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The Role of Edmund in King Lear

Waldo F. McNeir
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Vol. 8, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1968), pp. 187-216
Published by: Rice University
DOI: 10.2307/449655
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/449655
Page Count: 30
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The Role of Edmund in King Lear
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Abstract

Edmund's delay in revoking his order for the death of Cordelia and Lear brings on the catastrophe. Caused by his slow and unsuccessful effort to repent before his own death, it illustrates orthodox Elizabethan doctrine on the forgiveness of sins. Edmund's relations with Edgar, Gloucester, and especially Goneril and Regan are important in preparing for his personal climax, his aborted peripety, which necessitates consideration of the complex bearing of the parallel plots on each other. A mere opportunist, Edmund easily succeeds against his brother and his father, but he is confused by the double demands of the evil sisters. His effort to repent, following his overthrow by Edgar, involves contrition, confession, and an attempt to make amends. These were required for true repentance in the formulations of Aquinas, Calvin, the homily "Of Repentance," and Hooker. Shakespeare explored the process of repentance in both earlier and later plays. Edmund fails because at the last moment he reverts to the demonic sisters before heeding the dictates of his new born conscience. This causes the tragic conclusion of King Lear.

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