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Edmund In King Lear Essay, Research Paper

The development of the character is a genuinely important asset to the presentation of a story. Shakespeare is no stranger to producing a strong representation of his cast through different development methods. In the tragedy King Lear, the character Edmund, who is the illegitimate son to the Earl of Gloucester, is almost immediately presented to the audience as a villain. Shakespeare does this through the usage of monologues and his relation to other characters throughout the play. However, despite his villainous portrayal, there is a sense of redemption for the traitor before his death at the close of the play. Shakespeare is known for being an extremely versatile playwright, producing perhaps the most powerful and influential tragedies and comedies. The historic story of King Lear, which fits the tragedy mold, follows the family problems revolving around King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester. The story begins when the 80-year-old King of Britain decides to retire and divide his land among his three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Cordelia, King Lear’s youngest daughter, is almost immediately dispossessed of the rights to her land, and is cast from the kingdom after she does not profess her love to her father right away. With Cordelia stripped of her heir, her share is cut amongst the remaining daughters to be ruled by them and their husbands. The Earl of Gloucester has a similar problem to that of Lear, since his two sons were internally battling for right to control his lands at the hands of his death. Edmund, who is the younger of the two sons, is considered to be an illegitimate offspring, taking away any right to become the heir to the estate he is so close to ruling. However, his older brother Edgar is not of this status and is capable of taking control of his father’s territory. Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund As to the legitimate, if this letter speed, And my invention thrive, Edmund the base Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper. Now, gods, stand up for bastards! (I.ii.16) This revealing monologue first brings about Edmund’s plans to bring down both his brother and his father while not revealing himself as the assailant to this terrible crime. We can really see how deceitful Edmund’s character is as Shakespeare further develops the hatred Edmund has for his brother. As a part of the plan, He tells Gloucester that Edgar is planning to kill his father so that he can enjoy the fruits of the lands while he is still young. On the other hand, Edmund reports to Edgar that his father is attempting to have him killed and to defend himself. Gloucester is convinced of Edgar being a traitor and pursues to have his son executed. In continuing the portrait that Shakespeare paints of Edmund, we can see that throughout Act III Edmund commits senseless acts of treason to his father, both verbally and physically. In one aside he tells the audience “This courtesy, forbid thee, shall the duke instantly known, and of that letter too. This seems a fair deserving, and must draw me that which my father loses -no less than all. The younger rises when the old doth fall” (III.iii.17). Shakespeare screams bloody murder through this speech showing how Edmund’s character is a vicious killer that will do anything to maintain his inheritance. Edmund’s next demise occurs during the preparations against the attack by the French invaders, who are led by the King of France and Lear’s exiled daughter Cordelia. Goneril and Regan develop a passion for Edmund during this time, and begin to brawl over his love. Edmund continues relations with each sister with the future of the Kingdom in mind, seeing them as a way of gaining even more land than his father controls. Goneril, who appears to be the evil of the two daughters, also sees this as a possible proposal since the authority that she has obtained has begun to go to her head. To both these sisters I have sworn my love; Each jealous of the other, as the stung Are of the adder. Which of them shall I take? Both? One? Or neither? Neither can be enjoyed, If both remain alive. To take the widow

Exasperates, makes mad her sister Goneril; And hardly shall I carry out my side, Her husband being alive., Now then we’ll use His countenance for the battle; which being done, Let her who would be rid of him devise His speedy taking off. As for the mercy Which he intends to Lear and to Cordelia, The battle done, and they within our power, Shall never see his pardon; for my state Stands on me to defend, not to debate. (V.i.55) Act V is a tidal wave of death and destruction as one deceitful act comes out after another. In this act, Edmund (above) admits to his affair with Lear’s daughters, which is a very surprising occurrence. In most Shakespearean plays the villain shows no redemption for his acts, and his death is the only justice that the audience and cast see as penalty for the villain’s crimes. Even though Edmund has revealed his feelings about the distress of having two lovers, he does not totally come clean. This may confuse the audience since it seems as if the character is being double-sided, which does not totally redeem him. He announces “There’s my exchange. What in the world he is that names me traitor, villain-like he lies call by thy trumpet. He that dares approach, on him, on you, who not? I will maintain my truth and honor firmly” (V.ii.99). He once again is lying in order to hide what his true intent is by saying that he is not a traitor despite the accusations that the Duke of Albany has brought about. Edmund and his brother Edgar, who is in a disguise, fight together and Edmund is mortally wounded. “What you have charged me with, that have I done; And more, much more; the time will bring it out. ‘Tis past, and so am I. But what art thou That hast this fortune on me? If thou ‘rt noble, I do forgive thee.” (V.ii.162) Knowing that he is on his deathbed, Edmund discloses his plans and that the Duke of Albany is correct in his accusations. He explains how he is sorry for what he has done and that he forgives the Duke for mortally injuring him. Edmund then goes on to explain that he ordered King Lear and Cordelia to be put to death. Is it possible that these are the words of a dying man who knows he has nothing to do but redeem himself and hope that he has a chance with God despite what he has done? In the meanwhile, a servant enters and tells that they have found Goneril dead of a self-inflicted would and Regan poisoned. Apparently, as a desperate attempt to gain Edmund’s undying love, Goneril murdered Regan, but could not maintain herself and took her own life. Edmund asks the Duke of Albany to “take my sword, give it the captain” (V.ii.250). This is the last attempt at the salvation of Edmund before the wounds that he was holding finally lead to the cease of his heart. It appears that Shakespeare feels something for Edmund allowing him to wipe himself clean before his death since the giving away of the sword seems to be an attempt to give away any relation to what has happened. Also, the sword is a sign of power and chivalry, and he realizes that he has lost both as he nears the white light of death. After Edmund’s life is terminated, Lear enters carrying the dead Cordelia before he dies himself. The Shakespearean tragedy has once again hit the audience, leaving all slain except for Albany, who transfers the rule of the country to Edgar. Being the rightful heir from the beginning, Edgar is left to restore England to its rightful status. We are still left with one question, a question that is not normally left on the minds of the spectator of a Shakespeare tragedy: Is Edmund truly and evil or is the text merely revealing what may be the affect of the times on a weak minded person? In this case, perhaps it is safe to assume that it was the pressure of this dark-time that caused the disaster we have just deciphered. After all, Goneril even murdered her sister for the chance that she and Edmund might one-day rule England side-by-side. The only person that may know the correct answer is long gone, and along with it the mystery of Edmund the Bastard.

King Lear. In The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 1. Ed. M. H. Abrams, et al. 6th ed. New York: Norton, 1993.

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