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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Edgar and Edmund
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1255  Tuesday, 7 May 2002

From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Monday, 6 May 2002 10:25:55 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1248 Re: Edgar and Edmund
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1248 Re: Edgar and Edmund

> 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.

I am completely open to this reading of the character but where is your
refutation in the text? Can you point out one single line of text that
confirms your reading? You state that it is untrue and yet, I can't find
it in the text. I think that you are trying to say that Edgar is like
Goneril and Regan in 1.1., that what he says openly is subverted by what
he says elesewhere and what he does. But G+R later in that scene subvert
themselves. Neither Edgar nor anyone does that anywhere in the text.

> 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.

It's actually quite easy for me. Everything that I have believed about
the character I have pointed out with the text. Edgar and Cordelia both
say what they mean and not what they ought to say especially considering
their asides to the audience.
Edgar would seem to be a flat and dull character then. And he is at the
beginning of the play. But he undergoes a profound character change
along the lines of Lear. After living a sheltered and privileged life as
the son of Gloucester, he learns what it means to be cast out of that
privilege and sees what it means to be a poor naked wretch. This is why
Lear has such an affinity with Poor Tom in the storm scene. They are
drawn to each other and comfort each other because they both understand
what it means to be wronged by those who love you most. Lear
symbolically adopts Edgar in that scene.

Again, it is not so easy to explain away Edgar's words on being at the
worst. He only expresses the deepest sorrow and sympathy for his father
and the deepest hurt at seeing how low his father has fallen.

> 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.

I do not ignore but I certainly have used the text to interpret Edgar's
actions. I am facing this head on and I want an explanation in the text
for "evil" Edgar. Remember, much of the action that you interpret
cynically is reported through the lines of a character.

I enjoy your interpretation of the text - that absolute power or tyranny
can create a rebellious rage in the family or state. Especially since
1.1. is an example of both Gloucester and then Lear doing just that. My
disagreement is with your placement of blame squarely on Edgar's
shoulders. Surely Edmund tells us straight out that he is going to be
the rebel of his family and reverse the natural order. Edgar and
Cordelia are nurses to their father's old age and infirmities. And
again, if Edgar had broken his father's heart or murdered him, his heart
would not burst smilingly out of joy. It would be just as good to blame
Cordelia for breaking Lear's heart. How could she go and give him hope
like that just to die on him?  Of course not. The blame lies on Goneril,
Regan and Edmund's shoulders - and you rightfully point out that the
primary blame is on Lear and Gloucester because of their attitudes and
actions - and justice is finally reaped on all of them at the end of the
play. The daughters devour each other and Edgar reclaims his place as
his father's true son.

> 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
> of.

Preoccupied with taking care of his father? Surely this play cherishes
those family ties before the political? To ignore his father at the
expense of the state sounds like Edmund, not Edgar.

Brian Willis

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