Shakespeare's Use of Madness as a Theme in King Lear

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Edgar first assumes the disguise of Poor Tom as Lear and the Earl of Gloucester enter the cave in which Edgar is hiding. Since Edgar was banished, similar to Kent, who is also present later in this act, he must conjure up a disguise. Why does Edgar chose the repulsive beggar that Poor Tom is? Well, remember that Poor Tom represents the popular belief of the insane during the Elizabethan era. Therefore, he is the perfect disguise. No one would ever suspect Poor Tom of being Edgar, because Edgar is a very pleasant man, while Tom is completely repulsive. Furthermore, the reason Edgar chose this disguise is contained within his soliloquy as he is becoming Poor Tom:
Whiles I may 'scape,
I will preserve myself; and am bethought
To take the basest and most poorest shape
That ever penury, in contempt of man,
Brought near to beast; my face I'll grime with filth,
And with presented nakedness outface
The winds and persecutions of the sky.
The country gives me proof and precedent
Of Bedlam Beggars, who, with roaring voices,
Strike in their numb'd and mortified bare arms
Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary;
And with this horrible object, from low farms,
Poor pelting villages, sheep-cotes, ad mills,
Sometime with lunatic bans, sometime with prayers,
Engorece their charity. Poor Turlygod! poor Tom!
That's something yet: Edgar I nothing am.
According to William C. Carroll (1987), "Edgar's self-description follows the tradition closely, as he takes on the part with all it's theatrical implications-grimed face, presented nakedness, roaring voice- and disappears into 'nothing,' into Tom's body." Edgar chose this disguise with the intention of being someone so commonly known by the people that they would never suspect that the ...

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