1. “The wheel is come full circle. I am here.” What is the audience meant to feel about Edmond at the end of the play?
The Edmond presented to us at the close of play is a contradiction of all we know of him. Edmond is corrupt; malicious; jealous; bitter, and yet with his final moments, Shakespeare offers him a chance at redemption. Perhaps this is intended to suggest that no man is beyond salvation; perhaps a sop to the principle that all nobility is inherently good (even the half-bloods), although Edgar does state sententiously: “The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us” (5.3.160); but the closing scene conflicts with everything that has come before. ...view middle of the document...
That Edmond is not against nobility on principle is proven in the final scene of the play when he says to his helmeted assailant (Edgar) in the final duel: “If thou’rt noble,
I do forgive thee” (5.3.155), which will finally illustrate the hypocrisy that when revealed, is hardly a surprise. He rants on, but in an eloquent, stylish manner. That he is meant to be a dynamic, attractive character is denoted by the words he is given. He may have just set out how he plans to betray his family for his own gain, but the stirring close of his opening soliloquy:
“I grow; I prosper;
Now gods, stand up for bastards!” (1.2.21), is ardent enough to have come from a hero. Edmond goes on to successfully fool his “credulous father” and brother “so far from doing harms
That he suspects none” (1.2.151) and although by his own admission, they were exceptionally easy victims, this is to be one of the recurring themes we encounter through Edmond. While the King is losing his country; Gloucester his eyes; dukes their lives and Gonerill and Regan their hearts, Edmond presses on; his schemes succeed as if blessed. Not one plan is made that is not bought to fruition, until the final scene. Edmond’s only failure is swiftly followed by reconciliation with Edgar and more significantly, reconciliation with a sense of morality: “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do,
despite of mine own nature” (5.3.217-8), and this only serves to illustrate that this is not simply a repugnant character who will illicit only one response, but a deliberately complex one.
In Edmond, we have the dichotomy of duty and ambition. He is evidently a man of gifts but his prospects are profoundly prohibited by his birth. The experience of being sentenced to a predestined role in life through ones birth will not have been an alien concept at the time of original performance to the majority of the audience. The impossibility of breaking through these strictly determined ceilings would be a reality, and so the temerity of Edmond is one we can glory in, even while we condemn his methods and goal. That his actions are prompted by avarice and bitterness is hard to dispute, but the possibility that these faults are the result of nurture rather than nature should not be discounted. As we learn from Gloucester’s opening words concerning his bastard:
“He hath been out nine years, and away he shall again” (1.1.27), so Edmond is an exile from his home despite the great love his father professes for him. If he is to become the master of his own fate, Edmond must act before he is sent away from home again. That Edmond so adroitly utilises every auspicious circumstance (all stemming from Lear’s decision to split his kingdom) again illustrates how capable he is, albeit capability of the most Machiavellian variety.
The recurring intuition resulting from every encounter with Edmond is that he is bordering on the sociopathic. In a play freighted with madness and double meanings, this does not seem implausible....