is the premier free source for literary analysis on the web. We provide an educational supplement for better understanding of classic and contemporary literature. is continually in the process of adding more books to the website each week. Please check back weekly to see what we have added. Please let us know if you have any suggestions or comments or would like any additional information. Thanks for checking out our website. More Details
You've been inactive for a while, logging you out in a few seconds...
Enter CORNWALL and EDMUND
I will have my revenge ere I depart his house.
EDMUND How, my lord, I may be censured, that nature thus
gives way to loyalty, something fears me to think
CORNWALL I now perceive, it was not altogether your
brother's evil disposition made him seek his death;
but a provoking merit, set a-work by a reprovable
badness in himself.
EDMUND How malicious is my fortune, that I must repent to
be just! This is the letter he spoke of, which
approves him an intelligent party to the advantages
of France: O heavens! that this treason were not,
or not I the detector!
CORNWALL o with me to the duchess.
EDMUND If the matter of this paper be certain, you have
mighty business in hand.
CORNWALL True or false, it hath made thee earl of
Gloucester. Seek out where thy father is, that he
may be ready for our apprehension.
EDMUND [Aside] If I find him comforting the king, it will
stuff his suspicion more fully.--I will persevere in
my course of loyalty, though the conflict be sore
between that and my blood.
CORNWALL I will lay trust upon thee; and thou shalt find a
dearer father in my love.
First, let us consider what tragic pity consists in. The word pity tends to have a bad name these days, and to imply an attitude of condescension that diminishes its object. This is not a matter of the meanings of words, or even of changing attitudes. It belongs to pity itself to be two-sided, since any feeling of empathy can be given a perverse twist by the recognition that it is not oneself but another with whom one is feeling a shared pain. One of the most empathetic characters in all literature is Edgar in King Lear . He describes himself truly as "a most poor man, made tame to fortune's blows, Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrows, Am pregnant to good pity" (IV, vi, 217-19). Two of his lines spoken to his father are powerful evidence of the insight that comes from suffering oneself and taking on the suffering of others: "Thy life's a miracle" (IV, vi, 5 5 ), he says, and "Ripeness is all" (V, ii, 11), trying to help his father see that life is still good and death is not something to be sought. Yet in the last scene of the play this same Edgar voices the stupidest words ever spoken in any tragedy, when he concludes that his father just got what he deserved when he lost his eyes, since he had once committed adultery (V, iii, 171-4). Having witnessed the play, we know that Gloucester lost his eyes because he chose to help Lear, when the kingdom had become so corrupt that his act of kindness appeared as a walking fire in a dark world (I1I, iv, 107). There is a chain of effects from Gloucester's adultery to his mutilation, but it is not a sequence that reveals the true cause of that horror. The wholeness of action that Shakespeare shapes for us shows that Gloucester's goodness, displayed in a courageous, deliberate choice, and not his weakness many years earlier, cost him his eyes. Edgar ends by giving in to the temptation to moralize, to chase after the "fatal flaw" which is no part of tragedy, and loses his capacity to see straight.