Category Archives: Lear

The age of emotional incontinence

Lear on the couch

Was the king demented? asks Dalrymple.

If so, was the dementia of the Alzheimer’s, Lewy body, or multi-infarct type? (His variable mental states suggests the second or third.) Or was he depressed, perhaps as the result of an unresolved grief reaction to the death of his wife, mother of his three daughters? This doesn’t seem likely, since he hardly mentions her, perhaps because she died so long before the action of the play starts. Brief psychotic episode, perhaps? Manic depressive psychosis (rapid cycling type)? Or even personality disorder?

They who emote the most are believed to feel the most

For Dalrymple’s money, the critical point is made by the Duke of Kent:

Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least,
Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound
Reverb no hollowness.

If, says Dalrymple,

Lear had realised this, then none of the tragedy and suffering would have ensued. And here the play speaks to our age: for we live in an age of emotional incontinence, when they who emote the most are believed to feel the most.

Lear and Cordelia, Ford Madox Brown, 1849-54, Tate