester is concern about the treachery of King Lear’s daughters and he attempts to help him, but Regan and his husband, Cornwall, discover his intentions and penalise him by ripping out his eyes and they let him wander through the heath. Ironically, he ends up being guided by his son Edgar, the one who he attempted to kill. They take refuge in a hovel which by coincidence is the same where Lear, Kent and the Fool were hiding. Lear is now reduced to the level of a miserable vagabond and it is the first time he is feeling the anguish of the human suffering. This is a rough situation for him, and consequently he is going out of his mind even more. They leave towards Dover, where Cornelia receive him with affection.
Cordelia is concerned about his father’s situation and she feel sorry for him, therefore she wants to save him by sending the French army. However, in the meantime, Regan and Goneril are competing to win Edmund’s heart. Regan’s husband, Cornwall, is killed after a confrontation with a servant so Regan is supported by Edmund to endure her suffering. Regardless of that, Edmund and Goneril are both planning the murder of her husband, Albany, because Edmund has the same purpose with Lear’s daughters, marry them. Goneril’s plan is discovered so she decided to end her life.
The English troops led by Edmund arrive to Dover and defeat the French troops. Edmund manage to capture King Lear and Cordelia. Albany, who know the existence of the letter which discovers the intentions of Goneril and Edmund, charged Edmund of betrayal and the outcome of it is that Edgar is given the legal authority to assassinate his own brother. Nevertheless, while Edmund was at the death’s door, he confessed that he has given the order to execute Cordelia by hanging her and fake it like it has been planned by herself, but the confession came too late to save her. King Lear, who has dreamed about spending the rest of his life next to his beloved daughter, presences the death of Cordelia and he is a victim of the insanity, he cannot comprehend the situation and is driven crazy so, when Lear is carrying her dead body in his arms, he died because of the immense agony of the scene. At the end, Albany is the successor of Lear, and Kent and Edgar are restored to their initial rank.
We need to comprehend the interpretation of madness in King Lear to actually understand the structure and meaning of the play and the evolution from Twelfth Night. The interpretation of the play has been focusing too much on the external conflict, on the inhumanity of King Lear’s daughters meanwhile, there is less attention on the conflict on Lear’s mind. So, throughout the play there is a process of clarifying the dispute he has been struggling with himself and, to effectuate that, Shakespeare uses the character of Gloucester and the Fool. The madness of Lear occurs in three brief scenes where it is caused by himself. Beginning with the scene III. iv., Shakespeare makes evident this issue so the viewers can properly understand and follow the rhythm of the play although, for the reader it is more difficult to actually get the important details that can describe the moments of Lear’s madness. The spectators are told in advance what they should expect and the information they are going to get so, they are able to comprehend what is happening in every moment. The audience cannot never be fooled or cheated, so when the characters are performing on the stage, the spectators can take pleasure of their own wisdom.
At the beginning of act III, there is an obvious rising of derangement, when Kent pressures him to take refuge on the cabin, Lear answers him that his wits began to turn. Regardless of that, he commences to speak normal and sane to his Fool. Lear’s allegation that his wits began to turn is the warning signal to the audience, but it is an irony itself because although Lear seems that he is still lucid, that statement is truer than what the viewer can actually realize. Besides, Lear uses the storm and his physical agony to battle within his own psyche, struggling his sorrow and anger with physical pain, but the protection that offers the hovel menace to ruin the harmony, as indeed it does.
Throughout these examples we can examine how the madness of Lear is increasing and the different stages of it, but we cannot only focus our attention on the external conflict – we are not providing enough attention about how the play investigates the nature of the man and the experiences of his life so, if we are not able to observe this, we are mistaking the aim of the tragedy. The play does not address what is happening not only to Lear, but also within Lear’s mind. At the onset, Lear desires to quit his responsibility, but still maintaining his power and honours. Hence, in the opening scene we see an old man full of authority and energy, not with the lamenting agony he is feeling at the end of the play. We must observe Lear as a vigour figure like how Elizabethan spectators would have seen it. All through the play we accompany Lear in his adventure of becoming insane – the fall of a man who has been the king of a great kingdom and now he is relieved as a wandering mad man who has lost the love of her daughters because of a betrayal and when he thinks he can recover the love of one of them, she is murdered. There is a glimpse of reason that can make us comprehend his insanity. A power man who have lost everything he had, repudiated by his daughters and he has contemplated himself as a vagabond with no direction.
We must consider the importance of one scene, there is a questionable moment where we may point out that, at the end of the play, Lear may have returned to insanity in the moment before he dies. He is victim of an hallucination where Cordelia is still alive – he claims that he has seen her through a reflection, a feather, that actually speaks –, but this is not a clear proof of sanity, it can be considered because of his hope and love. Lear is bewildered and stupefied by the loss of his beloved daughter, the one that really loved him. He is not able to admit the reality so; his mind begins a conflict against the harsh truth. Lear forgot himself while his concentration about Cordelia, even when he is told that his other two daughter are also dead, he acts giving it no importance at all, because for him, all his daughters were Cordelia – he forgot vengeance and resentment. Lear claims his last speech and we can see a trace of sanity:
‘‘And my poor fool is hanged: no, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.
Pray you undo this button. Thank you sir.
Do you see this? Look on her! Look her lips,
Look there, look there – He dies.’’
(Shakespeare, W., 2007)
We do not know if Lear is confusing the Fool and Cordelia or if it is in terms of love for his dead daughter. Certainly, this may be a deliberated ambiguity by the English author, attempting to remember to the spectators of the play the lunacy of Lear in a way where he perfectly associates the Fool and Cordelia, recalling his complexing madness, as a preparation for a return of it. Shakespeare really knows when and how he has to develop the themes and how in a single word he is able to remind us the movement he has created.
Along this analysis we can highlight the importance that the English writer transfers to the madness and how he represents it. He makes a first exploration of madness in Twelfth Night but the total research of it is done in King Lear, where we accompany Lear in his process of losing his mind and, from the start to the end of the play there is a crescendo of the lunacy of the King Lear, beginning with the betrayal that he felt by Cordelia when she stated that she did not appreciate her own father, and ending with the devastating feeling of losing his daughter now that they have had reconciliated, which is the peak of his madness.
His insanity’s base is the incomprehension of why his daughters do not love him, why even though he has taken care of them all his whole life, now they are just interested of being queens, what has he done wrong? Why this situation was happening? Lear relied on his Fool and friend Kent because he felt alone after that, and them escaped from Goneril and Regan, but suddenly, they came across with Gloucester and Edgar. Lear saw himself like a vagabond and that made his madness increase, he has been the King and now he is a simple wandered with no place to go. Thankfully, her daughter Cordelia tried to save him sending the French troops and after that, Lear and Cordelia loved each other again. Afterward, it does come the highest point of his insanity when, because an order by Edmund, Cordelia is hanged. Now, Lear cannot even distinct what is real from what is not, he confuses Cordelia with the Fool, he could not save himself from the agony he felt because Cordelia’s death and following her, he died carrying her on his arms. Lear was a man that had lost what he loved the most, his daughters, and when he could recover Cordelia, he lost it. In his world nothing really matters enough to be in a state of sanity.