King Lear:Speech In Act 3 Essay, Research Paper
King Lear’s Speeches in Act 3 Lear finally recognises the enormity of his predicament in a series of dramatic soliloquies in the course of Act 3. He has rejected and been rejected, had everything and lost everything: in short, he has turned ‘Nature’ on its head and it is beginning to catch up with him. Shakespeare’s portrayal of Lear’s ‘conversion’ is credible, dramatic (in terms of style rather than pace) and effective. It could be said that he uses madness as a medium in which Lear can rediscover himself and the truth. Certainly, Lear’s grand speeches during Act 3 show him becoming sucked into madness, and by the time he reappears at Dover later in the play, he is delirious. Lear’s argument with Regan and Goneril in Act 2, Sc. iv is the prelude to his speeches in the following act. Lear responds to their behaviour towards him in a similar way to that of Cordelia at the start of the play – he is unable to accept rejection by his daughters. He first tries to laugh the rejection off, asking his daughter to think again, then asks her if she really means what she says, and then bursts into a furious attack, this time on both daughters. Clearly angry at his treatment at the hands of Goneril, he initially takes an authoritative and yet appreciative line with Regan. Underneath his normal blustery image, Lear himself has changed slightly, and a pleading tone underlies his dispute with his daughters towards the end of the scene. It is quite comical the way that the three characters ‘haggle’ on the number of knights Lear requires, gradually making him more and more furious. He is rash enough to proclaim: ‘. . . rather I abjure all roofs, and choose to wage against the enmity o’th’air . . .’to which the conniving Goneril replies: ‘At your choice, sir’Interestingly, Lear makes prophetic references to madness during this argument: ‘I prithee daughter, do not make me mad’and finally: ‘O Fool! I shall go mad.’Lear’s speech at the start of Act 3, Sc.ii is spectacular, though not instantly comprehensible. He vents his anger at his daughters’ ingratitude by urging the vicious storm to attack ‘ungrateful man’ and destroy the human nature that produced his callous daughters. He gives the wind and rain human characteristics, like gods of the sky. His fool tries to get him to shelter somewhere, but Lear then goes on to implore the weather to attack him – if those who owe him allegiance (his daughters) reject him, then those who owe him nothing should attack him even more forcefully. But what is Lear really feeling? These early signs of madness illustrate a Lear that has not come to terms with his treatment, but who has begun to accept reality; Regan and Goneril’s meanness, his fallibility and his dependence. Lear’s life is beginning to fall apart, as he is a homeless and ‘despis’d old man’ with ‘two pernicious daughters’. Has he forgotten about Cordelia at this point, or has he already begun to see that she was not as unpleasant as her siblings? The shock of finding himself in this position has driven all other thoughts from his mind, and he can only feel anger for the two people he sees as having betrayed him thus. His old vanity makes him say: ‘No, I will be the pattern of all patience; I will say nothing.’ Lear is childishly trying to rise above his daughters, but it is obvious that his weak, self centred tendencies prevent him from doing so, and sure enough, his next outburst is another barrage of demands shouted at the sky and demands for revenge. He is particularly vitriolic, and urges the Gods to strike down those he believes have sinned against him. He utters the famous line ‘I am a man more sinn’d against than sinning’ which shows how he has as yet failed to understand that he is part of the root cause of the misery he is experiencing. Lear’s next words are quite different, as he becomes aware of his companions and seeks somewhere to shelter. He declares ‘My wits begin to turn’; he is at last beginning to see the awful consequences of his decision to divide the kingdom, and is also sinking deeper into madness. It is also at this point that he begins to show compassion for his fool, and this marks a change to a more modest, considerate Lear that lasts until the end of the play. Lear gives a final example of his fury and frustration in Act 3, Sc. iv, outside the shack that he, the Fool and Kent are about to enter. He tries to use the physical torment of the storm to take his mind off his psychological torment, and displays his confused, tortured state of mind with demands for vengeance, denunciation of his daughters’ cruelty and even a last desperate attempt to make them see reason, even in their absence. He ends: ‘O that way madness lies! let me shun that; no more of that’ which is perhaps the moment of acceptance, where he can see his plight fairly and is reconciled to it. He is growing in wisdom already, as he makes a comment on the poor standard of living of his subjects who live in this kind of poverty, and can see the luxury he has been used to for what it is. This is a far cry from his insistence on a household of a hundred knights just a few scenes before.
As he meets Edgar, Lear’s self-centred obsession leads him to assume that this beggar’s troubles were caused by ‘pelican daughters’. The two characters talk almost at cross purposes, but Lear is intrigued with this man who appears to have been rejected as he was. Edgar comments on this later in an aside: ‘He daughter’d as I fathered.’ In Act 3, Sc. vi, Lear, Edgar and the Fool have a crazed mock-trial of Goneril and Regan, at the insistence of Lear, who is becoming gradually more insane with a sort of wild authority to which those around him feel obliged to submit. Lear also begins to have an obsession with naturism, trying to abandon the trappings of the life-style that have ruined him, and to become more like the simple beggar that Edgar has made himself. These examples show that Lear is starting to lose his mind, and when Edgar catches up with Lear again at Dover, the King’s madness is deeper, along with the same gruff authority. In the final scene, his heartbreak at Cordelia’s death renders him quiet yet desperate – perhaps he is still mad, or perhaps he has seen the truth and is just looking for a way to prevent his favourite and only remaining daughter from slipping away and sealing his mistake. Linguistically, each of the speeches above are grand, packed with idiomatic expressions and personification of the elements, couched in aggressive language. Shakespeare does not use rhyme, perhaps to avoid any comedy creeping into scenes intended to be dramatic. The fool’s attempts at humour fall on deaf ears. Lear’s passionate, lengthy statements are his way of expressing his anger (he bellowed at Cordelia for long passages earlier on) and help him to rid himself of the anger, frustration and feelings of betrayal that he has soon after being rejected. Lear’s madness is covered with drama and depth, especially in Act 3, where Shakespeare uses lengthy near-soliloquies to show Lear’s transformation. These highly significant passages ‘open Lear up’ to the audience who can see him as he battles with his heart and mind. He has to undergo a change in his perception of the World, in his case through the depths of madness. Theatrically, the storm scenes must be spectacular. It is hard to pick out turning-points or to say whether or not Lear emerges from his “experiences a wiser man, as he returns for a such a short time, but he certainly changes in the course of the play. It might be said that he degenerates from a assured, if foolish ruler to a mad, but wiser beggar. Does he acquire his wisdom through discovering his mistakes, and if so, is this what ultimately breaks his heart? His rashness and impetuous nature are still there, and he still carries a certain weight of authority especially from those who remain loyal to him. He never loses these characteristics: he was always a king, even when destitute. Even so, he has undoubtedly grown in wisdom, and his vanity has all but evaporated. By the time of his death, he can recognise his mistakes and distinguish true love from self-interest and flattery. Through personal hardship, Lear begins to understand the suffering of others, but never truly comes to accept the tragic consequences of his division of Albion. To the very last, he is trying to make amends for his mistake, even though he does not see it thus, and prefers to blame it (with some justification?) on the human nature of his two evil daughters. Certainly, there is no speech of confession or realisation, and this makes it hard to analyse the extent to which he really has accepted reality. Constantly, the central themes of ingratitude and justice recur in Lear’s mad outbursts. He cannot find a way around them, and appeals to Nature to resolve his problems, even though he himself upset the Order of Nature by abdicating his responsibilities and mistreating his closest friends. Throughout the rest of the play, Nature gradually breaks him through insanity, until he is finally shown the tragic results of his mistake.