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Lear is asking the universe whether there is any reason why Nature should provide such hard hearts to anyone, ostensibly Regan’s and Goneril’s – “Hang him instantly,” “Pluck out his eyes”-- (“Then let them anatomize Regan”), but also his own as a king. Is there a survival element to this trait? Students have a tendency to treat the “mad” speeches in Lear as simple nonsense, but they are carefully constructed utterances designed to reveal inner torments and conflicts in these complex characters. Although this scene is a “mad” scene, the gist of Lear’s statements here is the manifestation of his torment, his conflict between kingly indignation and his natural love of his daughters. As he prepares to cast harsh judgment on Goneril and Regan, he is startled by his own cruelty, his “hard heart” as well as theirs, and asks what kingly trait has overcome his fatherly love, so much so that he can be cruel. “Is this hard heart” a natural and necessary trait of being “kingly” (or of being a king’s daughter)? The entire scene portrays the madness that has come over him because of the conflict of these two seemingly “natural” traits – kingliness and fatherliness.
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