King Lear and Madness
I. Character before trauma
King Lear’s character suffers a number of major setbacks throughout the play. He is known as a man, who was demoted from a position of great power to complete impoverishment and desolation. The trauma was triggered by the desertion of his daughters, who at first had affirmed their loyalty and love for their father, which Lear was naïve enough for believing it. He was described as forgetful, attributed to his age that rendered him incapable of governing his kingdom.
His character was very volatile and often passed down harsh judgment without rational analyses of a particular situation and made illogical demands. He may have had delusions of grandeur and a tendency to behave juvenile manner. He asked his daughters to declare their love for him and if they gave him an answer that he did not want then his reaction was even more unreasonable.
His treatment of his youngest daughter, Cordelia and his servant, Kent is proof enough of his callous nature. He quickly made the decision to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom. Though, he may have appeared foolish and impulsive, but he did possess the insight to finally see the true colors of his daughters. His daughter’s mistreatment was the final blow that then triggered his descent into insanity.
II. Effects of trauma
After his traumatic leave from his daughter’s residence, Lear’s only companion had been the fool, who had been giving him bitter insight in to the foolishness of his choices and regarding the true colors of his daughters. The fool describes Lear position in the following words:
“The hedge sparrow fed the cuckoo so long that it had it head bit off by it young” (Shakespeare, 1.4)
The realization and enormity of his desolation actually led to his mental breakdown. He exhibited full-blown symptoms of paranoia that caused him to isolate himself from the rest of society. He lost all his memory prior to the incident and his speech had become incoherent; in fact he was found babbling things about storms and wicked fiends. He is reduced to a pitiful condition that when Gloucester sees him he hushes him up like an adult to a child by saying, “No words. No words. Hush!”. The death of his daughter Cordelia is yet another traumatic event for him, but the incident seemed to have caused him to gain some semblance order. However, at that point Lear exhibits melancholia rather than madness, along with suicidal ideation.
As mentioned earlier, Lear had been a proud man who may have had a predisposition that caused him to end up the way he did. His age was a prime factor and it can be postulated that Lear suffered from a classic case of senile dementia but closer inspection of his case shows much greater complexity of his symptoms. Lear suffered from hallucinations that ranged from visual to auditory. His exhibited signs of psychosis and due to the episodic nature of his disorder, it further points towards schizophrenia as well. Hence, it can be assumed that Lear’s case was triggered by the co-morbidity of a number of disorders that in turn caused him to behave as he did, throughout the play (Hess, 1987, p. 60).
IV. Treatment Regimen
With the symptoms and mental condition as precarious as that of Lear, a combination treatment seems ideal to provide relief and rapid alleviation of his symptoms. Generally, drugs are supposed to tranquilize the individual and Lear was given soporific medication to help him calm down. The doctor advises Cordelia, “He is scarce awake: let him alone awhile… to make him o’er the time he has lost. Desire him to go in; trouble him no more till further settling”.(Shakespeare, 4.7)
However, besides drug therapy Lear was also in dire need of social support that would help him rebuild his social skills. The desertion of his daughter had debilitated his sense of security, which needed to be restored. He needed counseling to help him articulate his feelings, manage his emotions well and distinguish between reality and fantasy. Rage was also one of the factors that contributed to his lunacy, which is why anger management also seems like a viable plan to improve his condition and even reinstate his former mental condition.
Hess, N. 1987. King Lear and some anxieties of old age. Brigham Journal of Medicine and Psychology: 60, 209-215
Shakespeare, W. 1967. King Lear. Forgotten Books.