Analysis of King Lear

King Lear, by William Shakespeare, is a tragic tale of filial
conflict, personal transformation, and loss. The story revolves
around the King who foolishly alienates his only truly devoted
daughter and realizes too late the true nature of his other two
daughters. A major subplot involves the illegitimate son of

Gloucester, Edmund, who plans to discredit his brother Edgar and
betray his father. With these and other major characters in the
play, Shakespeare clearly asserts that human nature is either
entirely good, or entirely evil. Some characters experience a
transformative phase, where by some trial or ordeal their nature
is profoundly changed. We shall examine Shakespeare\'s stand on
human nature in King Lear by looking at specific characters in
the play: Cordelia who is wholly good, Edmund who is wholly
evil, and Lear whose nature is transformed by the realization of
his folly and his descent into madness.

The play begins with Lear, an old king ready for retirement,
preparing to divide the kingdom among his three daughters. Lear
has his daughters compete for their inheritance by judging who
can proclaim their love for him in the grandest possible
fashion. Cordelia finds that she is unable to show her love
with mere words:

"Cordelia. [Aside] What shall Cordelia speak? Love,
and be silent."

Act I, scene i, lines 63-64.

Cordelia\'s nature is such that she is unable to engage in even
so forgivable a deception as to satisfy an old king\'s vanity and
pride, as we see again in the following quotation:

"Cordelia. [Aside] Then poor cordelia!

And not so, since I am sure my love\'s

More ponderous than my tongue."

Act I, Scene i, lines 78-80.

Cordelia clearly loves her father, and yet realizes that her
honesty will not please him. Her nature is too good to allow
even the slightest deviation from her morals. An impressive
speech similar to her sisters\' would have prevented much
tragedy, but Shakespeare has crafted Cordelia such that she
could never consider such an act. Later in the play Cordelia,
now banished for her honesty, still loves her father and
displays great compassion and grief for him as we see in the

"Cordelia. O my dear father, restoration hang

Thy medicine on my lips, and let this kiss

Repair those violent harms that my two sisters

Have in reverence made."

Act IV, Scene vii, lines 26-29.

Cordelia could be expected to display bitterness or even
satisfaction at her father\'s plight, which was his own doing.

However, she still loves him, and does not fault him for the
injustice he did her. Clearly, Shakespeare has crafted Cordelia
as a character whose nature is entirely good, unblemished by any
trace of evil throughout the entire play.

As an example of one of the wholly evil characters in the play,
we shall turn to the subplot of Edmund\'s betrayal of his father
and brother. Edmund has devised a scheme to discredit his
brother Edgar in the eyes of their father Gloucester. Edmund is
fully aware of his evil nature, and revels in it as seen in the
following quotation:

"Edmund. This is the excellent foppery of the world,
that when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeits
of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters
the sun, the moon, and stars; as if we were
villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion;
knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical
predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by
an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and
all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on.
... I should have been that I
am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled
on my bastardizing."

Act I, scene ii, lines 127-137, 143-145.

Clearly, Edmund recognizes his own evil nature and decides to
use it to his advantage. He mocks the notion of any kind of
supernatural or divine influence over one\'s destiny. Edgar must
go into hiding because of Edmund\'s deception, and later Edmund
betrays Gloucester himself, naming him a traitor which results
in Gloucester\'s eyes being put out. Edmund feels not the
slightest remorse for any of his actions. Later on, after the
invading French army has been repelled, Lear and Cordelia have
been taken captive and Edmund gives these chilling words to his

"Edmund. Come hither captain; hark.

Take thou this note: go follow them to prison;

One step I have advanced thee; if thou dost

As this instructs thee, thou dost make thy way

To noble fortunes: know thou this, that men

Are as the time is: to be tender-minded

Does not become a sword: thy great employment

Will not bear question; either say thou\'lt do\'t,

Or thrive by other means."

Act V, scene iii, lines 27-34.

Edmund has just