One of the primary themes portrayed in “King Lear” is the harsh effects of betrayal by one’s loved ones. Incorporated in this message is the fact that such betrayal can be avoided with sound judgment and temper, and with patience in all decisions. Shakespeare uses the motif of madness to aid in this message. Anger and insanity are coupled to illustrate the theme, and they both cloud the judgment of characters in various ways. A contrast between actual insanity and fabricated madness aids in the depiction of the main theme as well. King Lear’s temper and madness in the form of anger are shown in Act I, when he is quick to banish Cordelia, under the false impression that she does not love him. Kent tries to warn him, and says “When Lear is mad, … When majesty stoops to folly,” implying that Lear’s rage has blinded him from making the correct decision. Lear’s anger is heightened when Goneril insults him and he decides to leave her castle. His anger consumes him until he is forced to scream to the skies, “O Let me not be mad… Keep me in temper.” In Act II, after he is betrayed by Regan as well, he says to his servant, “O Fool, I shall go mad.” He is saying that he is so overcome by pain that he will go mad, not knowing that, ironically, his anger will later transform into true insanity.
Edgar offers a different pathway for the madness motif to unfold. In Act II, after fleeing Gloucester’s castle, he decides to disguise himself as a beggar with no clothes and “lunatic bans.” He pretends to be mad for the majority of the story and in another ironic twist, it is this so-called madman that actually brings many truths to light. Lear’s madness begins to unfold in Act III. Kent notes in the shelter, that “his wits begin to unsettle.” Scene IV is a blatant display of madness by Lear and the acting Edgar, who converse with each other in incoherent outbursts. Lear becomes more and more unstable as he uses two stools as models of his daughters and places them on trial for the crimes they have committed against him. In Act IV, Edgar is reunited with Gloucester, who thinks he is a madman. Edgar actually saves his father’s life in this act, still pretending to be mad the entire time. Gloucester cries out in one instance, “‘T is the times’ plague when madmen lead the blind.” Edgar is extremely benevolent and encourages the unfairly persecuted Gloucester to continue his life; he gives him value. At the conclusion of the act, Gloucester, feeling he is in the most pathetic state of his life, states “Better I were distract: So should my thoughts be sever’d from my griefs.” He notes that the king is mad, and feels he would be better off if he were insane as well, if it would allow him not to have any knowledge of the pains inflicted on him.
... we can deduce that Lears downfall is evidently partly self-constructed, the result of his outrageous anger and blindness. Gloucesters fate is similar ... from his status of monarch. His decline leads him into madness, and eventually culminates in his death just after the renewal ... visits to his daughters after their reception of his land act as a catalyst to his eventual self destruction we see ...
Act V is the tragic conclusion of the tale, and all the madness in the story comes to a climax. Edgar redeems his integrity and his father’s, by slaying Edmund and bringing the truth in front of all. He reveals himself to be of sound mind, and describes to all his heroic deeds as a “mad beggar.” King Lear’s storm of emotions comes to a sorrowful end as he passes away on the deathbed of his own beloved daughter. He had been mad at his daughters initially, and made foolish decisions. He becomes insane afterwards, and is oblivious to everything except the pain he feels. He has been betrayed in the worst way: by his own children. The end is a lesson showing that madness of various sorts is what led to the downfall of King Lear and everyone else in the kingdom.