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Kristie DeVlieger David Cope ENG 252: Shakespeare 8 November 2009 Edmund: The classic Anti-hero

The Heros Journey is a concept that was laid out by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and was simplied by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writers Journey: Mythic structure for storytellers and screenwriters. The heros journey is the heart of every story, play, or movie; the heros journey around fortunes wheel. Its components are: the ordinary world, the call, meeting the mentor, crossing the rst threshold, tests, allies, and enemies, the approach, the supreme ordeal, the reward, the road back, resurrection, and the return (with the elixir). In King Lear Edmund goes through enough of these stages to prove he is a hero.

Edmund is in essence, a hero. The archetype, as dened by Vogler is the egos search for identity and wholeness, (Vogler, 39) the very thing that Edmund is actually searching for in his Machiavellian plot. He was born the younger child, and a bastard, of the Earl of Gloucester. Because of his bastard state, he can not inherit anything from his father, and in shame he has been sent abroad for 9 years (I.i.30). The very denition of a bastard in his time was that it was a base individual; a criminal by nature, and as a result of this labeling, he grew to become exactly what his society created him to be: an anti-hero. These are awed Heroes who never overcome their inner demons and are brought down and destroyed by them. They may be charming, they may have admirable qualities, but the aw wins out in the end (Vogler, 46). In this guise, he is in his

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ordinary world.

The call is an inner call that Edmund feels to gain his rightful place, despite societys laws. He rants about the unfairness of the inheritance laws, and about his birth, asking Why bastard? wherefore base? When my dimensions are as well compact, my mind as generous and my shape as true, as honest madams issue? (I.ii. 6-9). He states clearly that he wants to have his brothers land later in this passage, and ends, goading himself, Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed, and my invention thrive, Edmund the base shall top the legitimate (I.ii.19-21). He has answered his inner call by creating a plot to eliminate Edgar as an heir, and by putting that plot into action by carrying the letter he has written to himself and playing it off as being written by his brother. When Gloucester reads this incriminating letter (I.ii.45-52), Edmund sets the next part in action by setting up a situation in which he can be alone with Edgar to catch Edgar unawares of whats going on, and enabling him to hide Edgar in his room.

Edmund crosses the rst threshold when he eliminates Edgar. When he goes to Edmund later in the day he convinces his brother to draw his sword, and after they fence a little, his brother leaves. The noise of their pretend battle draws his father. But not quick enough for him to catch Edmund wounding himself (II.i. 30-35). The Duke and Regan arrive then, possible allies for Edmund in his war against his brother. They are told the story as well, and they commend his actions, becoming his allies (II.i. 90-120). As if this werent enough, he achieves his original goal already; his brothers land, thanks to his father, who promises my land, Loyal and natural boy, Ill work the means

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to make thee capable (II.i.84-86).

Edmunds tests, allies, and enemies are the logical next step for him in a scheme to make it to the top of the ladder and thumb his nose at the nobility. His present allies, Regan and Cromwell can take him far, since Regan is one of the Queens, and all he has left to do is befriend Goneril and the Duke of Albany, and he will be in favor of the ruling parties. His true test of loyalty is when the Earl of Gloucester condes in him that he has a dangerous letter locked in his room, and that he plans on speaking to the king, in III.iii, where we see his true colors in wanting his father to fall so that he can have what is his. He runs and tattles to Cornwall, saying this is the letter he spoke of, which approves him an intelligent party to the advantages of France (III.v. 8-9). This betrayal proves advantageous for him once more, as Cornwall tells him it hath made thee Earl of Gloucester. Seek out where thy father is, that he may be ready for our apprehension (III.v. 14-16). Edmund readily goes along, despite the fact that his betrayal has cost his father his eyes. Over the course of the next act, he begins to use these newfound allies to his purpose, explaining his plot for the Queens thusly; To both these sisters have I sworn my love; Each jealous of the other, as the stung Are of the adder. Which of them shall I take? (V.i. 55-57). He also foreshadows what will happen to Lear and Cordelia, saying the battle done, and they within our power, shall never see his [Albany] pardon; for my state stands on me to defend, not to debate (V.i.67-69), for if any of the royal blood are left to oppose him, they can claim the throne from him and are his rivals and enemies.

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Edmunds supreme ordeal is his ght with Edgar. Edgar and Albany meet beforehand and plan the ght, knowing Edmund would not stand for the besmirching of his name that he has worked so hard to build up into something it is not. In this way he is convinced to ght Edgar in his disguise, and reveal his original plot, giving himself away completely when he loses. This costs him his ally Albany, as well as revealing the plot Goneril and Edmund have conceived. It strips Edmund of almost everything he has fought so hard to gain, but he still has the love of the two Queens, an important piece of the power puzzle. He himself says The wheel is come full circle! I am here (at the bottom) (V.iii.173). But this is not true yet.

The true road back for Edmund is the fulllment of his plot with the two sisters. At the critical moment it achieves fruition, delaying the inevitable for him. As Edgar and Albany begin to bond further as allies and discuss the topic of a suitable punishment for Edmunds crimes, a servant enters, shouting shes dead!... and her sister by her is poisoned; she hath confessed it (V.iii.223-226). Edmund seems pleased by this all, having achieved his true desire of merely being loved, a human desire that everyone can relate to, explaining to his judges Yet Edmund was beloved. The one the other poisoned for my sake, and after slew herself (V.iii.238-240). This eliminates all competition for the throne except for Albany, Lear, and Cordelia-- two people hes already got things in action for.

Edmunds path to resurrection is a failed attempt at saving himself. He admits this himself, saying I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, despite of mine own

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nature (V.iii.242-243). He tells them of the locations of Lear and Cordelia, and explain He hath commission from thy wife [Goneril] and me to hang Cordelia (V.iii.250-251). Unfortunately this last admission is his undoing.

Edmunds admission of ordering to have Cordelia proves to be his undoing, and the formation of his return to the ordinary world. He returns at the literal bottom rung- a base, bastard. Nothing he has done is actually murder or anything condemnable up to this point, but the death of Cordelia is the end of this. The order is in his hand and was carried out under his command, causing the death of someone close to the crown. Because of this Edmund is borne off to the dungeon, and ultimately dies (V.iii.294). Edgar and Gloucester are back to where things were in the beginning.

Edmunds rise and fall is parallel to that of the heros journey. He is truly an antihero, of the tragic kind, as well as being a Machiavellian. As a character he is very rounded, and it is interesting to watch him go through the journey ghting his inner demons.

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Works Cited Shakespeare, William. King Lear (conated text). The Norton Shakespeare. Second ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al; eds. New York: Norton, 2007. 2493-2567.

Volger, Christopher. The Writers Journey: Mythic structure for storytellers and screenwriters. California: Michael Wiese Productions, 1992.

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