Cruelty In Shakespeare's King Lear

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Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ is an extraordinary play; however, it is also deeply disturbing. Through the selfish, corrupt, Machiavellian characters of Goneril, Regan, Edmund and Cornwall, we are offered an unnerving and shocking insight into human nature. The fact that these characters prosper, Edmund especially, throughout the play due to their corruption. The play overall all offers a balanced view of human nature. Each act of malice and cruelty there was an example of loyalty and virtue. Cordelia, Kent, the Fool and Edgar portray this. Offering us a comforting and reassuring view of human nature. Lear’s transformation from hubris to humility in the duration of the play is for me the most intriguing study of human nature in the play. This journey…show more content…
What is disconcerting about his character is it shows how power can be abused. His hubris leads him to devise the ‘love test’. Speaking with all the solemn gravity of an absolute monarch, he informs the attending courtiers that he has “divided in three our kingdom, and tis our fast intent to shake all cares and business from our age”. He intends to divide the kingdom so that “future strife may be prevented now”. This is disturbing as by dividing the kingdom, Lear is guaranteeing future conflict between his daughters. He foolishly believes he can abdicate and simultaneously “retain the name and all of the addition to a king”. Lear’s pride blinds him to the reality of his situation. He is warned by the loyal Kent of the consequences of his decision. Kent asks, “What wouldst thou do, old man? Thinkst thou that duty shall have dread to speak when power to flattery bows?” Lear is incapable of taking advice that contradicts his own analysis, and lashes out at Kent warning him to “come not between the dragon and his wrath”, before banishing him. Cordelia refuses to participate in the Love Test because she cannot “heave my heart into my mouth”, Lear banishes her calling her “thou my sometime daughter”. His behaviour is disturbing and offers an interesting perspective on the abuse of power, which is relevant to our…show more content…
Edmund is the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, and his father is disparaging remarks about his mother – “There was good sport at his making”- elicits the sympathy of the audience. However, this sympathy evaporates when Edmunds true character is revealed in soliloquy in Act I. He is unwilling to have his life defined by “the plague of custom”. As the play goes on his Machiavellian cruelty becomes more and more unsettling. His disdain for his father – “an admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star”-and his clever isolation of his brother illustrate his duplicity. Later in Act V, Edmund has embarked on a relationship with both Goneril and Regan and is determined to manipulate them in order to claim the crown as his own. This is deeply troubling as it illustrates how love can be manipulated and taken advantage by unprincipled schemers. His betrayal of Gloucester in Act III is one of the most disturbing insights into human nature in the play. Gloucester confides in Edmund “If I die for it, as no less is threatened me, the King Master must be relieved”. Edmund is contemptuous and seizes the opportunity to betray the old man. In the same scene, he clearly states his intention to inform Cornwall of Gloucester’s betrayal, in order to advance his own position. “The courtesy forbid thee, shall the duke instantly know… the younger rise while the

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