In King Lear there is numerous evidence that can trace the gradual growth of the main characters mental breakdown. There are a few passages in the play which show us something of Lear before the story begins, and it will help understand the development of Lear’s passion into madness to examine these. At the end of the first scene Goneril speaks of her father’s treatment of Cordellia of a gross error of judgement and says:
“The best and soundest of his time hath been but rash,” and then points out that with such dispositions as he bears he will cause them offence unless he deprived of authourity.
The opening words of the play revel the fact that the King is changeable, but this may only be an infirmity of age. He himself tells the reader that he is domineering and will not tolerate no opposition to his will. When addressing Kent, who interfered to prevent the banishment of Cordelia, he says
“Thou hast sought to make us break our vow
Which we durst yet, and with strain’d pride,
To come between our sentence and out power,
Which nor our nature nor out place can bear.”
In the play itself there are three great outbursts of passion, “hysterica passio” as the King names it.
The first is in the opening scene, when disappointment at Cordelia’s failure to please him by an open avowal of her deep true love causes his wrath to blind his reason. For Lear, wanting something and having it are the same thing, and finding himself deprived where he most expected to be gratified, he does not stop to think why, but is hurried by his passion into a prompt and dreadful revenge. Lear’s great love for Cordellia was terribly wounded by her failure, but his