Mental Illness In Shakespeare's King Lear

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “one in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year”. A mental illness is defined as a condition which affects “a person’s thinking, feeling, mood or behavior,” such as schizophrenia, dementia, and depression (“Mental Health”). These conditions can be caused by trauma, a genetic predisposition, the use of alcohol or drugs, or feeling isolated. Although psychiatrists are currently able to diagnose these disorders, physicians in the 18th century did not have the same knowledge about mental illnesses. Practitioners had no clue as to what caused mental illnesses or how to properly treat them. Since there was no scientific answer for mental illness, individuals could…show more content…
When the Duke of Gloucester banishes his son Edgar, he takes on the role of Tom O’Bedlam as a disguise from the soldiers trying to find him (Tosh). Shakespeare based Tom O’Bedlam on the Bedlamite beggars, who were known for their odd mannerisms, speech, and appearance (Ottilingam). Bedlamite beggars were homeless individuals who relied on the charity of the local community for their needs (Ottilingam). Many of these beggars were merely criminals and con-artists who pretended to have been admitted at Bethlem Hospital in London. Similarly, Edgar only pretends to be mad in order to receive charity; however, Edgar was forced into this situation due to his brother’s scheming. Within King Lear, Edgar exaggerates his mental disorder in order to influence bystanders into providing for his…show more content…
Ophelia’s father controls every aspect of her life. “Essentially, Ophelia has no control over her body, relationships, or her choices” (“Hamlet”). Ophelia accepts her lack of control and for that reason becomes a subservient person. For example, when Hamlet insults Ophelia multiple times and then asks where her father is, she responds with: “At home, my lord” (III.i.131). Instead of addressing him as Hamlet or using an endearing term, she speaks to him as though she is of a lower class. Ophelia believes that she is not Hamlet’s or any man’s equal. Ophelia has never been treated as an independent individual. She is always following someone’s orders. Ophelia’s subservient nature causes her to suppress her feelings which eventually leads to her mental breakdown and death in Act IV. In Act IV, Ophelia “passively” commits suicide which emphasizes her submissive nature. Queen Gertrude describes the event as “Her clothes spread wide, And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up, Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds; As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued” (IV.vii.172-177). She does not try to commit suicide: instead, she accidentally falls into the water and does not stop the drowning. Ophelia has accepted her lack of control in her life and is used to the dangerous situation that this puts her in. Her familiarity with dangerous situation causes her
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