The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1220 Thursday, 2 May 2002
Date: Wednesday, 01 May 2002 14:37:30 -0400
Subject: Edgar and Edmund
Sean Lawrence suggests that Edgar does not reveal himself to his father
when they first meet because to do so would kill the old man. This is an
interesting idea, but it doesn't seem to me to be true. Everything is a
matter of timing. Revealing himself right away would do no harm;
revealing himself after what he has done to Gloucester causes such
contrary feelings that Gloucester's heart breaks in two. In other words,
Edgar does things backwards. Why he does them backwards is the burden
of my argument.
Sean also points out that Edgar is disguised as Poor Tom when he talks
of "foul fiends" -- true enough. But "Poor Tom," an image of an
Elizabethan beggar, is an image of Edgar's condition now that his father
has cut him off. "Poor Tom" is also an image of how Edgar feels inside
-- destitute. So the demons he must ward off are more real than you
might think. How would you feel, Sean, if someone did to you what
Gloucester did to Edgar? That is the central question. And the answer
is simple and straightforward: we all would feel hate and the desire for
revenge. And so does Edgar, though he can't admit it to himself.
Brian Willis writes that Edgar and Cordelia must "prove themselves" to
their fathers. Isn't the opposite true, Brian? Edgar and Cordelia are
the victims, as I see it, and Gloucester and Lear are the perpetrators,
no? If anyone needs to prove himself, it's Gloucester or Lear, isn't
it? Aren't they the ones who have done wrong?
Brian also asserts that my argument is not textually based. I'm
flabbergasted and bewildered by this statement, since all throughout my
various posts I have only discussed incidents that occur in the play. I
have focused, however, on Edgar's actions because they are hard to
reconcile with his words. I hope that Brian doesn't mean that action --
the plot -- is not an integral part of the text.
Edgar's actions towards his father appear unnatural: they do not seem to
fit with his words. I have argued that his actions are actually quite
natural, for anyone in his position would feel hate as well as love for
his father. I can't fathom how or in what way I have not grounded my
argument in the text.
Brian also points to the similar roles that Edgar and Cordelia play in
the subplot and the main plot respectively. I agree, although I think
that the parallel between Edgar and Lear on the Heath is even more
important. But I'll save that for later. Like Edgar, Cordelia is in a
love/hate relationship with her father. The most obvious example is near
the end of the opening scene when she addresses Goneril and Regan:
Ye jewels of our father, with washed eyes
Cordelia leaves you. I know you what you are,
and like a sister am most loath to call
Your faults as they are named. Love well our father.
To your professed bosoms I commit him.
But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,
I would prefer hm to a better place.
In these lines Cordelia reverts to the role of favorite child and so
insults her sisters that she guarantees that Lear will be mistreated by
them. Take that, old man!
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