King Lear

Equity and Fairness as Presented Through the Villains of King Lear

Questions of personal responsibility, free will, and justice move our sympathies through a work of literature, causing readers to relate with or despise characters as they are shaped within a piece. In The Tragedy of King Lear, William Shakespeare draws our support for his villains as well as his heroes, asking us to explore what drives someone to action. We are invited to determine culpability for characters' deeds and to decide how fitting are their punishments.

Shakespeare tests our sensibilities in letting us meet his villains intimately through their soliloquies. In Act One, Scene Two, we meet Edmund who is plotting against his half-brother, Edgar, in order to win the whole of their elderly father's fortune. Edmund attempts to persuade us that he is only doing what he must, on his own volition, because it is his rightful obligation. However, though Shakespeare raises the issue of whether past circumstances can mitigate fault, he falls short of casting a viable doubt on Edmund's guilt. In this way, King Lear suggests that people are given what they deserve, that there is justice in the end result and the way things turn out are always fitting.

Edmund thinks about his own accountability immediately following the...

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