* Q: Discuss the presentation of Lear in Act II Scene IV. Explore the ways Lear changes in this scene commenting on his language and actions. Explore what they reveal at this stage in the play.
‘I shall go mad’
Act II Scene IV welcomes the theme of role reversal and reinforces the evident stripping of power encountered by Lear and the utter mistreatment of Lear which unveil a irrational and vulnerable king from the beginning to the end of the scene.
Symbolism is used to impose an ominous idea from the very beginning of the scene as the fool is quick to interject Lear, and exclaims ‘Winter’s not gone yet, if the wild-geese fly that way’. The fool indicates and rightly so makes the prediction that despite Lear believes he has hit rock bottom and isn’t receiving what is owed to him, things will only get worse. And with this, a negative and malevolent scene to come is projected by Shakespeare. Further, Lear is presented as a poor father. The fool also highlights the theme of role reversal when he announces to Lear ‘Fathers that wear rags’.
Role reversal is envisioned and thrown directly at Lear – how is it that Lear has nothing while his children have complete power and wealth? By ‘rags’, does Shakespeare suggest Lear’s lack of wealth or Lear’s lack of love? Lear has quickly been deprived of both as a consequence of his decisions and he is now left a father with ‘rags’ emphasising he has absolutely been mistreated, and actually, left with absolutely nothing but rags. And to amount to Lear’s impotency, we learn through Kent that Lear comes with a ‘small’ number. Something forced upon Lear and not imposed by Lear; as he lost power earlier in the play he is now losing any followers who are realising they aren’t doing themselves favours by remaining loyal to a powerless man.
Lear does come to realise his mistreatment – there is no question about this. Lear full of rage shouts ‘Deny to speak with me! They are sick! They are weary!’. Here, Lear makes quick and sharp statements, he has realised that they are purposely avoiding him and he will have none of it. The fact that the statements are so sharp and concluded with exclamation marks add to the idea of a king revealed of rage and almost shock at the blatant, what the audience identify to be: role reversal.
Later, Lear is additionally portrayed a tyrant and irrational father. On his meeting with Regan, he immediately alerts her that he ‘would divorce me from thy mother’s tomb’ if she were not to provide hospitality and love towards him. This begs the question, why would Lear need to even ask, or threat for hospitality? The fact that Lear begins to immediately threat Regan implies an irrational father, however, to the contrary, a clever father who realises that with no force he will eventually be disowned as he is already has by Goneril. He then goes onto insulting Goneril, once again, calling her ‘naught’ and a ‘vulture’ again suggesting some irrationality or insanity as he has gone back to insulting Goneril and speaking ill of his daughter.
Complete role reversal is made evident as Lear has throughout the scene, funnily questioned several times about his man in the stocks which everyone seems to have ignored. As Lear bounces between questioning about a disguised Kent and insulting Goneril, he is told that Cornwall and Regan has placed Kent in the stocks and have ignored the fact that he is the kings servant. Lear goes as far as describing this ‘murder’ which does call some sympathy towards him as it seems everyone around him is making rash decisions which involve him and leaving him completely helpless. In fact, contrary to all his irrationally, to a certain degree, a section of the audience would feel sympathetic towards the King as what he envisioned at the beginning of the play has been readily stripped away from him. The title ‘King’ is now nothing, and as said by Lear: ‘nothing will come of nothing’. Accordingly, as Lear has and is continuing to go through a downfall, the idea of a tragic hero is perpetuated as Aristotle listed a heavy downfall and over-suffering as a clear indicator of a tragic hero. For this reason, the audience build their belief that Lear is the tragic hero of the play and do begin to wonder his future and whether or not he will continue in his downfall to nothing.
The idea of sanity, or insanity rather, is soon aroused as Lear is in the process of choosing which daughter to live in. In a materialistic way, a way quite frequent in Lear, he chooses the daughter which will allow him the most men. After refusing to remain with Regan, he decides that Goneril, the daughter which he has been speaking ill of in the past scenes is the best to stay with as she will allow him more men. Clearly, this questions Lear’s sanity. We begin to question ourselves as an audience if Lear is mad and if he actually realises that what is portrayed is a vulnerable man on the verge of insanity. Also, quite hypocritical that Lear has decided to live with what he described as a ‘vulture’ solely because this ‘vulture’ has promised him more men than Regan.
After the rejection from both daughters, Lear releases an emotional speech where he epitomises the reason of the audience’s sympathy towards him. For example ‘poor old man’ indicates even he has come to realise what he is, he opens his victimized soul onto the audience and allows the audience to be objective and decide if we do actually want to feel some sympathy towards him as despite he is being mistreated, he has brought it upon himself. The speech further seems emotional and he unleashes venom and anger, as you tend to do when you are truly hurt. He threatens the ‘unnatural hags’ he will take revenge, revenge which he doesn’t even know what is yet. After all, Lear has no men, Lear has no wealth, Lear has no support. How on earth is he going to revenge of their mistreatment towards him? Even an insane Lear doesn’t know and stumbles as he delivers his speech.
The hysterical and insane king finally announces he will rely on nature, the very thing he has gone against from the beginning by choosing the shun responsibilities as king. Pathetic fallacy is used to mirror the turbulent storms onto a chaotic society, an unruly society which has reached optimum reversal as a result of Lear and his hubris.
Lear’s final accurate declaration of the scene: ‘I shall go mad’.