Edgar/Poor Tom

  • Created by: Pip Dan
  • Created on: 20-09-17 16:33

Edgar's character is symbolic of endurance in a play which goes at great lengths to explore human suffering and reactions to it. Edgar's character changes drastically throughout the play starting as a naive noble, taking up the disguise of a mad beggar before finally becoming a ruler of Britain, probably alongside Albany. He also gets the last lines in the play, this shows the character's importance and yet the character remains complex and controversial.

'Christian gentlemen'

Harley Granville-Barker gave Edgar the title of a 'Christian gentleman' and like the character of Cordelia he tends to be idealised. Edgar is seen as the good to Edmund's bad as Edgar stands for the old order where birth dictates a person's fortunes and Britain is united. The brothers' climatic battle is seen as a clash between good and bad, with of course the former beating the latter. Furthermore, Edgar is seen as very much the victim of Edmund and whist the former may be naïve and possibly foolish he is certainly not as bad as his half-brother. However, it could be argued that the trust and understanding between Edgar and Gloucester was fragile in order for them both to fall prey so easily to Edmund’s plot. Nuham Tate's version of 'King Lear' also portrayed Edgar in this idealised manner. At the end of the play he also survives and then marries another idealised character - Cordelia.

'Sadistic villain'

However, it would be simplification to  see Edgar as purely a good character. The play explores morality through many constructs and Edgar is no expectation. Whilst he may be seen as naïve, or even stupid, at the beginning of the play Edgar remains very much a victim. However, it is when the character continuously deceives his blind father and kills both Oswald and Edmund that evil qualities of the character can be questioned. Unlike Albany, Edgar does not attempt any arrest of Oswald or Edmund but instead chooses and vengeful path and kills them.

The greatest issue of Edgar's purportedly good actions is his decision not to tell his father who he is.  Many critics have tried to unpick why this is as no definite answer is ever given. Some claim that this is one of the most unrealistic moments in the play, when a father does not recognise his own son. However, Shakespeare choose to include it which has led to much speculation on why:

  • It could be that Edgar is so upset of what is father has done to him that he keeps the disguise out of spite. Gloucester did assume Edgar was guilty of conspiring against him which forces Edgar to run for his life. However, Edgar then chooses to continue to care for his father and so this seems unlikely
  • Regardless of why Edgar thinks he has to keep the disguise he does think that he has no choice. He claims that despite it being difficult 'I must'
  • Perhaps, Edgar is trying to teach is father about endurance. He attempts to


No comments have yet been made