Compare and Contrast the presentation on Edmund and Edgar in Sheakespeare's King Lear

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Compare and Contrast Shakespeare’s Presentation of Edmund and Edgar

Throughout King Lear, Shakespeare uses language to create insight into a character and to portray their emotions. It is clear that Shakespeare’s use of language forms a striking contrast between characters. Shakespeare begins King Lear with a subplot, involving Gloucester and his illegitimate son Edmund. Gloucester is having a conversation with Kent (one of Lear’s advisors) concerning Gloucester’s affair with Edmunds mother. Gloucester consistently compares Edmund to Edgar, his elder son, and appears to feel very disconnected to Edmund. This is revealed in the first scene when Gloucester speaks of Edmund as his mother’s son, while he claims Edgar as his own. Edmund are Edgar are conflicting characters. Despite Edmund’s malicious nature he is incredibly charismatic on stage, which creates a distinct contrast to his brother Edgar’s bland goodness. This essay will explore how Shakespeare uses language and a variety of techniques he uses to present this contrast.

One similarity that could be drawn between the two characters Edmund and Edgar is the respectful language they use when they speak to their father Gloucester. Edmund, at the start of the play addresses his father with titles such as “ my lord”, “your lordship.” and “Sir”. These expressions show Edmund disguising his true nature in his father’s presence. Likewise, Edgar is very respectful when talking to his father.  He uses phrases such as ‘aye master’ to demonstrate his loyalty near the end of the play. When Gloucester is blinded, he gently protects and guides Gloucester to safety while the battle is in play, saying “bless thy sweet eyes, they bleed” and “give me thy arm poor Tom shall lead thee”. Unlike Edmund, Edgar is genuine. The language used here is also very affectionate and may evoke admiration for Edgar, from the audience because of the unconditional love he shows Gloucester. Shakespeare also creates an atmosphere that may result in the audience feeling sympathy towards Gloucester because the roles of father and son have been reversed and Gloucester is now having to be looked after by his own son, as he is now so weak. These reversed roles connect with Shakespeare’s presentation of the theme of nature; the natural order has been disturbed. This disturbance in the sub-plot is mirrored in the main plot as the war between France and England is in play.

Shakespeare writes a soliloquy for both Edmund and Edgar within the duration of the first two acts, the contrast between the siblings is established through these soliloquies. The soliloquies reveal significant information about each character. Both speeches are very passionate and both Edmund and Edgar are talking about adopting a new ‘shape’, a new persona. This is shown especially at the end of the two soliloquies; they each end by saying that they are going to change their position in the social order. Edmund is seen as the ‘illegitimate’ son of Gloucester who is ‘some twelve or fourteen moonshines’ younger than Edgar, and therefore less respected. Given that that Edmund is the younger of the two he will not receive any of his father’s inheritance. The theme of inheritance is continued from the previous scene, when Lear is discussing which of his daughters will inherit his kingdom. Edmund is a skilled manipulator and he intends to ‘top the legitimate’ through treachery and betrayal so that he will become the heir of Gloucester.

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Shakespeare uses Edmund to present the theme of nature to the audience. Edmund talks about ‘nature’ at the beginning of his soliloquy, which has various connotations during the play. Continuously, the word ‘nature’ is a reminder of the natural affection between parent and children. It is clear that Edmund discards these natural ties and associating himself with the ‘lusty stealth of nature’ such as wild animals and beasts. Shakespeare may have chosen to use the word ‘lusty’ because it relates to his parents affair, highlighting that he was not born out of wedlock.   This may appeal to Edmund ...

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