Edmund and Cordelia are two characters which occupy separate poles morally. Relationships in King Lear focus around both good and evil as Cordelia and Edmund, perfect images of good and evil, struggle with sibling rivalry, betrayal, love triangles and experience a tragic death. Both characters introduce chaos in the play as Cordelia refuses to not proclaim in lofty terms her love for her father before his honored guests and subjects. On the other hand, Edmund unleashes chaos by choosing to act against his father who favors his half brother, Edgar.
Sibling rivalry is a key problem that both Cordelia and Edmund must deal with. Cordelia’s sisters, Goneril and Regan, plot against her and retain hostile feelings against her throughout the play. imilarly, Edmund and Edgar are brothers which have a rocky relationship. They never get along because of power struggle and jealousy. Edmund purposes to outdo his brother believing that, “Edmund the base/ Shall top th legitimate” (Shakespeare Act I, Scene II). By the end of the play, the siblings unfortunately never reconcile. Both Cordelia and Edmund not only endure unsympathetic relationships between their siblings, but also they are assassinated by them.
In the midst of family and political conflict, both Cordelia and Edmund suffer tragic deaths in the play, King Lear, dying young and at the hands of their siblings. Ultimately, the sisters Goneril and Regan bring about the death of Cordelia in a sister against sister murder. As a consequence, brother ends up killing brother in a duel. Goneril commands her sister’s death, “to hang Cordelia in the prison” (Shakespeare Act V, Scene III ). On the other hand, Edgar and Edmund face off in a bloody battle that ends the life of Edmund. In King Lear, it is lamentable that the culmination of resentment and jealousy between brothers and sisters ends in death.
Both Cordelia and Edmund embody the moral virtues of good and evil respectively. When Edmund finds out that his brother, Edgar will succeed their father, he is disappointed but determined to snatch power by whatever means necessary, asserting, “Well then, Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.” From this statement one observes Edmund firm resolve to pursue any means to gain his ends like Machiavelli. Furthermore, Edmund’s ambition exceeds Edgar’s for he is the active catalyst which instigates, masterminds and orchestrates chaos and murder. Edmund makes known his ambitious desire by affirming that, as “I see the business. Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit!” (Shakespeare Act I, Scene II). His anticipation for wealth and greatness and his cold calculations for Edgar’s removal from power and extermination without any scruple underscore his lust for grandeur and overarching ambition. Even after the Edmund is connected to the throne of England through the sisters Goneril and Regan, his purely evil nature propels him to kill off Cordelia. With a despotic hand, Edmund bears heavy sway over the characters, conniving and deceiving them by his show of moral corruption and deep darkness.
In the same vein, Cordelia is the perfection of good. She is utterly kind, sincere and loving – addressing her father in no uncertain terms that she, “returns those duties back as are right fit, (to) obey, love, and most honor (him).” (Shakespeare Act I, Scene I). She would not for the sake of power flatter her father, King Lear nor would she retaliate against her sisters who do her so much ill. Her heart remains faithful to her father till the end and not one word of evil could be said against her. Although the characterization attributed to her is extraordinarily good, she does not escape the attacks of evil. Although her father betrays her and disowns her, she never repays him like for like. She returns to England to fight for King Lear but in the end after her arrest she mourns that, “for (her father), she is cast down’ (Shakespeare Act V, Scene III).
Both Cordelia and Edmund attract two lovers, thus forming a love triangle. Edmund makes known his love to Goneril and Regan through his own deception. The sisters fight over him until it costs them their death. Cordelia has two suitors, the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy, both of whom are seeking her hand in marriage. In the end, it is the King of France who agrees to have Cordelia without a kingdom. In the case of both characters, an event occurs which exposes the true character of the competing suitors. The Duke of Burgundy’s selfishness is seen as he pursues Cordelia for the love of power and more of Goneril’s baseness is observed when she poisons her own sister to have the man of her dreams.
King Lear is a story laced with betrayal in which Cordelia and Edmund are involved. Cordelia faces the betrayal of her father and sisters, while Edmund betrays his father, his brother and his girlfriend Regan. Betrayal has its consequence for it costs the life of both. Cordelia dies because of the betrayal of her sister and brother in law and Edmund dies as a result of his own cunning betrayals. Edgar correctly calls him, “thou art a traitor; False to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father; Conspirant gainst this high illustrious prince; A most toad-spotted traitor” (Shakespeare Act V, Scene III). He realizes that Edmund is a traitor w ho has neither faith nor truth in him. Conversely, Cordelia is very loyal and easily lends her affections to her family. She surrenders her estate to her sisters rather than giving in to pomp and display. At the same time, her family takes advantage of her and does not realize how much she loves them. She is the epitome of a selfless character, and Shakespeare shows the horror of true altruism – the reality of being noble.
In sum, sibling rivalry, murder at the hands of siblings, personification of good and evil, involvement in betrayal and amorous liaisons/love triangles all unite Cordelia and Edmund in King Lear. In these scene, motives are revealed, evil is unmasked and the plot unravels. The first scene erupts in the midst of the gaieties and festivities but ends in a shadow of conflict, bitterness and massacres. Although they seem as if they have nothing in common, Cordelia and Edmund do share some links which moves forward the plot and in the end, precipitates King Lear to the grave.
Shakespeare, William. Orgel, Stephen. King Lear. Penguin Books, 2000.