Describe themes of madness and the supernatural in King Lear.

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Both the supernatural and madness run through King Lear. The supernatural, rather than represented by ghosts, is linked with divine power that is manifested through uncontrollable natural forces. Madness, which may be seen as another deviation from the typical natural order, is presented in both Lear and Edgar.

One place the supernatural and unnatural are linked is in act I, scene 1, when Lear disowns Cordelia. He equates the force of the sun and other planets (orbs) with his will in rejecting his daughter. In the next scene, the idea of negative energy and social discord is associated with unusual, misplaced phenomena. Beginning in line 100, Gloucester comments on ominous portents or omens, explicitly mentioning how things are going wrong, including treason and rifts between parent and child.

These late eclipses in the sun and moon

portend no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can

reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged

by the sequent effects.

His observations are born out as Lear’s mental deterioration accompanies the breakup of the kingdom and the related rivalry, then violent war, between Goneril and Regan. The culmination of his descent into madness occurs in act 3 scene 2, when he is wandering the heath in a thunderstorm, after his daughters have shut him out. In line 70, he apparently recognizes his decline, stating, “My wits begin to turn.”

A parallel story of feigned madness is that of “Poor Tom,” the disguise of Edgar, who has fled his brother’s unjust treatment. The two plots come together when Lear and Tom meet in act 3, scene 4, and Tom’s apparent ravings make sense to Lear.

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