How does Shakespeare present Edmund in King Lear? Analysis

King Lear is a play about child – parent relationships, nature, Christianity and enlightenment. King Lear initiates with a King dividing up his land and bestowing it upon his three daughters.

After being betrayed by his youngest born Cordelia, Lear banishes her and starts his struggle with madness. King Lear is a tragic play and ends with many characters dying after a bloody war. Shakespeare touched on many themes when creating his masterpiece and all of these can be voiced through Edmund which makes him an integral character to the play. Edmund is the illegitimate son of the Duke of Gloucester.

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He is one of the first characters mentioned in the play, and throughout the play he seems to be the personification of evil. The mendacious bastard betrays his brother and father before dying with little remorse. Shakespeare used a variety of literary techniques to convey his message about Edmund and used the villain as a pawn in the story about Good vs. Evil.

Edmund is a godless character; he embraces the concept of humanism and refuses to answer to any divine being when he stresses “thou nature art my goddess” he instantly dismisses the notion of an abrahamic God.To be an atheist was still seen as “satanic” so for Shakespeare to present Edmund as faithless, it reasserts this notion of malevolence. Edmunds denial of God means he ostracises himself from society, this disintegration tells us a lot about Edmund’s persona, he likes being outside the social circle and looking in meaning Edmund has a prime viewpoint on the problems with society. The idea of a villainous character was very prominent in Shakespeare’s plays, therefore Edmund is simply satisfying a theatrical need and is no anomaly.

Iargo and Lady Macbeth are two good examples of how Shakespeare has created a vicious character in his tragic works. Edmund bares resemblance to these figures as all three use intelligence to manipulate parties into exercising their requests (for example in Act 3. Scene 5 when he betrays Gloucester and persuades Cornwall to arrest his father). By looking at these two characters it shows the foundations of Edmund.

He is built upon other characters designed by Shakespeare, which is very interesting as it means the audience notice Edmund’s evil behaviour more because his role has already been established in other plays.A common literary technique Shakespeare uses when presenting a character was using their role to alter the audience’s perception of the character. The role of the character can tell the audience a lot about their attitudes and intentions. Edmund represents an outcast and unlike Lear or Gloucester Edmund refuses to pander to the needs of society, he has been raised as an outcast (as he is illegitimate) and because of this Edmund goes against the customs of his environment (through his manipulative and sly actions towards Edgar and Gloucester in Act 1 Scene 2 as well as Act 3 Scene 5).

This disregard for tradition can be inferred from when Edmund states “Now, gods, stand up for bastards! ” It’s interesting to note that Shakespeare doesn’t use a capital for God, suggesting that Edmund dismisses the importance of the transcendent being. Another role that Edmund embraces which further accentuates his vile character would be his unquenchable voracity. Edmunds chief aim in life is to be the best, he has a immeasurable appetite for power, this role played by Edmund not only makes him an outsider but makes him seem alien.This survival of the fittest ideal Edmund adopts makes him seen insensitive which further emphasises Shakespeare’s representation of pure evil (example).

Edmund does not only want land and power but also recognition. He has a tarnished status because of his illegitimacy; Edmund seeks to rectify this through any measure, even if it means “serial treachery”. To betray ones brother and father is menacing in a Christian society, and this act of self assertion typifies Edmund, he is an evil “bastard”. Edmund’s voracity is highlighted by R.

Moore’s essay on “Good and Evil Children in King Lear and Henry IV.Moore states that “Edmund, whose aspirations to legitimacy will stop at nothing, especially fratricide”. Shakespeare doesn’t have to use words to disgrace Edmund as his actions do this for him. By getting his father’s eyes gauged out and having his brother banished as well as killing Lear and Cordelia, Edmund is immediately thought to be a malicious man; a Machiavellian.

The main role however of the bastard Edmund is that he is the evil in the battle of Good vs. Evil. Throughout the play there is constant conflict between the two, and Edmund is the forerunner on the side of the reprehensible people.Instead of playing a hero, or a saviour, the roles Edmund is given (such as a Darwinist, Machiavellian, outsider, betrayer) further highlight Edmund’s evilness.

By making Edmund appear at obscure times Shakespeare makes him seem somewhat more evil. When a character is always appearing at times of agony and crisis the audience is bound to be wary about their intentions. When Britain and France go to war the man who commands the British army is Edmund, the vile man is first to massacre the French and capture their leaders.Edmund’s connotation with war will obviously have a profound effect on the audience as now he has an unbreakable connection with destruction.

Edmund is very rarely seen in groups of large people, he is a very secretive man and always has one on one conversations. This is very different from the tragic hero Lear, who is usually in a group exceeding three people or Edgar who like Lear is usually in a large group of people. By making Edmund only have very intimate talks it makes his actions seem very secretive.Instead of publicly denouncing his father’s supposed treachery he slyly hints at it to Cornwall.

By doing this Shakespeare makes Edmund’s scheming very suspicious, if Edmund was to call out to the masses about Edgar’s plot then it would seem more plausible (as it seems like an infallible argument). A good example of Edmund’s incapability to converse with more then one person would be Act 1 scene 2. Initially we see a dialogue between Edmund and Gloucester. There are only ever two people in this scene, and it further progresses so only Edmund and Edgar are talking.

This is a prime example of how Edmund is usually only talking to one person in a secretive manner. This secrecy simply emphasises his slyness and deceptiveness. The fact that he never appears publicly also brings his sociability into question. It’s obvious that Edmund is disgusted by his company therefore is rarely seen with them.

Edmund’s language in King Lear is very unique, unlike his counterparts he refrains from long speeches about inconsequential subjects, instead he uses very sharp poignant language. Edmund’s speech similar to any nobility in the play is very formal.Similar to the speech of Goneril and Regan when they eulogised their father at the beginning of the play, Edmund through his dialogue shows much respect. When answering his father he always attaches “my lord” this could be interpreted as sarcastic.

He in no way respects his father but despises him, therefore by adding the lord he lulls him into a false sense of security and it also adds comical effect. Edmund continues to show the utmost respect and shock in light of his brother’s supposed treachery” I hope his heart is not/in the contents. This politeness and fai??ade of naivety is very frustrating to the audience as we all know he was the conspirator behind his brother’s demise. Edmund’s speech is also littered with negativities.

By using “plague” it shifts the mood towards a more sadistic impetus. This was used to criticise his society which is done very effectively through his vocabulary, by doing it in a more formal manner it adds comical and a hypocritical idea. Edmund is dismissing his society by using its own tongue, by being so formal he is abiding to societies customs while insulting it. This makes Edmund seem less sadistic and more pompous.

Edmund’s language continues to be critical when he talks about an “excellent foppery of the world”. This is a very damning comment and again hypocritical as he seems to notice the faults of everyone around him but not himself. Also by using the word “foppery” it emphasises discontent, this negativity seems to be echoed throughout Edmunds speech which suggest earnestness in his distaste of society. Edmund perceives himself as a deity in a crumbling Britain, this is reiterated when he is talking about his conception, even before he was brought into the world he was better than the mundane birth of his peers.

By being born because of the “lusty stealth of nature” it suggests that his conception was somehow better then that of his brother’s. This arrogance continues to be mimicked in his later soliloquies. Something though that adds to Edmund’s presentation of evil is the way he uses light to manipulate events. By describing things as dark and using “moonlight” it just adds suspicion to his character; he seems to be a man who acts in the darkness which doesn’t improve his image.

The structure and rhythm of Shakespeare’s lines is very important to the presentation of the character because it is indicative of his attitude, social class and sincerity. When a character speaks in verse it suggests that he is being comical or affectionate. For example in Romeo and Juliet the character Friar Lawrence speaks in verse when mimicking the lovers. By doing this Friar Lawrence is imitating the speech that two lovers would use either to show companionship or possible to mock them.

He does this in Romeo and Juliet by using rhyming couplets and speaking in verse.When a Shakespearian character speaks in pros it has the opposite effect to verse. Serious, unaffectionate, formal are the terms usually connoted with prose, this style of structure is adopted to Edmund. Instead of romanticising his speech, Shakespeare has deliberately made it mundane and formal, this is to emphasise the lack of kindness in Edmund.

An example of Edmund speaking in prose “It is his hand”, Edmund has just suggested that his brother in plotting against his father yet he speaks with absolutely no emotion.Iambic pentameter is prevalent in Edmund’s speech such as “were his; but, in respect of that, I would fain” Shakespeare has used only 10 syllables in this line. This could be interpreted as Edmund not deviating from the rules, which in some ways is ironic as he is in fact viciously going against custom. However one could interpret it as he is simply following his own rules.

Later in the play however Edmund starts deviating from his initial 10 syllable per line rule. Shakespeare uses this hypersyballic effect perhaps to emphasise the deterioration of Edmund.After being a strong character who showed no signs of irregularity, Edmund is soon shown to be more regretful. When discussing the harm he caused to Regan and Goneril he fluctuates between nine, ten and eleven syllables per line.

This constant switch suggests that Edmund is scathed by his heinous actions and show some sign of redemption in Edmund, this deters from our original perception of the mendacious menace, You could argue however that Edmund is not wholly evil, Shakespeare at the end represents him in a more positive manner when he tries to redeem himself by assisting Cordelia and Lear.Also he recognises his folly when he hears of Goneril and Regan’s death. Although his greed throughout the play is seen as his idiocy some could argue it is in fact a sign of his greatness. Edmund appears when Britain has just lost its leader, and when power has been bestowed two foolish sisters.

Edmund being his patriotic self sees it as his duty to restore power to an honourable man, he realises that King Lear as become delirious and his father is also too old.So Edmund takes it upon his shoulders to install himself as ruler of Britain in order to guide them through a time of turmoil. Can we really question Edmund’s loyalties when all he is trying to do is save the country he loves? One could also argue that Edmund wants to reform the decadent Britain. Edmund is an outcast from the privileged gentry due to his bastard status and because of this he knows the hardship the common man endures.

After experiencing this himself Edmund wants to assume leadership in order to drive Britain away from social divide.Although throughout the play the audience simply perceives Edmund as a malicious menace we must look at his vindication. Edmund is simply trying to restore Britain’s power even if it comes at the cost of his family and Goneril and Regan. Also if we look at the background of Edmund it’s no surprise he turned out to be such an individualist, the neglect of his father and the condescending manner of society meant Edmund had to go it alone.

Instead of criticising Edmund really the audience should be criticising the society that forced in into a life of intolerance, greed and isolation.Despite apparent vindication for Edmund’s actions I feel Shakespeare’s overall presentation of Edmund is one of a malevolent Machiavellian. He possesses no traits of the angelic Cordelia, however is more like her vicious sisters Regan and Goneril. It was Shakespearian custom to have a out and out villain and Edmund adopts this role flawlessly.

By using an array of literary techniques ranging from language to role Shakespeare has created a monster, someone who has no qualms with the murder or betrayal.Edmund is not someone who commits evil acts however manipulates others to do his dirty work. By doing this Shakespeare has made Edmund even more hated, he has not battled for power however stolen it through deceptiveness and deceit. Edmund was a Darwinist who loved a challenge and had a voracious attitude to life.

Like A. Wilkinson said in his essay which explored Saints and Sinners in King Lear, Edmund “possesses a deep and black nature which is opposed to all things of beauty and light”. Edmund is the personification of evil in King Lear and is a hero of darkness.

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How does Shakespeare present Edmund in King Lear? Analysis. (2017, Aug 08). Retrieved from