Lear is also a Shakespeare play about mental ill-health in old age

Lear the play: a critique

Most of the serious reviews of the storm on the heath write about violence. The heath is nature at its most indifferent. Survival of the fittest just is. No need for law and order as long as genes keep going down the generations. Humans have however tried to control their role in nature and much else besides. Yet Lear and his family, like a lot of real families, are dysfunctional, violent and cruel.

What about our internal Heath? We face the world as cool and collected as we can. Beneath lie the fears and mistakes and what they mean to us. Sadly they can leak out into the world above – not so cool. The older you get, the more Heath there is. Yet, down there among the muck and bullets, are energy, creativity and risk-taking which in turn generate more heartache, because some of us never learn. It can be overpowering. How do we nurture our Heath? We don’t want this:

‘You see me here, you gods, a poor old man,
As full of grief as age; wretched in both:’ (Act 2, Sc. iv)

And then there is the madness, which most people interpret as dementia. How many people in Shakespeare’s day had alzheimer’s disease?