Another significant relevancy of the play to the human nature is the subplot of Edmund’s betrayal of his father and brother. His betrayal of his father and his plans about his brother bring to light just how evil his character is; however, at the beginning of the play we see that he is not ultimately driven by his ambition for power or wealth, but instead his principal goal is to be respected and accepted by society as he says “Now gods, stand up for bastards” (1.2.22) because he is even mocked and insulted by his father for being illegitimate and is deprived of his father’s love. At the close of the play, his weakness is recognized no matter how evil he is. Wounded in combat by his brother, Edgar and about to die, he whispers “Yet Edmund was beloved” (5.3.238).
Apart from Edmund’s character and the depiction of Lear at the beginning of the play, what humans need is reflected in Act 2 Scene 4 when Lear answers Regan’s question asking why he needs his knights: “O, reason not the need;” and he continues “Our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous: Allow not nature more than nature needs, Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s” (2.4-259-262). Within these lines, it is clear that the knights symbolize more than authority. What is important to human nature is and what is the difference between humans and animals are clarified. Human nature needs much more than fundamental necessities, so this is what makes humans different from animals. He needs them not because of their service but because of his identity.
Throughout the course of the play, we see that Lear is the one who suffers a lot and his suffering brings about his madness. Turned away and betrayed by his ruthless daughters, as a father, Lear is obsessed with their “filial ingratitude” (3.4.15). The cruelty of his treacherous daughters and his sanity result in his personal transformation in sensitivity to other people. Kneeling, he does not pray for himself, but he wants help for “poor, naked wretches, whereso’er you are/ That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm” (3.4.29-30). We see that he becomes humanistic and sympathetic when he puts himself into poor people’s shoes: “expose thyself to feel what they feel” (3.4.35). As a result of this transformation, he now sees and understands everything clearly as he says about his two daughters: “They flattered me like a dıg … To say “aye” and “no” to everything I said!”(4.6.95-98). When he finally meets Cordelia, he admits that “he is a very foolish old man” (4.7.76). It seems that even if you are a king, it is in human’s nature to make mistakes.
In a nutshell, in King Lear, we see that Shakespeare has developed the characters so meticulously that they are like mirrors reflecting the realities relevant to human nature and transformation. Cordelia, who has never lost her innocence throughout the play as she forgives her father even if he disowns her, symbolizes the good sides of humankind. Edmund who desperately needs to be recognized by society proves the utter evil in his character. King Lear, who makes mistakes in the beginning, but then learns from his mistakes, has gone through a personal transformation.
Shakespeare, William, King Lear. Ed. R.A Foakes. Croatia: The Arden Shakespeare, 2005. Reprinted