Shakespeare's Use of Madness as a Theme in King Lear

2035 Words 9 Pages
Edgar first assumes the disguise of Poor Tom as Lear and the Earl of Gloucester enter the cave in which Edgar is hiding. Since Edgar was banished, similar to Kent, who is also present later in this act, he must conjure up a disguise. Why does Edgar chose the repulsive beggar that Poor Tom is? Well, remember that Poor Tom represents the popular belief of the insane during the Elizabethan era. Therefore, he is the perfect disguise. No one would ever suspect Poor Tom of being Edgar, because Edgar is a very pleasant man, while Tom is completely repulsive. Furthermore, the reason Edgar chose this disguise is contained within his soliloquy as he is becoming Poor Tom:
Whiles I may 'scape,
I will preserve myself; and am bethought
To take the
…show more content…
He is entertaining what he presumes will be the prevailing notion concerning the appearance and personality of the typical beggar, which is what Edgar has essentially been reduced to. Poor Tom is an incredibly repulsive character, who will receive no sympathy from the audience. However, the fact that Edgar has been reduced to this state will make the audience think, and potentially realize that anyone could be reduced this lowly state. After all, Edgar was one of the most noble and favored people in the kingdom. So, by making Edgar take on this disguise, Shakespeare could potentially cause the audience gain some sympathy for real life beggars. In addition, it could also potentially refute some of their beliefs concerning madness, and realize that they too could become mad, which in return should cause them to gain some sympathy for actual people who are mad.
The reason that Shakespeare chooses Poor Tom to be Edgar's disguise is to prove a major point concerning the origin of madness. Lear, the hero of the play, demonstrates to the audience Shakespeare's beliefs concerning the true origin of madness. I'm not saying that Shakespeare was a believer in Humoral Theory, but he certainly believed that a transition into complete madness is gradual and is a result of irritability, arrogance, and other personality traits that cause an "imbalance" in one's mental stability. Now, Edgar represents the preconceived notion of madness that Shakespeare is expecting his
Open Document