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A Freudian Psychoanalysis of King Lear

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Chloe Carter

on 18 September 2013

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Transcript of A Freudian Psychoanalysis of King Lear

- Psychological 'Madness' and Clear Sight -
"Reason in madness!"
Only through psychological 'madness' can one hope to obtain clear self-realisation
For example, Lear only realises who he truly is once he has already 'gone insane'
Notice that only Lear 'goes insane', and only Lear experiences a degree of self growth in the play
However when blinded by these same imbalances, the mind cannot see its flaws - in the beginning Lear truly believed in his omnipotence.
- Trying to Right the Wrongs -
Every single character in the play is relatively one-dimensional; ruled by either their superego or id and never breaking out of the vices or virtues of their chosen mindset.
The id driven Edmund seeks only the selfish desire to inherit from his father. He never rights the imbalances of his mind.
The superego driven Cordelia is stifled by the very societal pressures Edmund rebukes. She too never experiences any psychological growth.
...Madness - But not as we know it...
Lear's outward madness - as seen in 'the storm scene' - is caused by his mental imbalance. The illogical actions seen in this scene are the sort we commonly associate with the 'mentally ill'
Yet the 'madness' caused by psychological imbalances aren't always so obvious
Even a rigid adherence to the 'societal' norm (a superego-ego imbalance) is madness in itself
The Freudian Tripartite Model...
The 'ego' attempts to keep a diplomatic balance between the id and superego.
- Weakened Ego -
Being id driven means that the ego is unable to redirect the impulsiveness of the id into more appropriate actions

For example: Edmund's id dominates his mind, driving him to commit actions judged 'amoral' by society.
Being superego driven means that the ego is unable to break from the learned rules and boundaries of society which the superego adheres to

For example: Cordelia is not able to stand up to her father's outrageous actions in the love test. Her mind is superego driven, and she cannot break from the societal conventions of the time.
Having a 'bruised ego' means that the ego is rendered unable to find a suitable balance between the id and superego

For example: In the love test, Lear's ego was weakened by Cordelia's rejection, leading to his irrational actions.
- Superego Driven -
- id Driven -
- France (1.1.219-224)
"This is most strange,
That she that even but now was your best object—
The argument of your praise, balm of your age,
Most best, most dearest—should in this trice of time
Commit a thing so monstrous to dismantle
So many folds of favour."
- Cordelia (1.1.91-93)
"Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty
According to my bond, no more nor less."
- Edmund (1.2.21-24)
"Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th' legitimate. I grow, I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"
King Lear (3.2.19-20)
“A poor, infirm, weak, and despised old man “
There is undeniable self-realisation in the king's madness, and thus a degree of reason that can be clearly seen as his imbalances begin to right themselves.
This longing for self-improvement is evidence of the self-realisation the king experienced - he wanted more from life than the empty charade of kingship

Enoch Lau suggests that Lear may in fact have always been in a latent state of self pity, and that by “becoming an accommodated man', he denies himself the power that he always wanted.”
- Looking Deeper -
Lau also suggests that phrases such as “what is the cause of thunder?” (3.4.114) show that Lear is subconsciously “trying to find deeper meaning in his life” than the one society handed him.
While Lear never truly resolves the psychological imbalances which sent him insane, he does attempt to
As a result he is seen as 'mad' by society
However through this madness he does experience the grim clarity of self which he was subconsciously seeking
Thus it is fair to conclude that only through attempting to right the psychological imbalances of one's mind can clear self-vision be found.
The 'superego' - or conscience - acts within the learned confines of society.
The innate 'id' acts in spite of learned societal behaviours for its own benefit.
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