Edgar's role in King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4
In Act 3, Scene 4, Edgar takes on the roles of a madman, and a spirit. In counterfeiting madness, he not only hides from an unjust death, but also serves as a character that resembles King Lear: (1) Both are deceived by family; (2) Both are outcasts of Gloucester's castle; (3) Both are threatened with death; and (4) Both enter into a form of madness. But, whereas King Lear actually becomes mad, Edgar only feigns madness. As Edgar takes the role of a "spirit" (3.4.39), he reveals: (1) Edmund's moral condition, by prescribing moral laws that he will break (3.4.80-83); and (2) that Gloucester will be blinded by Edmund (3.4.117). This essay will begin by examining how Edgar's role, as an outcast feigning madness, resembles the life and fate of King Lear, and then will show how his role as a spirit, reveals future events that will come to pass.
Edgar's role, as an outcast and madman, corresponds to King Lear in four ways: (1) they both are deceived by family. Edgar is deceived by his half brother, and King Lear is deceived by two of his daughters. Edgar babbles about how Edmund deceived him: "Who gives anything to Poor Tom? whom the foul fiend hath led through fire and through flame" (3.4.51-52), and reveals his plan "to kill [the] vermin" (3.4.51-52). And by calling Edmund a "foul fiend" who had "course[d] his own shadow for a traitor" (3.4.57-58), he parallels Edmund with a devil, which is trying to make him commit suicide by laying "knives under his pillow" (3.4.54). And because King Lear's madness begins to be revealed after realizing that he'd been fooled by his daughters (2.4.273-286), he asks Edgar if he became mad due to daughters too (3.4.49-50). (2) The...
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...hom] squinies the eye" (3.4.115-117). These lines suggests that Edmund, the foul fiend, will cause someone's eye to squint. And it's only a couple scenes later that Gloucester's eyes are blinded because of Edmund's report to Cornwall. Thus Edgar's lines in this scene are prophetic and further his role as a spirit.
This small essay only touches on some of the important lines that fulfill Edgar's roles as a spirit and an exiled madman in Act 3, Scene 4. His lines are hard to follow and are meaningless at times because he's pretending to be mad. It's not until the play is over that Edgar's wisdom and insight can be understood in this scene. As a madman, his role foreshadows King Lear's fate, and as a spirit, he is able to predict Edmund's moral condition. By counterfeiting madness, Edgar's wisdom and insight are shown, and Edmund's corruption is exposed.
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