The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1248 Monday, 6 May 2002
Date: Saturday, 04 May 2002 11:56:20 -0400
Subject: Edgar and Edmund
Karen Peterson's intelligent post answers Ed Kranz's question about
Cordelia's lecture to her sisters at the end of 1.1, and so I'll leave
Ed to read what Karen has written.
Brian Willis writes:
>Nothing that anyone says, either Edgar or
>others, subverts what he does in the play.
I'm afraid that this is simply untrue, at least for most readers. It may
be possible to square Edgar's pious talk and his actions toward his
father by making Edgar into a symbolic character whose motivations are
not to be questioned. But you have to go through a lot of mental
gymnastics to do that. I'd rather point out that his words and actions
don't match and then figure out why Shakespeare did this. Brian wants to
ignore or explain away Edgar's actions; I want to face them head on and
inquire into what they mean.
Karen Peterson notes that "much of the interaction between
Edgar-in-disguise and the blinded Gloucester has as much to do with
Edgar's feelings of having his world shattered, and not knowing who he
may now trust, as it does with a desire for revenge per se."
I agree partly, but I'd also add that the plot nicely reverses the
beginning of the play. At the start, all the power was in Gloucester's
hands, and all the trust (in Gloucester) belonged to Edgar. Then, after
poor Gloucester is brutally blinded, their roles reverse: the power is
in Edgar's hands, and Gloucester must trust him.
It may be best to end this post with a word about Edgar. I believe that
he tries as hard as he can to shut his demons out, that is, to cover his
rage with a stifling cloak of pious moralism. I also think that he never
acknowledges to himself what he is really doing to his father: running
him ragged, putting him in harm's way, and finally killing him.
The point is a profound one that, in my view, is at the center of _King
When people like Lear and Gloucester practice absolutism in the state
and the family, they create often unacknowledged rage in their
And that rage will out, either directly or indirectly. And both are
harmful and finally terribly destructive.
From one point of view, the responsibility for this whole tragedy rests
of Edgar's shoulders. He could have stopped the war before it ever
started by doing the right thing near the end of 5.1. That he does not
do so tells us that he is preoccupied in a way that we cannot approve
Thanks again, Karen, for a thoughtful and interesting reply.
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