Torture in King Lear is conducted directly by rulers. Before Cornwall even gets his hands on Gloucester, he declares his intention to injure him, quite apart from the outcome of the process of interrogation:
Though well we may not pass upon his life
Without the form of justice, yet our power
Shall do a courtesy to our wrath, which men
May blame, but not control (3.7.24-27)
What is at once horrible and familiar about this declaration is its nauseating blend of legalism, sadism, and public relations, as if Cornwall were already thinking about how he will excuse the fact that there were regrettable excesses in his otherwise legal treatment of the prisoner.
from Stephen Greenblatt’s Shakespeare’s Freedom - incredible reading of Gloucester’s blinding, post-Iraq. “Shakespeare’s audience was far less squeamish about the torture of traitors than we are - or than we Americans were until recently.”