Act 1

“If but as well I other accents borrow That can my speech diffuse, my good intent May carry through itself to that full issue For which I razed my likeness.” (1.4.1-4)

  • After being banished, Kent attempts to disguise his appearance with the use of clothing in order to continue serving the King
  • This disguise is also a form of preservation of the Great Chain of Being

“There, take my coxcomb. Why, this fellow has banished two on ‘s daughters and did the third a blessing against his will. If thou follow him, thou must needs wear my coxcomb.” (1.4.104-107)

  • The Fool explains that anyone who works for Lear must be a fool, therefore needs to wear a fool’s cap
  • The coxcomb is an example of clothing to disguise the true identity of a person

Act 2

Lear strips himself of his clothes figuratively and literally.  Therefore nakedness is better form of catharsis.

It is unlikely that Edmund would go out “unprovided.” (2.1.57)

  • This quote refers to Edmund going out unarmed.
  • Gloucester believes Edmund must keep his guard up because his brother made up a fake letter from Edgar stating he wants to kill him. Edmund puts on this fake persona and poses as the faithful and honest child.

Kent quips to shallow Oswald “a tailor made thee.” (2.2.50-1)

  • The Earl of Kent believes that Oswald is not a man and he is nothing but clothes.  Kent assumes Oswald is a freak and lacks profundity.  Oswald is Goneril’s steward and reflects the personality of his superior.

Lear points out to Reagan that her clothing “scarcely keeps [her] warm.” (2.4.304)

  • Reagan is the person who demonstrates the negative connotation towards clothing.  Nakedness is seen as clarity.  Lear’s comment on Reagan’s clothes proves her inability to see what is more important in life.  She thinks narrow-mindedly because her clothes restrict her from seeing the whole perspective.

Act 3

“Though art the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.” (3.4.113-115)

  • Edgar continues his disguise of wearing no clothing
  • Lear realizes that man stripped of his clothing and status (*nakedness) is as barbaric as an animal

Act 4

In 4.2, Lear wears a crown of wild flowers which shows his mental growth and that the old Lear is omnipresent even though it is not always obvious.

“Through tatter’d clothes small vices do appear; robes and furr’d gowns hide all.” (4.6.180)

  • Lear states that poor people may appear to have weaker characters, but the nobles have more clothing to hide all of their flaws.
  • Lear believes that the beggars and homeless people are better off because they show every aspect of themselves to the world.

Kent refuses to remove his disguise until it is “meet” to do it. (4.7.13)

  • Kent decides that it is very important to Lear’s recovery that he does not reveal his disguise until Lear is capable of comprehending what he did.
  • Once Kent removes his disguise he will reveal loyalty to Lear and every aspect of his being.  He will be exposed literally as if he stripped off all his clothes like the poor beggar Tom.

The sleeping Lear has “fresh garments on.” (4.7.26)

  • Lear strips down and reclothes himself proving he lost his madness and is in the process of regaining his identity.
  • The new clothes coincide with the revival of his self-awareness and perspective.

Act 5

Kent shows everyone who he is without his disguise on

  • He shows himself in nakedness

Edgar challenges Edmund while still disguised and fatally wounds him; before Edmund dies, Edgar reveals himself

Albany asks Edgar “Where have you hid yourself?” (5.3.216)

  • Once Edgar reveals himself he explains Kent’s position over the course of events to Albany; “Kent, sir, the banished Kent; who in disguise followed his enemy king and did him service improper for a slave.” (5.3.259-61)

Summary of Clothing vs. Nakedness

  • Clothing represents people in disguise, or who are not showing their true selves
  • Nakedness represents the undisguised, or blunt nature people display when they show who they really are
  • A person’s situation, for example, social status, determines what they should choose
  • Clothing represents the disguise Edgar and Kent have during the play to save themselves from death
  • Clothing can also show the false impressions Goneril and Regan give in Act One, Scene One when they talk about their love for Lear, which is not how they truly feel
  • Nakedness can be seen by Edgar and Kent at the end of the play when they take off their disguises and show everyone who they really are
  • Nakedness is also exemplified in Regan and Goneril after the opening scene when they show how they really feel about Lear in their spiteful actions towards him. In turn, at the end of the play, they unmask their true feelings for Lear when they no longer have anything to take from him

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