Like I’ve mentioned before, it had been a long time since I last read King Lear. That’s a couple of decades worth of baggage. And into this reading, I brought that baggage, some preconceived, not quite textually supported notions about the play.
In particular, about the storm.
In the intervening years, I’ve wondered if the storm could be more metaphorical than real. You know, with Kent/Caius, the Fool, and even Gloucester humoring Lear by talking about a storm, when really it’s just in Lear’s head. Edgar/Poor Tom’s words and actions are another matter entirely; his “madness” could certainly have him seeing a storm where there is none.
We know Lear knows he has a “tempest in [his] mind” (III.iv.12). By this point, the others do, too: by the end of the same scene, Kent concedes that Lear’s “wits begin t’ unsettle” (III.iv.160). And humoring the old king may be the best line of defense for his followers, especially given his earlier banishment of Kent and his own daughter.
The others speak of the outside storm as well. When Kent finds Lear two scenes earlier, he comments on the storm,
Gallow the very wanderers of the dark
And make them keep their caves. Since I was man,
Such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder,
Such groans of roaring wind and rain I never
Remember to have heard.
I would say this could be humoring the old man, but Kent’s arrival only a handful of lines earlier are after Lear’s invocation to the storm; Kent wouldn’t have known about the tempest of Lear’s mind yet.
Then there’s the matter of the preceding scene, in which Kent and one of Lear’s gentlemen greet one another with references to the storm:
Who’s there besides foul weather?
One minded like the weather, most uniquely.
It’s obvious that the storm is real.
Even those not aligned with Lear see it (and they are in no inclination nor physical location to humor him), as Cornwall says, “’tis a wild night. // My Regan counsels well. Come out o’ th’ storm” (II.iv.301-02).
No. The storm is real. Sure, it can be metaphorical. Lear’s mind, like Nature (and more on that concept next month), is broken. The two coincide, and I suppose the brutality of the external storm might even help precipitate (see what I did there?) Lear’s breakdown.
A director might further this interpretation by having the storm clear with Lear’s and Cordelia’s reunion, and the dark clouds descend again as the play nears its tragic end.
But it cannot be all in Lear’s head, unlike my decades-long question.
My mental storm baggages has been left at the door.