In regard to the character of King Lear, Stacy Keach says, ‘In Lear’s case, the decision to enter into the world of madness liberated him from the painful realities before him.’
This cannot be the King Lear I’m familiar with. The main quality that gives Lear epic status is his implacable nature and total refusal to give in to adversity. Lear has always taken huge pride in his total control of himself and everyone around him.
Note what Kent says to him in 3/6 after his mind is broken: ’ O pity! Sir, where is the patience now
That you so oft have boasted to retain?’
For Lear, the idea of going mad would be the most atrocious thing imaginable and his greatest battle is against encroaching madness.
Note what he says throughout the play until his mind cracks:
1/5 ’ O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!’
2/4 ’ I prithee daughter, do not make me mad…."
‘You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need…'
'O’ fool, I shall go mad.'
3/2 ‘No I will be the pattern of all patience. I will say nothing.’
‘My wits begin to turn.’
3/4 'But I will punish home! No, I will weep no more….'
'Pour on I will endure.’
'O,that way madness lies; let me shun that.'
'No more of that.’ ‘This tempest will not give me leave to ponder on things would hurt me more.’
This is most definitely not a man seeking an outlet in madness . One final thought. The scene at Dover, 3/6, where Lear enters mad is invariably played quietly, as though he were soothed and free of pain. Shakespeare had something very different in mind. Near the end of the scene, when Lear is surrounded by French soldiers he says, in what to me is one of the most powerfully dramatic and horrific lines in all of Shakespeare: 'Let me have surgeons; I am cut to the brains.’
That line is the key to Lear’s mental condition here. Rather than quiet and subdued, throughout the scene Lear is going through the torments of hell. Anything less is a betrayel of the character.
cross-posted to DC Theatre Scene