King Lear

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Edgar Character Analysis

Gloucester's elder, legitimate son. Although at first Edgar comes across as a bit naïve, easily duped by Edmund, he later disguises himself successfully as a madman beggar and manages not only to save himself from the death sentence his misled father has pronounced on him, but also to help Gloucester and Lear and to avenge the wrongs committed by his traitorous half-brother.

Edgar Quotes in King Lear

The King Lear quotes below are all either spoken by Edgar or refer to Edgar. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of King Lear published in 2004.
Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"My old heart is cracked; it's cracked."
Related Characters: Gloucester (speaker), Edgar
Page Number: 2.1.106
Explanation and Analysis:

Edgar has now fled Gloucester’s castle, causing his father to become convinced that Edgar is indeed guilty. Gloucester bemoans the events and their effect on his emotions.

That Gloucester draws attention to his “old heart” returns the text to the ever-present question of aging. He implies that the emotional pain is particularly damaging due to his age, for he has been abandoned by his son after having invested so deeply in their relationship. Having lost his heart, Gloucester begins to follow actions reminiscent of Lear’s: irrationally aiding his deceitful child and lashing out against the honest one. “Cracked” thus speaks not only to sadness but also to the misdirected emotion that causes him to condemn Edmund to death.

One should note that the image of being “cracked” appears often in this text. Characters use it to refer to emotional stress and to betrayal as Gloucester does here, but the term is also employed to signify insanity. By bringing these two meanings together in one word, Shakespeare shows how pain and betrayal function alongside insanity: the first can induce the second or visa versa, and the line between the two is never particularly clear.

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Act 2, scene 3 Quotes
"I will preserve myself, and am bethought
To take the basest and most poorest shape
That ever penury in contempt of man
Brought near to beast."
Related Characters: Edgar (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals, Clothing and Costumes
Page Number: 2.3.6-9
Explanation and Analysis:

Having fled his father’s castle, Edgar finds himself alone in the wilderness. He decides to take on the disguise of a fool called “Poor Tom” in order protect himself from being recognized and killed.

Edgar begins, first, by declaring this intention to “preserve” himself, marking basic survival as his primary intention. Saying, “bethought to take the basest and most poorest shape” declares that the best way to protect himself will be to take on an alternative identity and costume of lowliness. That his “penury” or poverty will be “in contempt of men” implies that his false identity will inherently criticize the morally-empty pomp and circumstance of those from which he hides. Thus he will take on the role of the “beast” primarily for self-protection, but also with an inherent skepticism of others, particularly the morally-bankrupt "nobility."

This passage takes the theme of man’s relationship to the wilderness in an intriguing direction: in order to best protect himself from the human world of deceit, Edgar must approximate the wilderness as much as possible—becoming “the basest and most poorest shape” that he can. In an odd way, this recourse to nature follows in Edmund’s footsteps: not only is he locating in wilderness something that was lacking in the human world, but he even invokes the tropes of baseness associated with Edmund illegitimacy. Yet whereas Edmund sought a reprieve from legal and moral justice, Edgar is seeking protection only from a misapplication of that justice. Thus Shakespeare presents nature as a repository of both productive and counter-productive divergences from human society.

Act 3, scene 4 Quotes
"Child Rowland to the dark tower came
His word was still 'Fie, foh, and fum,
I smell the blood of a British man."
Related Characters: Edgar (speaker)
Page Number: 3.4.195-197
Explanation and Analysis:

Edgar arrives disguised as the beggar “Poor Tom.” Here, he seems to speak a meaningless rhyme, but the tune actually carries a frightening threat.

What Edgar says is a play on a famous quatrain that is best known today for its appearance in Jack and the Beanstalk. However the rhyme was established before the Jack story, as well as before King Lear. The other part of the quote references the old fairy tale of "Childe Rowland." Edgar’s comment seems, at first, to just be a strange version of this tale—the sort of comment that is made by a madman who intermingles bits of story without much attention to what they mean.

Yet beneath that apparent insanity, the careful reader can note some darker meanings: for instance, Edgar is speaking of “Child Rowland,” thus pointing to the way children throughout the tragedy have threatened their parents. Similarly, the “dark tower” references the royal castles that the children are constantly seeking to own—and their way of gaining control would indeed be by “the blood a British man.” Revising the original term “Englishman” to “British man” might also speak cleverly to the political divides being played out in King Lear: for British refers more generally to the broader empire, whereas English refers only to English-citizens proper. Thus beneath Edgar’s simple play on a nursery rhyme, we can see a parable about the way children in the play are seeking to violently overtake power from their British fathers. Once more, Shakespeare has housed poignant social commentary in the words of a seeming madman.

Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"The worst is not
So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'"
Related Characters: Edgar (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.30-31
Explanation and Analysis:

Edgar is reflecting on his lowly position when he sees the blind Gloucester led by an Old Man. He revises his earlier beliefs, pointing out that many are far worse off than himself and that, indeed, the ability to observe how bad things are must mean they are not at the absolute bottom.

That Edgar’s observations are induced by seeing the Old Man and Gloucester reiterates how the tragic action offers perspective on one’s own misfortune. Edgar may have pitied himself, but once he sees others in even more dire straights, he realizes that he was being ridiculous all along. His very ability to reflect on his state of affairs is juxtaposed with their lack of composure.

This passage also returns to the question of how language can often deviate from reality. One would assume that saying “This is the worst” would imply that things are indeed at their most terrible, but Edgar points out that it is just the opposite. The very ability to speak those words implies a level of composure and reflection—indeed an ability to speak!—that must mean the state of affairs could be even worse. Thus not only can language misrepresent reality, in this case, the statement itself must misrepresent reality.

Act 4, scene 6 Quotes
"How fearful
And dizzy tis to cast one's eyes so low!
[…]
I'll look no more
Lest my brain turn and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong."
Related Characters: Edgar (speaker), Gloucester
Page Number: 4.6.16-29
Explanation and Analysis:

Edgar wonders how to help his father in his current decrepit state. He pretends, here, to be overlooking an enormous cliff, hoping that Gloucester will ask to be hurled off it.

The full effect of this passage is difficult to imagine without the image of the flat stage, but it comes off as somewhat farcical in an actual performance. Choosing words like “fearful” and “dizzy” to describe a flat stage would seem humorous and would allow the audience to comprehend better the metaphorical and literal blindness that is essential to this tragedy. And Edgar’s repeated references to vision—“cast one’s eyes so low” and “deficient sight”—make the irony of the scene entirely evident to the audience. The passage is, however, more than a humorous aside. It also transforms blindness into an odd asset for Gloucester. Edgar is able to set up a fake cliff for Gloucester, where he believes he has attempted to commit suicide and been saved by a miracle. Edgar thus harnesses the very quality in Gloucester that caused him to be treated so terribly—his blindness—and instead turns it into an opportunity for redemption.

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Edgar Character Timeline in King Lear

The timeline below shows where the character Edgar appears in King Lear. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Old Age Theme Icon
...him no less than the other "son" he has "by order of law" (1.1.19) (i.e., Edgar). (full context)
Act 1, scene 2
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
...to the audience that he is plotting to steal the land of his half-brother, "legitimate Edgar" (1.2.17), by winning all his father, Gloucester's, affection. (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
...his schemes if he acts boldly and is just a bit lucky. He calls to Edgar to come out of his hiding spot. (full context)
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
Edgar enters. Edmund pretends to be frightened for Edgar's safety. He tells Edgar that Gloucester has... (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
In a soliloquy, Edgar explains that he escaped the "hunt" (2.3.3) sent after him by hiding in the hollow... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
...darts back out, reporting that someone is in the hovel: a spirit named Poor Tom. Edgar emerges raving as if possessed by the "fiend," or devil, in his Bedlam beggar disguise.... (full context)
Act 3, scene 6
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
...then reports that Lear has gone entirely mad. Gloucester exits as Lear, the Fool, and Edgar enter, raving together. Lear has Edgar and the Fool sit down, announcing that they are... (full context)
Act 3, scene 7
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
...was Edmund himself who betrayed his father. Devastated, Gloucester realizes that he was misled regarding Edgar. He calls upon the gods to forgive him and to help Edgar prosper. (full context)
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
...they find Cornwall and Regan's actions. Resolving to find "the Bedlam" (125), i.e. the disguised Edgar, to lead Gloucester to safety, they first fetch flax and egg whites to help stop... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom, stands in the wind, reflecting that it is best to be... (full context)
Act 4, scene 6
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
Edgar, now dressed as a peasant, pretends to lead Gloucester up a steep cliff, while in... (full context)