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Article on King Lear and Madness from the Renaissance

Project id 1012206
Subject area Writing
Document type Essay
Words 1603
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King Lear and Madness at the Renaissance It has been demonstrated that Shakespeare's portrayal of insanity parallels Bright's A Treatise of Melancholie (Wilson 309-20), nonetheless, the medical version alone is inadequate to describe the insanity of Shakespeare' s King Lear. Shakespeare was not limited to a single book in his comprehension of madness; he had at his disposal that the sum total of his society's comprehension of the issue. Considering that Lear's madness comes from a combination of sources, it could only be effectively described in this larger context. Since much of Renaissance clinical concept was based on premises in the Middle Ages, a starting point for our understanding of how Lear's madness can be located at the 1535 translation of De Propriatibus Rerum by the thirteenth century monk Batholomaeus Anglicus. This work relies solely upon the traditional model of illness as an imbalance of the four humours: melancholy (or black bile), choler (or yellow bile), blood, and phlegm. Batholomaeus classifies depression and madness independently, attributing them into various humours and unique regions of the brain (1-4). The status of melancholy is brought on by an excess of this melancholy humour. It makes an individual "ferefull without cause, & oft sorry. And that is via the melancholi humor that constreineth & closeth the herte" (two). In extreme cases melancholy causes symptoms quite like insanity, "somme fall to evyll suspections without recuperate: & therfore they hate - blame, and confounde theyr frendes, and sometyme they smyte and slee these" (2). But even though Lear may be described as falling into "evyll suspections" he probably doesn't have melancholy. He's choleric by nature and it's probable that his madness is.

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