King Lear

"When Regiment is Gone": Close Readings of King Lear, V.iii.8-26 and V.iii.305-9

Throughout most of Shakespeare's King Lear, the hero is mad; when not, he is deluded. In his gorgeous speech of V.iii.8-26, Lear displays a newfound, optimistic view of his future with Cordelia moments before Edmund orders her death. Lear's discovery of his own humanity and weakness in the storm has brought him closer to Cordelia and freed him from his pride; having lost his kingdom, two of his daughters, and much of his sanity, he thinks that nothing can hurt him, for he has nothing left to lose.

In fact, Lear has one thing, and that he loses: Cordelia. Lear is eager to go to prison; he sees it as a refuge, where he and his daughter will be safe. "Come, let's away to prison; / We two alone will sing like birds i'the cage" (V.iii.8-9), he tells her. A "cage" was also used to mean a prison for petty criminals, adding to the aptness of Lear's simile. Caged birds often signify the imprisonment of a free spirit, but Lear transforms them into an image of beauty and joy, just as he turns the dismal prospect of prison into a glorious future.

Such reversals are the order of the play; not only is the societal order turned upside-down, with a king freezing in the storm and a father subservient to...

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