Explore the ways Shakespeare presents Edgar in “King Lear”
An interesting principle is the ways Shakespeare presents Edgar in the play “King Lear”.
Edgar is the genuine child of Gloucester and his illegitimate sibling Edmund, wishes to take his dad’s land, so he says to his daddy that Edgar is preparing to eliminate him, and tells Edgar to get away. The function of Edgar changes throughout the play, he plays a symbolic part that who highlights main themes in the play. He supports and shows the character of Cordelia; due to the fact that both of the characters have nearly been disowned by their fathers, although both of them have not done anything incorrect.
The first scene we see Edgar is in plain contrast to his bro Edmund, in Act I scene II, where Edmund first tells Edgar to get away, since he has actually up set his father, Edgar is presented as mild and almost placid, which differs from his sibling who encounters as strong and strong. Shakespeare is revealing the two sides of human nature, by offering the 2 bros alternate personalities.
Shakespeare likewise provides Edgar as a Christ like figure, the very first scene the audience could see this is act II scene III, where, Edgar chooses he must handle a new identity, that of “Poor Tom” he reveals this to the audience; he also reveals that he is a desired individual. Throughout this soliloquy, there is an image of Christ on the cross he specifies “In contempt of man” this is showing that Edgar believes that male is an awful animal.
He describes “Chaos beggars” which is men who come from or pretended to come from the health center of Bethlehem, and were known at the time where the outrageous gather in London. His choice to select this camouflage is intriguing, because by copying the life of the undesirable topics in Lear’s kingdom is a criticism of Lear’s guideline.
The last line of the soliloquy Edgar says “Edgar I nothing am” this is continuing the theme of disappearance, that has occurred so regularly in the play, the word “Nothing” is used a great deal through out the play, this is make reference to the beginning of the play between Lear and Cordelia, “Nothing will come of nothing”. However another reader could interpret this as being the beginning of Edgar disguise, and the end of Edgar himself for a period. The feeling of loss is prominent in this scene, as Edgar has lost the natural bond with his father. As Edgar believes so deeply in the value of loyalty, the absence of this central relationship causes Edgar to feel alienated from the world, he has also lost his social position, consequently he is disinherited, and reduced to a beggar, and this echoes the main plot, where Lear is made impoverished, as is too forced to adopt a new identity
In act III, Edgar’s identity as “Poor tom” provides him with a mask to hide behind, and re-evaluate the world from outside the society he used to belong; he can also deal with the chaos of his feelings
Another scene where Edgar could be compared to a Christ like figure is Act III scene IV, where Edgar is talking with Lear. Lear addresses Edgar as “Unaccomodated man” and a “poor, bare, forked animal” The sight of Edgar dressed as a beggar has bought Lear to the edge of madness himself. Although Lear learns an important lesson, in that his kingdom is not perfect, at this frightening sight. He becomes less self obsessed and, he seems to think that Edgar’s madness comes from the unkindness of daughters; the audience can see this from the quotation “Hast thou given all to thy two daughters? And art thou come to this?”
Edgar makes several references to the Ten Commandments in one speech, “Obey thy parents… swear not; commit not” which again continues the associations with Christianity.
I think this scene must be almost painful to watch as it contains a conversation between a madman and a man pretending to be mad. Shakespeare provides Lear a reflection of his own suffering in the form of Edgar; here we can see that Edgar is central to the role of Lear.
In Act IV Edgar saves and revitalises his father Gloucester who has had his eyes removed; Edgar has found a new function, to act as his father’s ‘eyes’ helping him to see literally and metaphorically. Gloucester wishes to commit suicide, by jumping off a cliff, Edgar pretends they are near the edge of the cliff “for all beneath the moon would I not leap upright” this suggests that Edgar is so near the cliff that he would fall over even if he jumped straight up. He is a striking icon of the better nature. Some critics might see Edgar as his father’s ‘father’, in giving him new life. This redemption of his father is a very Christian act, as it involves compassion and self sacrifice, here again Edgar resembles an analogue of Christ.
In act V Edgar acts as his father’s retaliator, and rids the world of his brother Edmund, so again his role changes
“The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us;
The dark and vicious place where thee he got
Cost him his eyes”
Here Edgar is commenting on the impossibility of avoiding punishment for our sins, he could also be seen as the mediator of the gods in punishing evil, as he appeared to be in Act IV.
Edgar refers to Gloucester as “Father” as he is still in disguise, and his father is blind, he presumes that he is calling him “father” meaning old man, here Edgar, wants to give his father a clue as to his true identity is. Edgar joins the battle which is happening off stage, while his father rests under a tree, he exits and re-enters with the news that “King Lear hath lost” he tries to tell his father to join him in escaping from the escalating army, Gloucester wishes to stay put to which Edgar replies “Ripeness is all” which he is referring to ripeness as anticipating death, and we should not do as Gloucester is doing now, by choosing to stay there, expecting death, and that we must accept the time that is laid down for us.
Edgar and Cordelia are in almost direct parallel, both are children who are loyal to their parents, but are disowned, by their e more greedy siblings, the only difference between the two characters is that Edgar is left at the end of the play, to rebuild society, and reflect on the tragedy that has occurred. His survival could suggest that better nature has not been completely extinguished, by the gods of evil, as he is still alive, if the gods of evil had prevailed, he might not have made it to the end of the play, Shakespeare has clearly chosen to do this purposefully, to make the tragedy less tragic.
Edgar’s role throughout the play could be perceived as death and resurrection, he ‘dies’ as Edgar, when he adopts the role of “Poor Tom” and ‘rises again’ when he reveals his disguise, becomes Edgar again, and defeats his brother in Act V.
His survival at the end of the play, suggests that he may have learned something about his frequent character changes, some might believe hope for the future is the moral of the play, as Edgar has learned all about identity and social prejudice.
He possesses the wisdom in youth which Lear so desperately required, but he obtains it too late, in his old age, after his rejected daughter has died.
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