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King Lear, Shakespeare, Edgar in King Lear


Despite his centrality in the play, Edgar’s role in King Lear has rarely attracted sustained analysis. To be sure, scholarly neglect doubtless results from Edgar’s own elusiveness, from the disguises that grant him access to the major characters in the play, disguises that encourage others to read in him what they wish to see. Analyzing what other characters see or fail to see in Edgar’s disguises offers important light on his character and his role in the play. A Lacanian analysis of Lear’s reading of Edgar’s role as Poor Tom shows that Lear’s effort to establish (or to re-establish) his own lost identify ends in total failure. Despite his better judgment, Gloucester, similarly, succumbs to Edgar’s deceptive illusions as he seeks an escape from a world of terrible disorder. Edmund and arguably Albany, too, are taken in by Edgar in his two concluding roles as messenger-champion and potential king, seeing in him a worthy challenger and leader. But the hope that each character finds in him ultimately fails to materialize. In this paper, I examine how the essential fecklessness of Edgar’s character throughout can profoundly deepen our experience of the tragedy and shed further light on the sense of disillusionment in the end.