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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0223 Tuesday, 7 May 2013
Date: May 6, 2013 4:41:44 PM EDT
Subject: Re: Kent’s Character
Jack Heller wonders if Kent’s treatment of Oswald is “appropriate” in II.ii. It depends on a code of ethics we don’t so much hold to anymore. Kent succinctly explains what he finds so objectionable (lines 1139-40):
That such a slave as this should wear a sword,
Who wears no honesty.
I don’t believe William Empson covered this particular case of “honesty,” but as used here it’s clearly one of his complex words. Kent’s actions are his explication: he offers insulting words, and then the flat of his sword, to demonstrate that Oswald doesn’t dare use his “edge.” In Oswald’s hands, the sword is for cowing those who are weak, not for meeting those equal in arms: he’s the practical definition of a villain. And there is Kent’s justification.