Doctors have been trying to diagnose King Lear for more than two centuries. They haven’t succeeded, of course, for a couple of reasons that are not mutually exclusive: first, King Lear does not exist, and second he is not available for tests or examination. The latest technology, no matter how sophisticated, will never settle the matter. No imaging studies for King Lear: he was born much too soon for them, and now will never be diagnosed properly.

Not, of course, that that puts doctors off, far from it. Nineteenth-century mad doctors in Britain and America said Lear’s case was just like many they saw in their asylums. Psychoanalysts perceived in Lear a case of thwarted incest (they would, wouldn’t they?). A variety of diagnoses have been offered from senile dementia to manic-depressive psychosis. (No one has suggested General Paralysis of the Insane, the last stage of syphilis.) Dr. Truskinovsky, writing in the...

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