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Of course, a possible reading is not necessarily a plausible one, but it is intriguing that Nahum Tate's 1681 adaptation goes to great trouble to establish Edmund as a mere villain even as it thrusts him to the fore of the play. "Thou Nature art my Goddess, to thy Law / My services are bound;" ( The History of King Lear, I.1-2) are the first words spoken on Tate's stage, yet they are curiously robbed of their power when Edmund twice subsequently ranges himself against law: "Well then, legitimate Edgar, to thy Right / Of Law I will oppose a Bastard's Cunning... And Base-born Edmund spight of Law inherits" (I.11-12;21). Shakespeare's Edmund does not, and could not, speak these lines precisely because he is an adherent of an higher law-the law of Nature. Tate's Edmund, however, is still implicitly recognizing the authority of human law, which he never once refers to as a "plague" or "curiosity", rendering his professions to Nature a mere platitude to cover an act of rebellion. This separation of Edmund from higher purpose is further emphasized by Tate's omission of the closing line of Shakespeare's soliloquy, "Now, gods, stand up for bastards!" (King Lear, I.i.22). Shakespeare's Edmund feels the justness of his cause and thus is willing to invoke divine support for it-a support of which Tate's Edmund could not dare to dream.

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It is also of the utmost importance that Tate transfers the gulling of Gloucester off the stage. Edmund, in this version, has already deceived his father at the time that he is first met by the audience, such that we cannot watch Gloucester deceiving himself even as Edmund attempts to dissuade him. The guilt which accrues to Shakespeare's Gloucester for his suspicion, which transgresses the natural order as Cordelia frames it, does not fall upon the head of Tate's Gloucester, who is presented as solely a victim of Edmund's machinations. At the same time, the injustice of Edmund's disinheritance is downplayed by Tate in making Cordelia's disinheritance a deliberate and voluntary act on her part to escape the marriage arrangements being made by her father, as well as in removing entirely Edmund's case regarding the succession of generations. Just as the first two lines of Edmund's soliloquy are intellectually orphaned by the later emendations, so here Kent's outburst at Lear, "What wilt thou doe, old Man?", is stranded as an uncharacteristically petty and cruel barb to come from so old and dear a friend of the king since Lear's age, absent the ideas Edmund imputes to Edgar, has become entirely irrelevant to their argument.

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But Buckley, not intending to "subvert in any way the generous emotions of sympathy and detestation of vileness which Shakespeare so obviously meant to arouse in our breasts when he wrote King Lear" (94), passes with only the barest observation over a most salient fact, which is that Gloucester is guilty of high treason (91). Though the first letter by which Edmund's trap was set was a "nothing" of Edmund's own devising, the second, by which he deposes Gloucester and actually comes into possession of the lands originally destined for Edgar (the value of which as a symbol for his triumph over legal disability he had affirmed in his first soliloquy), is a something. It is a genuine letter that incriminates Gloucester as "adhering to the king's enemies" and "aiding them in or out of the realm" with the intent of "levying war in the king's dominions". Recognizing the necessary familiarity of Shakespeare and the London audience with the technical ins and outs of these legal matters, we must conclude that there is a deliberate significance to the fact that Edmund, whose status outside the realm of law and custom as an agent of Nature was so baldly declared in the second scene, is indicted under the law of men for a crime he did not commit, while his father is, in fact, guilty. If the play had, by the fifth act, left us in doubt over the relative moral merits of Gloucester and his bastard son, their legal status at the end of the play seems intended to resolve them.

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Even those critics most sympathetic to Edmund's cause unfailingly end their pleas for understanding with a caveat, as does Summers: "If Shakespeare's remarkable perception of the effects of stigma on sensitive individuals helps motivate the actions of his characters... that is not to say that he approves of those actions or expects his audience to approve of them. Lady Macbeth and Edmund, for instance, are clearly not admirable characters. They commit horrible crimes which offend the decency of us all" (230). But if Shakespeare does not expect us to approve of Edmund, he also takes no pains (unlike Tate) to prevent us from doing so. Indeed, it would be inappropriate for him to attempt to sway us one way or the other because Edmund, as he announces in the very first line of Shakespeare's second scene, is not an ordinary character subject to our approval or disapproval; he is a force of Nature-a fact of life-that we ourselves, as men of custom who live in curious nations, have driven out beyond the horizons of human morality. We need not see him as an hero but we cannot see him as a villain, for the challenge with which we are confronted by so much of Shakespeare, as by so much of life, is acceptance, and the tragedy of King Lear has no power to heal us until that challenge is met.

King Lear: Contemporary Critical Essays, 1993), King Lear is a play about ‘male anxiety’.

King Lear Annotated with Biography and Critical Essay

James Bemis is an editorial board member, weekly columnist, and film critic for California Political Review and is a frequent contributor to Latin Mass Magazine. His five-part series "Through the Eyes of the Church", on the Vatican's list of the forty-five "Most Important Films in the Century of Cinema", was published in the Wanderer. His essays on film adaptations of King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth have appeared in the Ignatius Critical Editions of the plays. He is currently writing a book on Christianity, culture, and the cinema.

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on the entrance of the deeper traitor for whom Cawdor had made way! And here in contrast with Duncan's 'plenteous joys,' Macbeth has nothing but the common-places of loyalty, in which he hides himself with 'our duties.' Note the exceeding effort of Macbeth's addresses to the king, his reasoning on his allegiance, and then especially when a new difficulty, the designation of a successor, suggests a new crime. This, however, seems the first distinct notion, as to the plan of realizing his wishes; and here, therefore, with great propriety, Macbeth's cowardice of his own conscience discloses itself. I always think there is something especially Shakspearian in Duncan's speeches throughout this scene, such pourings forth, such abandonments, compared with the language of vulgar dramatists, whose characters seem to have made their speeches as the actors learn them.