From Good Guy to Bad Guy

Throughout the entirety of The Tragedy of King Lear, there is one character who stands out, who is always unpredictable and coming up with new ways to surprise us and because of that he is my favorite character, that character is Edmund.

Edmund shifts from someone you feel sympathy for early in the story, to one of the evilest and most cunning characters in the story. Edmund backstabs so many people he is close to throughout the story that one would think he enjoys doing it. Early in the story we are introduced to Edmund as the illegitimate bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester. Edmund is mistreated and is not in Gloucesters will, because he isn’t his real son but Edmund sees this as unfair. Edmund complains about his mistreatment, but when he realizes nothing will change, decides to take matters into his own hands, and begins to turn evil. Edmund delivers a soliloquy describing his plan to get himself into his fathers will. Edmund decides to write a forged letter undermining his brother Edgar who is Gloucesters real son. The contents of the letter include plans to murder Gloucester. Edmund presents this letter to Gloucester, tricking him into thinking Edgar wrote the letter. Gloucester responds by calling Edgar a traitor and wanting him captured or dead, and by removing him from his will which allows Edmund to slip into it making his plan a success while having no regard for his father or brother who he is tricking. Later in the story Edmund reinforces this lie by starting a fake sword fight with Edgar, when he hears Gloucester approaching he convinces Edgar that it is in his best interest to run away which Edgar does, Edmund then cuts himself and shows his injury to Gloucester who sees the injury, along with Edgar running away, further tricking both his father and brother for his own benefit. At the end of the story, Edgar gets his revenge by slaying Edmund in a bloody battle, but this is just one example of how versatile Edmunds character is.

Edmunds character is a rollercoaster throughout the story and this is reiterated again through the love triangle he has with the sisters Goneril and Regan. He decieves them both until they are both going crazy and fighting over him which ends up leading both sisters to there inevitable death. Edmund is the most unpredictable character in King Lear which is exactly what makes him my favorite character. There is no scene in which Edmund is involved that can be considered boring.

Edmund is a dynamic and static character, his intentions stay mostly the same, but his acting and situations he is involved in change. His goal remains to sabotage Edgar with the forged note throughout most of the story, but he changes from an innocent son, to a liar, to a manipulator, until he is finally slayed by his brother Edgar. It’s these changes in character that make Edmund the most fascinating character in King Lear.

Courageous Usurpers of Morals

Throughout King Lear by Shakespeare, class remains an ultimate heavy part of characters and the journeys they take. Lear goes through the storm and has a reflection on poor people and how they are supposed to fend for themselves in the storm (III.iv.30-38). This is a breach into the social structure the play originally constructs with Lear as the King and thus his daughters having mighty power in the kingdom with many servants. The most intriguing parts of the book however were the bold actions of those around these characters that were built up into such a high level of class that they appear at first untouchable. King Lear at the start of the play seems in control and then Kent goes against what he says and claims he is making a mistake with his harsh actions towards Cordelia (I.i). Kent being lower in status compared to Lear demonstrates yet another occasion where the shakiness of the status is portrayed as a good thing in the play when thought about carefully. The self-clarity Lear has in the storm from viewing a status perspective other than his own is positive and Kent speaking up for Cordelia when she received unwarranted rage is a good thing as well. 

One of the most shocking parts of King Lear that grab readers’ attention is in Act III scene viii was when a servant halts Cornwall from plucking out Gloucester’s other eye and tries to tell Cornwall that right now is the breaking point where he needs to stop. The servant and Cornwall physically battle in a sense of who is morally right while Cornwall fights purely out of rage that the servant has stood out against him despite their huge gap in status and the servant battles for the morale of not gouging someone’s eyes out. At first, readers think that the servant was not that important because of the fact that he dies but he wounds Cornwall which causes both of their deaths. Further, this comes as a shock that someone would even speak so openly out of turn while a person in power is torturing a supposed traitor is surprising. Then that the servant inflicts fatal damage can prove to support the idea that in the end, the people with good morals and who fight for their causes will be successful with their intentions. The servant wanted Cornwall to realize the consequences of his actions and get him to by physically making him weak and bringing him on to the afterlife. The power coming from this random servant in King Lear makes readers feel that sense of hopefulness that the morally strong people in the world can make a difference no matter what class they are in.

Loyalty — Admirable or Just Plain Stupid?

In the play King Lear, Kent is a servant of King Lear. He is banished from the kingdom when he points out that King Lear is making a bad decision in Act 1. However, he takes on a different persona, goes by the name “Caius,” and rejoins King Lear’s entourage of men. He follows Lear everywhere making sure to protect him from the treacherous whether and trying to reunite him with his daughter Cordelia. At the end of the play when Lear dies, Kent is offered the kingdom to rule but Kent responds with “I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; / My master calls me. I must not say no (V.III.390-391).” This can be interpreted in many ways but I see it as he leaves to kill himself because his master, Lear, has died. Through this character I have wondered what Shakespeare meant to say about loyalty — admirable or stupid?

When answering this question, I think it is best to look at the two most loyal servants in the play — Kent, servant of Lear and Oswald, servant of Goneril. Oswald and Kent are both very loyal, defending their masters and both even die because of their loyalty to their masters.

However, there lies a key difference between the nature of Oswald’s and Kent’s servitude. Unlike Oswald, Kent seems to have his masters best interest at heart. Kent is kicked out of the kingdom because he told King Lear the truth, that he is making the wrong choice of disowning Cordelia because she actually loves him the most. Kent knew that Lear was making a bad decision that would hurt him later and acted upon Lear’s best interest. He then proceeds to help King Lear in the storm and throughout the whole play, showing that his loyalty rides deep and can’t be broken by his master even kicking him out. On the other hand, Oswald blindly follows Goneril’s orders never questioning anything she tells him to do. His loyalty also seems to stem from his self-seeking characteristic. For example, in act 4 he is more than willing to take Reagans orders to kill Gloucester; “That eyeless head of thine was first framed flesh/ To raise my fortunes”(IV.VI.254-255). He implies that he is getting a reward for his loyalty which doesn’t feel like loyalty because it could be broken easily.

Ultimately, I think Shakespeare is saying that true loyalty is very admirable and is a virtuous trait to have. Yet, I think it is important to note that it is Kent’s loyalty that is admirable, not Oswalds.

It’s a Man’s World

Shakespeare’s King Lear challenges the societal gender roles, which at the time of the play was considered controversial. In the first act of King Lear, he demands that each daughter prove their love and respect for him in order for them to receive part of his land. Two of the three daughters submit to his wishes and says reassuring things like ” Sir, I [Goneril] love you more than word can wield the matter” (I.i. 60) or “I find she names my very deed of love/only she comes too short”(I.i.78-79). As Lear gets sprinkled with compliments this strengthens his role as a powerful man as two women beg for something that belongs to him. Ironically, his daughter Goneril and Regan, those who graveled for his land, become a powerful force and leader in the hopes to betray their father. This is when the ideal gender roles are switched. While Lear loses power and his mind, his daughters become powerful. Goneril comes to the realization that Albany is not her ally and tells him “no more. the text is foolish” (IV.ii) then continues to call him a “milk – liveried man/ that bear’st a cheek for blows – a head for wrongs,” (IV.ii). In translation, Goneril is calling him a lying coward which in the eyes of society is greatly frowned upon. Although Goneril’s motives to betray her father was already frowned upon by members of the audience, her dominance and assertiveness to Albany, her own husband, was an act more surprising. Shakespeare’s response in the eyes of Albany was to call her the devil which some could argue that response of justified while others protest Albany’s attitude towards women in power.

Albany’s beliefs on women in power seem “old fashion,” when in reality his beliefs are more prevalent in society today as women become more and more involved in our government. Hillary Clinton made headlines, before she even ran for presidency, due to her lack of abilities to be “women like” when she served as the First Lady. When her husband served in office she received major backlash as she become the chair of different committees of public policy, which made her the most involved first lady ever. Hillary Clinton’s leadership and power was a shock to society so much so the White House made a campaign for Clinton to emphasize the more traditional traits of a first lady should be. This campaign gave society what they wanted to see, which was her in the kitchen and merrily hiding behind her husband. Hillary didn’t let this phase her as she ran for president in 2016 against Donald Trump who begin the nasty women campaign against Clinton. The constant set – back Clinton has faced strictly due to her gender is living evidence that our society has not yet reached a point of equilibrium.

“Ran” and “King Lear”

There is no doubt that Ran strongly resembles that of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Both tales of betrayal involve rulers who relinquish their thrones and pass their power and land down to their offspring, causing two of the children to turn against them, while the third supports them in their old age. Whereas Ran’s Hidetora has three sons, King Lear has three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Hidetora’s jealous sons are also more ruthless than Lear’s opposing daughters. Not surprisingly given their status, both Ran and Lear suffer from a good old-fashioned case of overzealous pride, and both banish anyone that disagrees with them. And of course, in typical Shakespearian fashion, both tales end with the death of the entire family.

The director of Ran, Akira Kurosawa, seems to portray King Lear in a form of Japanese drama intertwined with history. Although the film became heavily inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Kurosawa began using it only after he had started preparations for Ran, and from the portions that I watched, it is interesting to analyze the similarities and differences between the two.

To me, the most obvious difference between Ran and King Lear lies in the dialogue. Ran has almost none, while Lear is an example of poetic and dramatic use of the English language. While viewing the scene where Hidetora’s two sons physically attack him with the full force of their armies, it is clear that Ran’s plot development and artistically directed scenes help create a much more powerful film. This film also seems to be a lot more direct. Rather than the verbose speeches and poetry of King Lear, there is subtlety and interpretation rejected for battle scenes and unambiguous dialogue.

I think it would be very interesting to watch the full movie of Ran, but it is 2 hours and 42 minutes, which is just a little too long for me.

The Doting Child

Two of the most beloved characters in King Lear, Cordelia and Edgar are the play’s doting children towards their fathers. The two are characterized as morally intact because they act as caregivers for their aging fathers. Furthermore, both characters are praised for their loyalty to their respective patriarch.

King Lear sends lots of quite obvious messages about respecting elders, power lying with the patriarch, and the role of children, but I found Cordelia and Edgar to be the most interesting incarnations of such messaging. When examining Cordelia and Edgar, especially in contrast to their evil siblings Goneril, Reagan, and Edmund, the pair is intended to show the audience the ideal children. But what does that mean? According to Shakesphere, the ideal child is doting, loyal, unquestioning, and above all respectful of the patriarch.

When reading the article “Queen Lear” similar qualities of the doting child apply to the author, and he too was praised for his kind words towards his mother. Many people are celebrated for their loyalty and respect for their parents, but at what cost? Must a child obey their parents wishes regardless of age, or circumstance? Is one child worse than another because they do not act in a way that is beneficial to the parent?

I am aware I sound very much like a young person here, and I did like the characters of Cordelia and Edgar much more than their siblings, but I found the underlying messaging of what a good child is very compelling. Through the characterization of Cordelia and Edgar, Shakesphere clearly depicts how the ideal child should act, loyal and respectful at all times. King Lear also depicts the many ways a character could be a bad child, leaving the readers with the choice to be a incredibly doting child, or a villain. I personally do not believe that being a “good” child could be so binary.