In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Cordelia and Edgar are both characters that are undervalued and underappreciated by their parents, leading to their unconstituted banishments. Both offspring have similar unjust terms and non confrontational reactions to their exiles however they slightly differ in their extremities to the situations presented and their symbolic commentaries on human nature in the play’s conclusion.
To begin, both Cordelia and Edgar are unfairly banished by their parents due to their figureheads blindness along with their dishonest and corrupt siblings.
Cordelia, for example, is promptly banished after not expressing her love for her father in an acceptable way. When her and her sisters are asked for a profession of their love to Lear, Goneril and Reagan both give lavish, affectionate speeches to their father, stating that they love him more than their own eyesight, ringing false from the start. However, when Cordelia is asked, she responds with the simpleton answer, Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty / According to my bond; no more nor less.” (1.1 90-2). Lear feels humiliated and outraged by Cordelia’s unflattering response and immediately banishes her for not expressing her love in the ego-stroking way her sisters had;
For we have no such daughter, and will never see the face of her again (). Here, Lear is morally blind to his two other daughters artificial and fanatical approbation, refusing to see their underlying, corrupt motives. Cordelia simply refuses to flatter her father in the excessive way her sisters had, causing Lear to turn a blind shoulder to the daughter that actually loves him, and instead reward those who clearly only use him for his wealth and power. Edgar also is subject to unjust treatment from his family. Although Edgar has done nothing to constitute suspicion in the past, when framed by his bastard brother Edmund, Gloucester, their father, immediately believes a forged letter stating that Edgar was planning on killing him.
This leads Gloucester to promptly try and hunt his son down after he runs away due to Edmunds deceitful tactics; Pursue him ho! Go after. (2.1.266). Here, Gloucester fails to dwell into the issue deeper and examine the actual circumstances, with him instead blindly follow his first, insufficient piece of evidence. Gloucester’s blindness to good and evil coupled with Edmunds sibling betrayal mirrors Cordelia’s terms of banishment. Thus, both characters are subject to unjust treatment from their families, resulting in their similar means of banishment.
To continue, both Cordelia and Edgar go about their banishment with humble, yet varied actions. Cordelia, for example, after refusing to play Lears game of flattery, is ordered away by her father, leaving gracefully; Thou hast her, France: let her be thine; for we have no such daughter, nor shall ever see that face of hers again// Use well our father: to your professed bosoms I commit him. But yet, alas, stood I within his grace, I would prefer him to a better place.
So, farewell to you both (1.1.322). Here, Cordelia reacts to her unfavorable circumstances with her head held high. She walks away humbly, even showing a last minute appreciation to her banisher before walking out unconfrontationaly. Edgar also reacts to his exile in a humble way, but much more intensely than Cordelia. After being banished and hunt down by his father, Edgar disguises himself as a poverty stricken beggar named Poor Tom. He vows to, grime with filth (my face), blanket my loins, elf all my hair in knots, and with presented nakedness outface (2.2.180-183). By taking on a beggars persona, Edgar sheds his nobility. He even goes as far to say that he is nothing; Edgar I nothing am (3.2.21). He completely strips his identity, literally and metaphorically, reducing himself to a state of nothing. Therefore, both Cordelia and Edgar take their banishments with different degrees of humility.
Although both characters have similar terms of banishment and reactions, Cordelia and Edgar differ in their overall commentary on human nature. After Goneril and Regan betray Lear, Cordelia reflects on her love for her father, saying, “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.” (5.2.26-29). After her treatment, Cordelia could choose to be bitter towards her father, however here she instead expresses sorrow and love towards him. This shows how Cordelia is a symbol of the goodness of human nature. Cordelia at the end of the novel also dies alongside her father, showing how goodness is not always rewarded, and that the universe is indifferent due to her being pure but dying regardless. On the other hand, Edgar represents the human will to live.
He is completely stripped of his title and nobility when he is degraded to Poor Tom, but later becomes the champion of the play by killing Edmund and becoming one of three throne holders alongside Albany and Kent; All friends shall taste the wages of their virtue, and all foes the cup of their deservings (5.3.366-368). Here, Edgar rises up from his once completely dehumanized state to a position of great power. The man was defeated over and over again with his father banishing him, becoming Poor Tom, and having Gloucester fail to recognize him, however he rose out of his seemingly hopeless circumstances, showing the determination of survival in human nature.
Both Cordilia and Edgars commentary is still applicable today due to Cordelia’s consistent goodness from the beginning to end of the play and her ultimate defeat along with Edgars growth as a character both in personality and power. Thus, Cordelia represents the hopelessness of an indifferent universe no matter how good peoples nature is while Edgar represents the human will to live and prosper.
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