Clothing & Nakedness are one of the themes that appear in Act II. The action of nakedness is illustrated literally and figurative. Nakedness is a sign of vulnerability. All men are vulnerable and defenseless when naked and there is a loss of authority and power This is a part of what leads to insanity for King Lear later in the play. In Act, II Edgar disguises himself as Poor Tom to avoid his death sentence.
Clothing is the symbol for taking off sanity and putting on madness. Edgar takes on the character of "Poor Tom of Bedlam". Bedlam was a hospital for people who were mentally ill and the use of "Tom of Bedlam" is a way to communicate that Edgar is taking on a role of madness. Madness is a perfect disguise for Edgar. It is an intentional choice to disrobe and assume the appearance of madness. He puts on the role by taking off his clothing. Edgar says
"I will preserve myself, and am bethought to take the basest and most poorest shape that ever penury in contempt of man brought near to beast. My face I'll grime with filth, blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots, and with presented nakedness outfaced the winds and persecutions of the sky" (2.4.6-12). Edgar's action of madness adds depth and character development throughout Act II.
There are symbolic representations of clothing & nakedness, starting with Edgar disguising himself as "Poor Tom". He strips off his clothes after he is banished from the castle because he is trying to survive. Disguised as "Poor Tom", he can slowly investigate what has happened with his father, and who set him up. He can creep back into the walls of the kingdom. Edgar becomes nothing and nobody in the ideal disguise of the poor beggar. This parallels that fact that Edgar does not exist because he has been disowned and banished. Someone who is mad lives in the world where nothing is it seems. Edgar admits, "'Poor Turlygod! Poor Tom!' That's something yet. 'Edgar' I nothing am." (2.4.20-21) Edgar takes on being nothing and having no clothes or belongings because a person like that does not have an identity they are nothing.
Regan's actions are opposite from "Poor Tom's. Regan uses her clothes as signs of power and control, which dehumanizes he. King Lear says that Regan is unable to see the value and importance of her humanity and her clothing represents her greed and desire for power. While, nakedness in this situation is seen as clarity. She can't see clearly that her narrow-mindedness is fogging up her perspective. Lear says to Regan, "Thou art a lady; if only to go warm were gorgeous
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But for true
She dresses richly, and her clothes represent her true nature, which is not warm or caring about her father but rather indicate the outer covering as beautiful while her true nature is poor, cold and ugly. Goneril and Regan also dress in riches and beautiful gowns to indicate their power and control while King Lear is losing power and control.
Kent also uses the idea of clothing by saying Oswald is all show, and that he is nothing more than his clothing. Kent believes that Oswald is not truly a man, he is just weak and hiding behind his clothing. This is demonstrated when Kent is referencing Oswald as being tailor-made. Kent states,
"No marvel, you have so bestirred your valor.
You cowardly rascal, nature disclaims in thee' a tailor made thee.
Cornwall: Thou art a strange fellow. A tailor make a man?
Kent: A tailor, sir. A stonecutter or a painter could not have made him so ill, though they had been but two years o' th' trade." (2.2.54-61)
Kent indicates that even a sculptor or a painter with only a couple of years of experience could have done a better job of creating a man. Kent is saying that Oswald is a poor picture of a man. His clothing is all there is to him. In reality, Oswald is a freak and lacks profundity. Oswald is Goneril servant and is reflecting her personality since he is in the subordinate position and she is the superior position. Goneril is also nothing but her clothes and has power but no substance as a human being.
Overall, clothing & nakedness can be a symbol for a disguise or revealing your emotional state, which both situations are shown in King Lear. Things can make a person go insane, out of their minds, just to present a facade to others to make themselves look superior.