Order and Disorder in Gogol''s "Diary of a Madman" and Shakespeare's King Lear

Jenne Powers, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Although the comparison may seem unlikely, startling similarities exist between Gogol''s "Diary of a Madman" and Shakespeare's King Lear. I would not argue that Gogol' was in any way influenced by the play, only that identifying thematic and structural consonances makes for interesting analyses of both works.

Lear and Poprishchin both obsess over status and love and these obsessions serve as major plot-driving devices. Conflation of love and status drives both men insane. Poprishchin insanity resembles Lear's in that its root lies not only in obsession but also in the conservative philosophy of place which pervades each work. Both works presume a natural order both worldly and cosmic which has gone awry. Neither man is in his "natural place." The image of an eclipse appears in both works to signal this disorder. Also, both authors employ the trope of a human "zero" to represent the hero's placelessness.

It is not surprising that two works which share conceptions of space and order would share demonological systems. The devil is invoked in both works through the presence of women and references to animals. In his later ramblings, Poprishchin accuses all women of being in love with the devil; in the initial scene of Shakespeare's work Lear accuses his disloyal daughter of demonic tendencies. Women in both works are depicted as acting counter to nature and thus allowing the devil to interfere. Negative animal epithets abound in both works in reference to both women and men. It is interesting to note that a human accused of exhibiting animal-like tendencies cannot be occupying his or her proper place. Both heroes are compared by outsiders to various animals, and both in their insanity compare their imagined enemies to animals.

In my paper I will briefly outline the similarities in plot and character that exist in these two works. I will then compare the ways in which insanity is conceived and the ideals of place and order which each form of insanity implies. I suspect that further analysis of the role of animals will support my assertion that the works also represent remarkably similar demonologies.