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Benjamin Bennett
Benjamin Bennett

King Lear (Arden Shakespeare: Third Series).pdf



although the play [274]begins with the king very clearly in possession of his senses and, like all the other monarchs of his time, quite easy in his mind about the succession, shakespeare brings us, almost in the first scene, to a state of doubt about his sanity. hamlet has been so much upset by the king's behaviour that he has talked of a lunacy which threatens to infect the whole court. the courtiers, alarmed at the possibility, have been quick to believe him; and polonius, who has been concerned to show himself a keen observer and a diplomat, has informed the king that hamlet is mad. this news has already reached claudius, who is startled, and anxious. the queen, however, who has been engaged in her own efforts to convince the king that she loves him better than his brother, has no wish to confess that she has been mad herself; and accordingly she tries to correct the king's suspicions, and argues that if hamlet is mad, it is only in his manner, and she has seen nothing which shows him to be so. she promises to prove herself a loyal wife, and to be a mother to his children. but all her arguments are wasted; and the king, hearing her story of his kindness, his patience, his gentleness, his forbearance, and her constant fidelity, is suspicious again. so, when he returns to the subject, he uses words which are the expression of a state of mind which must be familiar to every one who has ever been in love. the king had been putting in a good word for the queen. in this [275]he is merely stating a fact, but hamlet, on the other hand, is angry with her for having been guilty of ingratitude, and he has formed a theory which is wrong but which greatly alarms him. to test the ground, he asks her to tell him how old she is. she replies that she is two and thirty. hamlet is sceptical; she is clearly not a young woman; but he is convinced that she must be having a love-affair, and that he can, in a sense, take revenge. he breaks off the interview; and when the king inquires why he has behaved in this way, he answers that he is satisfied of the queen's innocence, but that, as her conduct shows that she has no regard for him, he will take this opportunity of revenging himself on her. he determines to kill his father and marry her. she is dismayed, and he is wild with joy; and when the king, before the end of the scene, finds that his son has been plotting to murder him, he does the only possible thing, and he stops his ears. the tragedy is now in full swing, and the next three acts are devoted to the drama of the downfall of a great house. [61]the first scene of the third act, the one which opens the conversation between king lear and his fool, is perhaps the most powerful one in all shakespeare. the circumstances of the opening of the play have been described in the notes to king lear. here the king is speaking to his fool. lear's madness, the fool says, has made him into a fool, for he has taken a poor old man's house, and he's dividing the poor old man's property.




King Lear (Arden Shakespeare: Third Series).pdf


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