“O!Let me not be mad, not mad, sweet Heaven; keep me in temper; I would not be mad!”—King Lear, Act 1:5.
“This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.”—King Lear, Act 3:4.
“Crazy” is not too strong a word to describe politics in 2019. Shakespeare links insane politicswith cosmic disruptions and turbulent weather. Betrayal in Julius Caesar is presaged by stormy weather and bizarre events in nature: lions roaming in Rome, people spontaneously combusting.
Paul Scofield’s film production of King Lear takes place in the dead of winter, winds howling outside the king’s court. Old Lear, weary of governing, decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, promising the largest portion to the one who can voice her love in the most flattering words.
Lear’s ploy for public praise tempts his two oldest daughters to speak insincerely, as fawning sycophants. Butyoungest daughter Cordelia can’t/won’t demean her true love with false flattery. Lear punishes Cordelia’s honesty, giving her third to the lying sisters. They eventually eliminate his small retinue of soldiers—and any lodgings—turning him out in a torrential winter storm. Their insults and injuries drive him from anger to rage to madness. In the third scene of the last act, both Lear and true daughter Cordelia are arrested and face execution. Only then does the mad king regain sanity and attain wisdom. Lear no longer fears old age, diminished power, lost prestige, nor even death. Humbled, he comforts Cordelia:
“Come, let’s away to prison. / We two will sing like birds in the cage: / When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down / And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh / At gilded butterflies, and hear old rogues / Talk of court news . . . who’s in and who’s out; / And take upon us the mystery of things / As if we were God’s spies…” (5:3).
Impenitent fools act like they’re God; wise men still seek Him.