The second scene of the third act of this play is to me the most powerful scene in the play. It is directly following Lear’s dismissal by his daughters Goneril and Regan, who refuse to lodge his men and turn him away from their doors, sending him, bare, into a terrible storm. Lear wanders in the storm for a while on his own, accompanied only by his fool and his thoughts.
This scene is so important because it is the scene in which Lear’s full mental breakdown occurs and it is beautifully rendered by every aspect of the scene. Firstly, he is accompanied only by his fool. This is a very important detail to recognize, especially following the controversy over Lear’s knights. Gonreil and Regan refuse Lear his usually knightly company which makes Lear feel important and powerful, keeping him grounded in his world, but removing that and replacing the 100 knights with a single fool changes Lear’s world. Instead of being surrounded with company that respects and obeys him, he is accompanied by an influence which exacerbates his mental decline; his world is now one of nonsense.
This is supported by the storm activity raging outdoors. The storm is acting as a metaphor for Lear’s mental state. Completely blindsided by the rejection of his daughters, Lear’s entire world is rocked and sends his mind into a confused flurry of rage. In 3.2 lines 4-6 Lear cries, “Your sulphurous and thought-executing fires/ Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts/ singe my white head!” Lear here is comparing the ripping thunder to the thoughts of his daughter’s betrayal that burn and flash in his mind.
Another example of how Lear’s insanity is represented is in the way he speaks and thinks. In 3.1 Lear is quoted as saying that he, “Bids the wind blow the earth into the sea/ Or swell the curled waters ‘bove the main” (5-6). This speaking in unnatural inverses emphasizes Lear’s waning grip on the world as he knows it, requesting a world of impossibilities.
Finally the Fool in the end of 3.2 leaves us with a little wisdom. He tells of a world in which sociotal and natural norms are inverted and tells that the kingdom of Britain will then know confusion. What I think the purpose of this is is to highlight how this mental breakdown applies only to Lear. His world has been changed and he is now in a state of extreme mental unrest, but it only effects to him. Though it may seem to him that the world is changed, it is not; it is only his understanding of it that is. The Fool says that when these impossible things happen (which effect society rather than individual), then will the entire country know confusion, but due to the deep-rooted nature of these norms, these changes will never occur, and Britain will persist.