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84 Revels in Madness

insanity- or, more interestingly, whether insanity can maintain a rela tion [Q
a context of shared meanings. Hamlet's examp le obliged one to ask if, in
this world of hermeneutic necessi ty, even mad ness can interroga te itself,
with all the possible paradoxes that self-referential discourse can have. Is the
statement " I am mad," spoken by a n insane person, a ration ::! l statement?
On the model of the classical paradox of t he Cretan liar, H amlet offers us
the modern paradox of the rational madman .
Shakespearc's other great madman, King Lea r, can enrich this argument. T he ravi ng king has been vario usly interpreted by critics as sane, as
a victim of mere irascibility or, later in the play, as struck with feveris h
delirium . However, within the phly, Kent judges Lea r to be mad in the
very fi rst act (1.1) . Kent sees from the outset, I think, that Lear cannot
judge how language functions . Asking his da ugh ters how muc h they love
him, Lear ca nnot see that, in their answers, his da ughters Goneril and
Regan use hyperbole, or figural language. Lear takes t his language literally. Conversely, when he hea rs the literal language of his honest daughter
Cordelia, he takes it as figural language and disowns her for not loving
him. Lear cannot intetpret the literal, and I, as Ken t does, would interpret
this incapacity to interpret as a serious mental diSTurbance. Like many
medieval minds, he confuses rhe literal with the rhetorical, the ex istential
with the semantic. In the context of the play these confusions must be further interpreted . And all-includ ing Regan and Goneri l-pursue t his deciphering.
Lear is interpreted by every character. His fool sees in him a fool, which
provides an image of hermeneutic mirroring among characters who are also
fo ils to madness . Facing this fo il Lear interprets his own distress as madness
and implores the gods, in an omcry Tha t harks back to the Greek determi nation of tragedy, nor to infliCT insanity upon him. In the play of foils, then,
the fool seems to be what Lear should be, which is a n image of wisdom in
madness. Kent hi msel f, though he has judged Lear co be mad, aTTempts to
defend the king's interests, and for this he is called a deranged subject and
put in stocks. The disinherited son Edgar also mirrors madness in the play
of fo ils and misleading interpretations: he chooses the role of a Bedla m beggar. He is driven to act the madman after the bastard Edmund, in villainy
bordering o n insanity, has fa lsel), accused him of wanting to murder their
father Gloucester.
The betrayed Gloucester has his own interpretation of madness. Blind
Gloucester longs fo r madness as a balm that would help him through the
intolerable night, and envies the madness he perceives in the king:

Thiher, Allen. Revels in Madness. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press, 2004. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 23 December 2015.
Copyright 2004. University of Michigan Press. All rights reserved.

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