In King Lear, Shakespeare creates a brilliant tragedy whose plot is driven primarily by its villains. Of these, Edmund stands alone as a man who makes his fortune, surrounded by those who seize fortune only when it is handed to them. Shakespeare’s ability to create a vivid, living character in the space of a few lines of speech triumphs in Edmund, who embodies a totally different moral system than that of Shakespeare’s era. Three centuries later, Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Free Spirit would respect these values.
Like Edmund, Nietzsche’s unorthodox views have been deemed villainous ever since the time they were written. The Free Spirit is defined not by his attack on society’s defined values, but the rejection of them. Unconstrained by the values of a society he did not chose, the Free Spirit makes his own path in the world, defining morality for himself and acting in a way which is truly free.
In Act I, Scene II, Edmund’s character reveals itself. In his first soliloquy he clearly shows his knowledge of his situation, but at the same time questions its validity.
Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base? (I.2.1-6)
This reveals the fundamental makeup of Edmund’s character – why should society name him anything for events over which he had no control? Why should he be deprived of anything simply because he was born a year too late?
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…ll to Power, Book I, Aphorism 55
3. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 260
4. Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, all too human, page 4
5. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, page 90
6. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 26
7. Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, all too human, page 61
8. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, part 9.
9. Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, all too human, Aphorism 230
1. Friedrich Nietzsche. Human, all too human, Bison Books, 1996.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche. The Will to Power. Bison Books, 1994.
3. Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil. Penguin Publishing. London, 1973.
4. Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Publishing. London, 1973.
5. Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Peerage books. Cambridge, 1921
Role Reversal in King Lear
Role Reversal in King Lear
King Lear, known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, deeply affects its audience by playing out the destruction of two families. At the end of this play two of the protagonists, King Lear and his loyal friend the Earl of Gloucester, die after having suffered through major injustices at the hands of their own children. These characters’ deaths are incredibly tragic because they are brought on by their own actions instead of by the circumstances that surround them. Lear and Gloucester are not bad men but rather good men that make the fatal mistake of not acting according to their positions in life. In doing so, they ultimately force their children, Cordelia and Edgar respectively, to take on the roles that they cast off.
Lear is a king, but from the beginning of the play he chooses to shun this role. He acts in a manner unbefitting a king by forcing his daughters into a bizarre love contest in front of the entire court, thereby setting into motion a chain of events that bring about his insanity and eventually his death. It is apparent that Cordelia is Lear’s most beloved child for he says “I loved her most and thought to set my rest on her kind nursery” (1.1.137-138). This is the very child, however, that he then disinherits and banishes from his kingdom in an unexpected fit of rage. After giving Cordelia’s inheritance to her sisters Lear says he “. . . shall retain the name and all th’ addition to a king” (1.1.151-152). Following that he says “This coronet part between you” (1.1.155) to Cornwall and Albany. These two statements are contradictory and show Lear’s internal conflict with his role in life. There is only one crown in a kingdom, and the person who wears it has the ultim…
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…he end of this play, all hope is not lost for the future because the one left standing will ensure that a tragedy such as this will not happen again.
Works Cited and Consulted
Barish, Jonas A., and Marshall Waingrow. “Service in King Lear.” _SQ_ 9 (1958), 347-57.
Brooke, Nicholas. “The Ending of King Lear.” _Shakespeare 1564-1964_. Ed. Edward A. Bloom. Providence: Brown U P, 1964. 71-87.
Kott, Jan. “King Lear or Endgame (1964).” _Shakespeare, King Lear: a Casebook_. Ed. Frank Kermode.
London and Basingstoke: Macmillan P, 1975.
Leggatt, Alexander. _King Lear_. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Mack, Maynard. _King Lear in Our Time_. Berkeley: U of California P, 1965.
Shakespeare, William. “King Lear”. _The Riverside Shakespeare_. Ed. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.