Through tatter’d clothes great vices do appear;Take that, Wall Street Journal editorial page! But, unlike a lesser writer, he gets off it right away (not before having one of his other characters mention how reasonable Lear is, all of a sudden.)
Robes and furr’d gowns hide all. Plate sins with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.
And, of course, Lear kind of has to be that over-the-top, because how otherwise is he worthy of Cordelia? The Lear we see in the play is stupid and shitty, yet, because he goes wrong greatly, we understand that he had, or has, greatness in him; and Cordelia loves him for that. Cordelia is immensely appealing because, underneath our own robes and furr'd gowns, we understand ourselves to be pretty shitty and stupid also; yet, under that, we hope we have some goodness, and a Cordelia to believe in it. No wonder it was hard to take that (SPOILER ALERT!) they both wind up dead.