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Truth Disguised by Words
Throughout history people have used disguises to deceive others to hide their true identity. Hiding ones true identity is a predominant theme throughout King Lear for characters dress up to deceive their friends and family. Another use of disguise in this play is using words to hide ones true emotions and personality. Words have a strong importance to the characters in this play which leads to easy manipulation. Three characters use words that do not reflect their true feelings to deceive and manipulate their friends and family to do things that they would otherwise not do if their true intentions were know. These three characters are Goneril and Regan, the two eldest daughters of King Lear, and Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester. They lie, deceive, fabricate evidence, overpower and betray their father and the other people closest in their lives, including each other. All three of these characters have used their mastery of the English language to portray an intention different from their true feelings and emotions and succeed in fooling the other characters in the play to obey them.
Throughout King Lear cruelty and selfishness is an ongoing theme and sentiment which is mainly generated from Lear's two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. Though these two sisters are virtually one character during most of the play they do even turn on each other when need takes over their heart. Goneril and Regan begin the play by professing their deep undying love for their father. These speeches were necessary if they wish to aquire their deserved piece of land and power from their father. In these two speeches Goneril and Regan use such phrases as "A love that makes breath poor and speech unable"(I, i, 60) and "And find I am alone felicitate / In your dear highness' love." (I, i, 75-6) while the daughter with the truest love towards her father refuses to speak for she "cannot heave / My heart into my mouth."(I, i, 91-2). The love Cordelia could not express in words her sisters were able to so insincerely, for if their love was true love it would not be able to be expressed in just words because emotion would take over any meaning words had. This is the first time we see them speak in the play and their first words are insincere which is definitely a sign of the lack of respect they give to the meaning of words throughout the continuation of the play.
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In the play the illegitimate son of Gloucester, Edmund, played a key role of trickery and manipulation. Edmund begins the play as the unimportant, yet seemingly equal bastard son of Gloucester who has been away for many years. Edmund resents the fact that he is the bastard son and that he is treated lower than Edgar, the legitimate son, but manages to portray to the other characters that he is the humble, loving son that everyone expected him to be. His hatred and resentment for Edgar builds up to the point that Edmund's first monologue is of pure hate and envy. He proves that his intentions are far from honorable when he speaks his true intentions:
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate. Fine word, 'legitimate'!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow, I prosper:
Now gods, stand up for bastards!
(I, ii, 15-22)
This is the beginning of Edmund's despicable behavior. Here he tells the audience his plans but it does not become evident of how ruthless his intentions towards Edgar and his father are till later. This is the last word of truth that leaves Edmund's lips for the rest of the play. Edmund's game of lies and trickery begins in this second scene of the play. He begins by professing his undying loyalty to his father, beginning in a similar style as the sisters began, then proceeding, seemingly reluctantly, to tell him of his evil brother's selfish plot to kill his father. Edmund presents a letter that he forged himself to his father that asked Edmund to join him in this devilish plot against his father. Here Edmund lies to his father in an incomprehensible way, hurting his father with a son's lost love and destroying his brother's life all so that he could rise in power. Edmund then rises to the position of Edgar proceeding to lie to Edgar later in the act telling him to flee from his crazy father. Both his father and brother trust him as their faithful confidant while he is manipulating and destroying them both. Edmund's greed and his success in his lies have taken him over as he then betrays his father for Goneril and Regan with the promise of the title of Earl of Gloucester. He treats each person in this play as if they are the most important person in the world to him while the whole time he is manipulating them. Every word of love or loyalty that comes out of his mouth is a lie, for he seems to show no such feelings towards anyone but himself throughout the entire play. His humbleness in the beginning soon turns to a proud, overly confident attitude when he begins to spend his time with Goneril and Regan. He seems to show no real emotions for greed has taken them over, and he tries to disguise this by using words of love towards his father, Goneril and Regan. Once he betrays his father and allows him to be blinded because of false evidence that Edmund fabricated, he then moves on to betray Albany by making advances onto his wife. Edmund betrays Goneril with words of love and then goes and gives the same vows to Regan who he then makes his wife. These are his last lies and they cause the murder and suicide of the two royal sisters, who couldn't play at their own game. Edmund's lies and manipulations that he uses as his weapons in his quest for power prove to be more powerful than just words. These mere words cause the banishment of his brother, the blindness and eventual death of his father and the deaths of Goneril and Regan and in the end, his own death. Edmund caused a downfall of a kingdom in his quest to rule it with hate and dishonesty.
Edmund, Goneril and Regan destroyed their lives, their country and their families all by disguising their true intentions with false words that did not come close to expressing their true feelings. They used words to hide their hate and greed for love and loyalty while disturbing the natural order of power and family. They abused their power and the trust other characters put into them for they manipulated people to thing that they were different people than they really were. There was a strong sense of the importance of words and vows in this play, but the lesson it teaches you are not to take things a face value. Language originally came about so that people could communicate their feelings and emotions to each other, this is a privilege given to us and when it is abused, as it was in King Lear it can only lead to bad consequences. If eyes are the doorway to our soul then words are the key to understanding others and when we a dishonest we not only hurt those around us we also hurt ourselves.