King Lear is one of the most iconic plays, written by William Shakespeare. The play depicts the good and evil of the society and the consequences of these human behaviors. As one of the earliest plays of portraying the hero's vs. villain, much of the later plays have borrowed heavily of this style of writing. In the play, Shakespeare depicts the two daughters of King Lear - Goneril and Regan, not only as evil but also weak for Edmund's love.
Moreover, both get jealous of each other to the extent of killing each other towards the end of the play. Edmund also plays a significant role as the protagonist since he is the cause of Gloucester's loss of sight, Edgar's exile and the reason for the death of all King Lear's three daughters (McNeir). The villain in most cases is the antagonist of the story or the evil person in the narration. For the assignment, this essay will mainly major on Edmund, one of the villains of the play.
There several scenes where the evil acts of Edmund are depicted. Shakespeare introduces Edmund to the stage reading a letter that from an unknown source framing his brother Edgar of being a traitor who has the intent of murdering his father and possess half of his revenue. When he is found reading the letter by Gloucester, he hastily tries to hide it, but it has already been seen, and so she asks for it. After being convinced that he had been seen and that he could not justify that the letter did not have anything of significance. He hands it to Gloucester. Although we are not shown the full contents of the letter when Gloucester reads the letter, she is surprised by the contents of the message and even doubts if it is her son EDGAR would carry out such an act. She disowns his son Edgar - "I never got him" and make Edmund his heir: "of my land, Loyal natural boy, I'll work the means, to make thee capable" (28-87). Even after Edmund is asked of how he got the letter, or who brought it, he does not answer because it is all a lie and he knows it. "I hope, for my brother's justification, he wrote this but as an essay or taste of my virtue" (Shakespeare, King Lear 21).
The whole time, what Edmund plans is to frame his brother as a traitor who would make him run away for his life. In the letter, he talks of the oppression of age and a bitter world - aspects of greed and hunger for power, policy, and reverence of age and conspiracy (21). As Edgar is the oldest son, he is the rightful 'heir' to kingship, but Edmund's jealous and his 'kind' yet canning words blind everyone including Edgar himself. When Edmund finally realizes that his plan is working, he praises himself and expands his ambition to not only owning his brother's land but also getting the King's title and the crown. "I must have your land: Our father's love is to the bastard, Edmund... if this letter speed and my invention thrive, Edmund, the base shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper..." (I. ii. 19- 27).
In Act iv of scene one, after Edmund has succeeded in framing his brother for treason, it proves a little challenging to Edgar to run away from the lands. So, when he gets the news that Duke of Corwell and Goneril would be coming that night, he uses the story to scare his brother off to exile. "The duke be here to-night? The better! best!" He is excited that the news would work best for his plans. He finds Edgar in the thick forest and lies to him that their father has set guards to come and take him away, and that he has a better chance to run before their arrival. "EDGAR My father watches: O sir, fly this place; Intelligence is given where you are hiding; He's coming hither... Advise yourself" (II. i.56). He even makes Edgar fight with him as if to defend himself before he flees and then cuts his arm to make it believable that the traitor was there. When Gloucester, Duke, and Regan arrive at the scene, a few minutes after Edgar flees, Edmund quickly tells them that the "Here stood he in the dark, his sharp sword out, mumbling of wicked charms, conjuring the moon to stand auspicious mistress" (56).
Edmund succeeds in his initial plan to own his brother's lands. Just as King Lear cursed his daughter Cordelia, so has Gloucester disowned her elder son Edgar. Similarly, while Edmund succeeds in his play, Goneril and Regan to succeed are dividing King Lear's kingdom and taking away all his knights. In the scenes that follow, Lear emotional are so unstable that for a while - Scene II, act IV, V, and several scenes in act III - King Lear is distressed that he thinks he is crazy.
Towards the end of the play when the British army quickly advances towards Albany soldiers, Edmund confesses that he has the sisters - Regan and Goneril jealous of each other after swearing his love for both. He sarcastically makes a laugh and asks himself which he would take. "Which of them shall I take? Both? One? or neither?."(173). Edmund also confesses that the mercy Albany intents to show Cordelia and King Lear, when the battle is done and their within their power, he will not pardon them. His evil acts end up, causing his death and that of Cordelia and King Lear.
King Lear play has attracted the most critics as the greatest yet most tragic plays of William Shakespeare. While some praised the play for depicting the 17th century and the England royal, family distress and hugger for power (Alulis and Sullivan), both Edmund, Goneril, and Regan share common characteristics that bestowed the 17th century England; women were considered weak and evil (Sentov). Sentov claims that by highlighting and exhibiting these fears of female power, Shakespeare himself resolves it by eliminating the female characters, which have jeopardized the masculine identity (Sentov). On the contrary, however, although the play beings by the sisters confessing their unconditional love for their father, Cordelia, and Gloucester, being women as well, are quick to identify this evil and in their quest to fight against it, end up being victims (Sentov).
Edmund's delay and cause of all the three sisters death and the suffering of her mother (losing her sight) is itemized as the dramatic defects in King Lear's' play (McNeir). Not only does he revoke the order of the death of Cordelia bring sorrow to King Lear, his unsuccessful effort to seek forgiveness from his Brother or the two sisters also lead to his downfall (McNeir).
The complexity of the subplots complements the main plot's structural principle that makes King Lear stand out from other Shakespeare's tragedies. For instance, the play plot is structured in a parallel form where events taking place in King Lear's family almost concur with those taking place in Gloucester's family (McNeir). The issue of family betrayal, hunger for power, and hypocrisy have been deeply highlight in the subplots (McFarland). For example, in the first half of the performance, the events in King Lear's family plots precede the events of Gloucester's family subplot (McNeir). That is, Goneril and Regan reveal their hypocrisy in the love-test that depicts King Lear's unwise division of the kingdom (I.i.56-78) and their malice toward the end of the first scene (286-312). Almost Immediately, Edmund, on the other hand, reveals his malevolence by declaring his devotion to Nature, yet he resolves to undermine his brother and their father (McNeir). As an opportunist, Edmund begins humbly by just aspiring his brother's land. However, later in the play, his ambitions grow to now owning the kingdom (McNeir).
Edmund is successful in making Gloucester disown her son Edgar. Similarly, Lear also disowns his daughter Cordelia. It turns out to be Ironical, however, that the 'cursed' ones - including Kent, become the saviors of both Gloucester and King Lear. King Lear's plotting involves an image of the family circle that is neither unique nor flamboyant (McFarland). King Lear's pain and that of Gloucester depict the suffering, outrage, and grief experienced by every parent because of their children hypocrisy, greed, jealous of their siblings (McFarland). King Lear play presents mutual destruction as both psychologically and painfully realistic, and a representation of a realm of experience ignored by most parents (Skura).
In conclusion, like the antagonist of a story, the protagonist plays a significant role in creating a contrast, balance, and counter themes of a given scene, act, or the general mood of the story. Shakespeare is praised for using such a style in most of his literature works. Nevertheless, King Lear's use of the Villains, have played a vital role in highlighting the evils within the society. While the majority of the modern societies think of the evils coming from strangers, the play proves beyond doubt that he who is nearest is likely to be the enemy. Luckily, despite their success in whatever evil plans they have, the destiny is always destroyed by their greed. No matter what the future holds, there no time evil will outdo good, but casualties will always be there.
Alulis, Joseph, and Vickie Sullivan. "King Lear: The Tragic Disjunction of Wisdom and Power." Shakespearean Criticism (2007): 189-207. Critical essay.
McFarland, Thomas. "The Image of the Family in King Lear." Shakespearean Criticism 73 (2003).
McNeir, Waldo F. "The Role of Edmund in King Lear." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 8.2 (1968): 187-216.
Sentov, Ana. "Unnatural hags: Shakespeare's Evil Woman in Titus Sndronicus, King Lear and Macbeth." The European English Messenger 23.1 (2014).
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Global Grey, 1606.
Skura, Meredith. "Dragon Fathers and Unnatural Children: Warring Generations in King Lear and Its Sources." (n.d.).
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