Edgar the Survivor

In the beginning of King Lear, Gloucester establishes Edgar as his legitimate son and Edmund, born from a different mother, as his bastard son, meaning Edmund will not be able to collect any inheritance. This creates an inevitable conflict between the two brothers that ignites after Lear gives away his land and begins his slow and painful path toward death. Edmund convinces Edgar that he has been banished by Lear, then accusing Edgar of a violent crime in order to receive inheritance.

And so it began: the humiliating time in Edgar’s life where he just tried to establish himself as a loved and wanted person rather than someone who serves no purpose, manipulated by the promise of money. Edgar can’t control the fact that his brother can’t get any inheritance, but instead of urging Edgar to help him, Edmund simply tries to end Edgar’s life.

“Who gives anything to Poor Tom … that hath laid knives under his pillow and halters in his pew, set ratsbane by his porridge, made him proud of heart to ride on a bay trotting horse over four-inched bridges to course his own shadow for a traitor?”

Edgar, III.iv.58-61

Now disguised as Poor Tom to save himself from execution, Edgar has a way to articulate how, as the legitimate child, he has for his entire life served as nothing but an example of power and has been taken advantage of by his younger brother. As someone born into wealth, he would be deemed a traitor, but disguised as a beggar, Edgar would attract pity through this language.

Throughout the story, Edgar remains in disguise, a peacekeeper among the conflict that Lear has kickstarted. He helps Gloucester, who has also been deemed a traitor and had his eyes plucked out for his compassion towards Lear, die at peace among the chaos:

“Give me your hand. Far off methinks I hear the beaten drum. Come, father, I’ll bestow you with a friend.”

Edgar, iv.vi.314-316

Edgar not only saves his father, but he saves himself as well, choosing the perfect moment to reveal himself to Edmund when the war is lost. Killing his brother in a fight, Edgar takes revenge for all the suffering Edmund has caused him. One of the sole survivors of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Edgar gets a second chance at living an impactful life.

In class, the motif my group tracked was the storm, and a central theme that we took away from it was that when one endures suffering, they see personal growth in the end. Edgar, who loses his home, disguises himself as a beggar to save his life, and watches his own father die, ultimately survives, and he can grow past the stage in his life where his only purpose was to demonstrate power and inherit money.

2 thoughts on “Edgar the Survivor

  1. Bella N.

    I think this is a wonderful analysis of Edgar as a character in the play. I like you illuminated that he is a survivor and was able to beat the odds in the end and collect what he deserved. I especially think that it’s interesting how he was one of the very few people to survive the entire play.


  2. HAYDN M

    I like this assessment of Edgar and Edmund’s relationship and I strongly agree with everything said. In particular, I agree that Edmund’s decision to manipulatively sever Edgar’s inheritance was too hasty and could have spoken with Edgar civilly about the fate of their father’s inheritance. It ties into a central topic in the play, greed for power, by showing that ultimately Edmund did not only do it for the inheritance, but more for the power and status perks.


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