The Sub-plot Involving Edmund, Gloucester And Edgar Adds Little To The Tragedy

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A tragedy can be defined as a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character. In ‘King Lear’, the main plot involving Lear and his daughters highlight that Lear is a tragic hero and that the merciless persecution that Goneril and Regan have subject him to led to his downfall. The sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar mirrors exactly the tragedy that is associated with the main plot as both fathers are deceived by the lies of their disloyal children and as a result, expel their honest and loyal children from their lives.

I strongly argue that in ‘King Lear’, the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar echoes the tragedy in the main plot. This is due to Edmund’s villainous nature which is shown in the extract and it mirrors the callous and cold-hearted actions of Goneril and Regan in the main plot as they brutally deceive Lear into giving them a share of the Kingdom. Edmund’s scheming nature is emphasized as the extract commences with him alone on the stage. This soliloquy form highlights that Edmund is plotting and allows the audience to gain an insight into his thoughts and feelings. An exclamatory tone is fostered in the comparative and superlative form ‘the Duke be here to-night! The better! The best!’ as Edmund realises that he can use Cornwall to assist in his scheme in banishing Edgar and the plosive sounds reinforce the happiness and excitement that Edmund feels about this news. Moreover, his use of personification ‘Briefness and Fortune, work!’ emphasises Edmund’s direct appeal for success and for things to work in his favour as he foreshadows that he will victoriously banish Edgar and dupe Gloucester into passing his Kingdom onto himself. I believe that the sub-plot therefore intensifies the tragedy as Edmund’s plotting to destroy Edgar and Gloucester mirrors Goneril and Regan’s scheming as they deceive Lear into relinquishing his power and giving them an equal share of the kingdom. Furthermore, Edmund’s use of irony in the term ‘brother’ cultivates a foreboding atmosphere as a brother usually signifies close bonds and a loving relationship, yet the audience is aware of Edmund’s intent to destroy his brother for his own benefit. Edmund’s endearing façade suggests that he is under the pretence of concern as he appears worried for Edgar’s safety, yet in reality, it highlights his plotting and dishonest nature.

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In both plots, the victim of the malevolent children seems to be the child who is truly faithful to their father. Edgar is completely victimised by his brother due to his jealousy and contempt for being an illegitimate child, just as Cordelia is victimised due to the lies and hyperbolic expression of her sisters in the ‘Love Test’. Edgar’s promise ‘I’m sure on’t, not a word’ epitomises that this sub-plot adds greatly to the tragedy as it is Edgar’s only line in this scene. This one-sided conversation creates pathos for Edgar as it is symbolic of the superior powers that Edmund manipulates and his greater psychological supremacy as he has seized entire control and Edgar submits to his demands. Moreover, Edmund’s assertive nature is reiterated in the present tense ‘I hear my father coming…’ as he is intentionally bombarding Edgar with the urgent need to depart. The imperative ‘fly, brother’ and the repetition of ‘Torches!’ highlights that Edmund feigns genuine concern for the safety of his brother as he underscores that it is imperative that he leaves. Thus, I believe that Edmund’s treatment of Edgar adds to the tragedy as he works under the pretence that he wants to help Edgar to flee and escape the wrath of the angered Gloucester, who is fully invested in the deceit of Edmund.

Correspondingly, I believe that the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar adds copiously to the tragedy as Edmund stages a fight in order to portray Edgar as a merciless villain. This is imbued in the stage directions that Edmund ‘wounds his arm’ and creates ‘some blood’ to highlight the extent in which he is prepared to go in order to harm his brother and how driven he is to receive what he believes is rightfully his. The vindictive and evil nature of Edmund is therefore emphasised as the depths of his jealousy for Edgar being the legitimate child and rightfully being in line to the Kingdom is exposed. Edmund has frightened Edgar to such an extent that he has fled, as he is warned that Gloucester will have him killed. Edmund depicts himself as a victim as he uses the adjectives that Edgar has a ‘prepared sword’ which suggests that this attack was premeditated. The antithesis between the ‘prepared sword’ and Edmund’s ‘unprovided body’ emphasises how carefully and cleverly Edmund is presenting this story and highlights his supposed vulnerability. Consequently, I argue that the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar strengthens the tragedy as Shakespeare highlights that communication between family is necessary. Both Lear and Gloucester retain the love and loyalty of their wronged children, and as a result, those who are the most loyal are the ones who must suffer.

Similarly, the subplot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar deepens the tragedy as both Lear and Gloucester have been deceived by the lies of their treacherous children and are morally blind to the suffering of their honest child. For instance, in the extract, Gloucester’s repetition of naming Edgar a ‘villain’ invokes sympathy for Edgar as Gloucester has detached any endearment for his son and his attitudes towards him have drastically changed due to the deceptive and brutal nature of Edmund. Therefore, Edmund has become successful in his moral assassination of Edgar as he has caused Gloucester to accept his version of events without needing to question Edgar. In my opinion, this intensifies the tragedy as Gloucester’s desertion of Edgar is highly similar to Lear’s abandonment of Cordelia as Lear uses the derogatory adjective that she is a ‘wrench’ to capture his despair at his daughter. Edmund’s repetition of ‘father!’ and ‘help!’ creates an exclamatory tone as the staged fight between him and his brother creates the façade that Edgar has physically abused him. Edmund puts on this performance order to further deceive Gloucester into believing that Edgar has the power to kill him, as he had the capability to cause significant wounds to Edmund. The sibilant sounds that Edgar stood with his ‘sharp sword out’ are used to emphasise Edmund’s wicked nature as he blatantly lies to Gloucester about the extent of Edgar’s violence and hatred towards him. Thus, Shakespeare highlights the power of words as Gloucester has not witnessed any of the actions that have been carried out by Edgar, yet Edmund has the ability to control Gloucester’s perspective and cause him to believe Edmund’s version of events. This reinforces that King Lear is a tragedy and that the sub-plot emphasises this, as similar to Gloucester, Lear has been deceived by the lies of his treacherous children and is morally blind to his honest child. Shakespeare’s tragedies usually include external influences that affect the character’s behaviour and destiny. In ‘King Lear’, these influences are Lear’s daughters, but also the forces of fate or fortune. Unlike Aristotelian tragedy, Shakespeare’s plays do not observe the three unities; a single location, a single day and a single subject. ‘King Lear’ ranges over a number of locations, over several weeks and also has the sub-plot of Gloucester, Edmund and Edgar. Therefore, this subplot does add to the tragedy as the double plot defines ‘Shakespearean tragedy’ and helps make the feelings of Lear more apparent. Furthermore, Edmund’s plotting to destroy both Edgar and Gloucester is reminiscent of Regan and Goneril scheming their father, therefore both plots highlight that the greedy children brutally trick their elderly and vulnerable fathers into giving them a share of the Kingdom. The harsh adjectives when Gloucester names Edgar a ‘murderous coward’ emphasises that his mind has been made up and that Edmund has swayed his father into believing his version of events. The speed in which Gloucester comes to this decision mirrors the rash decision made by Lear at the beginning of the play as he abandons Cordelia and no longer regards her as his child, highlighted in the imperative for her to ‘get out of my sight!’.

In the wider play, the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar also adds significantly to the tragedy as Edmund’s actions at the start of the play has forced Edgar to disguise as a beggar. This mimics the main plot where Lear banished his loyal servant Kent due to him standing up for Cordelia and trying to get Lear to rethink his decisions. Due to this, Kent decided to disguise himself as Caius in order to remain present in Lear’s life and allow him to continue to serve him. Firstly, the personal pronoun ‘I heard myself proclaimed’ underscores that Edgar is aware that he is danger of being murdered by his father, so he needs to conceal himself in order to stay alive. Edgar has nowhere to hide and this is emphasised in the repetition ‘no port is free, no place’ which evokes sympathy for Edgar as he is a wanted man who is in grave danger. This is a complete parallel to the main plot and therefore adds to the tragedy as when Kent is banished, his commitment to Lear is highlighted as he ensures he has ‘other accents to borrow’ to show that he is the personification of loyalty. Furthermore, the superlative form that Edgar wants to seem ‘basest’ and ‘most poorest shape’ highlights the extreme in which he is willing to go in order to disguise himself and to transform completely into a beggar. Ironically, the superlative ‘basest’ echoes Edmund at the beginning of the play and how he was furious that this is how he is perceived. Edgar is willingly taking on this role as it is necessary to preserve his life after the pain and sufferance that Edmund has subject him to. Similarly, the triad and use of costume ‘My face I’ll grime with filth, blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots’ further cultivates the link between the two plots and adds to the tragedy as it highlights the extreme measures that the innocent Edgar must endure in order to survive, and re-emphasizes the risk that Kent is taking by continuing to serve Lear.

Additionally, the motif of ‘nothing’ links both plots and heightens the tragedy as Lear’s use of ‘nothing’ highlights that his connection and close relationship with Cordelia is no more. Likewise, Edmund’s use of ‘nothing’ whilst ‘earnestly’ hiding the letter that he wrote, pretending to be from Edgar, parallels the two plots as both Lear and Gloucester both lack sound judgement at the start of the play. This is because they both emerge as morally blind to their loyal children as Lear rejects Cordelia, and Gloucester dismisses Edgar, yet they both cleave to their false and amoral children. Additionally, I strongly believe that in the wider play, the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar does add to the tragedy as both Gloucester and Lear speak in imperatives in order to emerge as dictatorial in a time where they are losing all power. In the opening of the play, Lear employs the use of emphatic imperatives ‘speak!’ and ‘avoid my sight!’ which captures Lear’s desperate attempt to get Cordelia to flatter him as his ‘preferred’ daughter has let him down. Similarly, when Gloucester finds the letter from Edgar, he uses the imperatives ‘lets see, come’ and ‘give me the letter’ to highlight Gloucester’s assertive nature and his utter shock at the betrayal of his son. Therefore, I believe that the sub-plot intensifies the tragedy in ‘King Lear’ as both Lear and Gloucester are presented as misguided fathers and Gloucester is used to allow the audience to have a better understanding of Lear as their tragic fate parallels each other.

However, it can be viewed that the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar adds little to the tragedy as it could be viewed as complicated and distracting from the main plot. Edmund’s soliloquy when complaining about being an illegitimate son does not mirror any situation in the main plot and therefore cannot add to the tragedy. During this time, illegitimate children were not entitled to the inheritance of their parents, and despite it being no fault of Edmund’s, this was reality during this era. Edmund uses the triad that he feels ‘dull, stale and tired’ due to being an illegitimate child and an exclamatory tone is evoked in the imperative that we need to ‘stand up for bastards!’ to emphasize his desire to become more powerful and become more than just ‘Edmund the base.’ However, the main plot of Goneril and Regan’s betrayal of Lear epitomises a tragedy as it reveals Lear’s peripeteia and lead to his own downfall and corruption. Thus, it can be viewed that the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar adds little to the tragedy as Shakespeare highlights that Lear is the tragic hero and that his suffering is the main focus of the play. Some may believe that Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero, ‘a literary character who makes a judgement error that leads to their own destruction’ can only be applied to Lear, as Edgar and Gloucester were deceived by Edmund and therefore did not make this error themselves. Therefore, this sub-plot can only be seen to add little to the tragedy as the biggest tragedy in ‘King Lear’ is Lear’s banishment of Cordelia and his hamartia which inevitably lead to him alone and with ‘nothing’.

Furthermore, the use of sight imagery throughout the play similarly links both plots and highlights that the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar adds to the tragedy. In Lear’s case, it is evident to me that he is morally short-sighted as Shakespeare presents him as blind to the fact that Cordelia is the honest daughter, whilst Goneril and Regan are completely evil. This is cultivated as he orders Cordelia ‘out of his sight’, yet Kent uses the imperative ‘see better Lear’ to forewarn him that his vision is blurred, and he is making the incorrect decision. In line with this, Gloucester cannot see that Edmund has deceived him into believing that Edgar wants him dead and is blind to Edmund’s actions which is evident in the negative sentence that he will ‘not need spectacles’ to read the letter. Later in the play, dramatic irony is created as Edgar, who is disguised as Tom, and Gloucester are on stage together. The past tense ‘I hath loved him’ and the personification that ‘the grief hath crazed my wits’ highlights the sorrow that the loss of his son has caused Gloucester and for the first time, Edgar is hearing Gloucester’s version of events. Thus, Shakespeare continues to use the sight motif as Gloucester is oblivious that ‘Poor Tom’ is in fact his son. As a result of this, I argue that the sub-plot involving Edmund, Gloucester and Edgar emphasises the tragedy as later in the play, Gloucester’s eyeballs are plucked out which makes his literal blindness symbolic of his inability to see the good in Edgar and the bad in Edmund.

In conclusion, I believe it to be completely evident that the sub-plot adds greatly to the tragedy in ‘King Lear’ as this structure adds great richness to the play to allow the audience to compare the relationships in both families. Lear and Gloucester are complete parallels of each other as they are both vulnerable and elderly men who have been victimized by their children due to their greed and materialism. Edgar and Cordelia also mimic each other as Shakespeare characterises them as the children with authentic filial love, yet are made outcast due to their fathers blindly trusting their treacherous and amoral siblings. Finally, Regan and Goneril have the same self-centered attitude to that of Edmund as they are all willing to go against their family in order to succeed financially and become heir to the throne.


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