King Lear: The Tragic Revenge Against Society
Would you ever want to get revenge on society, because of how it treated you? In the play King Lear, there were many social injustices going on. Characters were treated unfairly, and it drove them to get revenge. The shadow, Edmund, was Gloucester’s illegitimate son. He wanted to get back at society for labeling him a bastard. Goneril and Regan however, behaved that way because of how they were treated, and they wanted to get back at their father. They live in a patriarchal society, meaning men hold the power and the women are excluded from it. Regan and Goneril wanted the power, and to not have men ruling their lives. Because of customs of a society in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Goneril, Regan, and Edmund had the desire to improve their social status which led them to get revenge against social customs.
First of all, Edmund is one of the worst characters in King Lear, but what motivated him to do the things that he did? He wanted revenge against society. Edmund was tired of people calling him a bastard because he was illegitimate. “Thou nature, art my goddess. To thy law my services are bound. Wherefore should I stand in the plague of custom, and permit the curiosity of nations to deprive me. For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines lag of a brother? Why bastard. Wherefore base?” (Lear 1.2.1-6). Why should Edmund be labeled a bastard simply because he was born 12 or 14 months after Edgar, or be deprived of his natural rights. He shouldn’t be tortured by social customs. It shouldn’t matter if you are legitimate or illegitimate. It doesn’t make you less of a person for being illegitimate. Edmund being treated like that, motivates him to destroy his father and brother; to go against social customs, and to try get his brother’s wealth.
In addition to, Goneril and Regan were also wronged by society. Women weren’t treated as equals. They were treated like objects given away to husbands. They didn’t have their own freedom, and they were considered possessions owned by their fathers or husbands. They have to marry whom their fathers deem suitable for them. “When she was dear to us, he did hold her so, but now her price is fallen. Sir, there she stands. If aught within that little seeming substance, or all of it, with our displeasure piece. And nothing more, may fitly like you grace, she’s there and she is yours” (Lear 1.1.225-230). Burgundy and King Lear are talking about Cordelia like she is an object for sale. He tells Burgundy that her price has fallen because she isn’t his daughter anymore, and that she’s worthless. What kind of father would say that about his daughter. Women also didn’t have any power for their own. Goneril and Regan had to wield their power through their husbands. When Cornwall died, Regan wasn’t really affected by it. It might have been because she didn’t want a man ruling her life anymore. She wanted the power for herself. Society, misogynistic and sexist, towards women was the reason why Goneril and Regan went against social customs. They craved for equality, power, and the ability to make their own decisions.
Furthermore, we know that Goneril, Regan and Edmund were wronged by society, but does that justify their actions? It doesn’t. They were willing to do anything for power, but in the end they got nothing. Their desire for power brought their downfall. Regan just stood there when her husband plucked out Gloucester’s eyes showing no empathy. Goneril and Regan kicked their own father out into a destructive storm at his old age. He gave them all his money and land and they just threw him out like piece of trash. He went mad and lost his mind. He had no idea what he was saying, or what to do. Edmund was the reason his own brother was banished when he didn’t even do anything to him. He also ordered his soldier to kill Cordelia and King Lear. She was strangled on his order. King Lear was saved just in time, but died minutes later agonizing over her death. Edmund caused so much pain and suffering. They all caused so much destruction that no one should feel sorry for what happened to them, or if that they did. “For characters such as Edmund, Goneril and Regan it can be acceptable that justice has been served because their punishments completely coincide with their crime” (“Justice in King Lear”). They deserve what they got. Their punishment was just as bad as their crimes. They don’t deserve forgiveness just because they were wronged by society. Their actions weren’t justified, and no one should ever do the crimes that they did.
In conclusion to, social customs was the driving force behind the bad characters. If Edmund wasn’t treated that way he wouldn’t have wanted to destroy his brother and father, and to go against social customs to get what he wanted. Goneril and Regan wouldn’t have done what they did if they were given equal power. Everyone should be entitled to equal rights, but it still doesn’t justify their actions. A lot of people are wronged by society and social customs, but that doesn’t give them the right to destroy their family, or to kill anyone. We’ve all wanted to get revenge against someone who has wronged us. Like trying to fight someone after they’ve called you horrible names.
We’ve all had those moments. Getting vengeance won’t solve our conflicts. Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye only ends up making the world blind”. You have to fight to get equal rights. Violence is never the answer and it won’t solve anyone’s problems.
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